March 08, 2011

Ceremony of Fire and Water

This is the most exciting and  mysterious ceremony full of legends !
Real spring comes to  Nara  after "The Second Month Ceremony" is over.  In February Hall of Todai-ji Temple, this ceremony has been held  for 1260 years without interruption since 752 when the temple was built. The ceremony is  held from March 1st through 14th.

This is February Hall. On the left there is a roofed stone staircase
 leads to February Hall with a balcony. 

the stone staircase viewed from the balcony

People are waiting for the start of the ceremony under the balcony.

 Every evening, ten of  the eleven priests climb up the stone steps to February Hall
 one by one,  each of them guided by an attendant. 
Each attendant carries a huge flaming torch made of a big  bamboo
 with cedar branches attached at its top. The biggest torch is 8 meters in length
 and 70 kilograms in weight.

 From the balcony of the hall, each attendant  swings and spins the flaming torch. 

Then  he runs across the balcony.

The torch is huge!

At the other corner of the balcony, he swings and spins the torch again.

              The breathtaking shower of flying sparkles from the torch
 fall down on people like a cascade!

 How exciting they are - the smell of scorched cedar leaves, the sound of sparkling wood and flowing down  sparks over people!  Now they are involved in  a huge ripple of excitement.  According to one theory, this ceremony was influenced by Zoroastrianism which was introduced to Japan along Silk Road.

If they get sparkles or embers, they are promised to be healthy throughout the year. 
They bring the embers or cinders home so that their prayers and wishes will be answered.

Torch Ceremony" is so famous that people are apt to think it is "Second Month Ceremony". But
 " Second Month Ceremony"  consists  of many  rituals  precisely scheduled.  "Torch Ceremony" is one of them.  The ceremony is  also known as  "Water Drawing Ceremony" based on the  mysterious legends.  However, the true essence of " Second Month Ceremony" is repentance.  Six times a day, the eleven priests perform repentance rite in front of the eleven- faced Kannon Bodhisattva. They pray to the Kannon for happiness, peace, good weather and abundant harvest on behalf of people all over the world. These pious prayers  reflect the current affairs.  On Great Hanshin earthquake in 1995 or 9/11 in 2001,  eleven priests prayed for the souls of the dead and for that it would never happen again. Behind the white curtain, eleven priests are holding the rituals in front of eleven-faced Kannon.

Even though Todai-ji Temple is a Buddhist temple, this ceremony is said to be the assimilation of Buddhism and Shinto- indigenous religion of Japan. Every night, the priests call a numerous number of Shinto deities' names and  invite  them to guard the ceremony. Shinto deities come to gather around  February Hall from all directions. Now this place becomes the most sacred place in Japan.

 February Hall is protected by boundaries too. The boundaries are stretched
 here and  there to drive away evil and protect  the hall.
White paper is for Shinto and green  leaves are for Buddhism.

At the entrance of the stone staircase, the torches are placed on the walls.
Before Torch Ceremony on Marchy 2nd .

AfterTorch Ceremony on March 2nd .

An elderly man standing next to me said ," This ceremony is so addictive that it makes me feel like coming here everyday!" I felt deeply that the fusion of Buddhism and Shinto can not express the nature of this ceremony well. It transcends Buddhism or Shinto, and it  is something  like the hometown of people's heart.

On the way to February Hall, I saw a stall vending baked sweet potatoes. 
It is difficult to resist the tempting smell.
                                                         In front of Great South Gate, Main Gate to Todai-ji Temple

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  1. The Second Month Ceremony sounds very dramatic with burning torches and the aroma of scorched leaves. It sounds like Buddhist and Shinto believes come together well in this ceremony. Happy spring!!

  2. Such a marvelous, dramatic ceremony and what a delightful tour and history you have given us!! Thank you so much! This is the kind of thing that I believe is so great about blogging! It gives people from all over the world an opportunity to experience our culture. And yours is even better with all the incredible photos you have to share as well! Arigatou!


  3. This is so unique. Very informative post, and I enjoyed the glimpses you shared.

  4. Wow! How exciting to see the twirling, flames of fire. You do an excellent job of describing this ceremony and your pictures are very helpful to imagining it all. I hope your Spring is wonderful for you. It sounds like you are more than ready ;-)

  5. Wow - superb shots of a magical ceremony!

  6. Very interesting and a beautiful tradition. Fire and Water, two opposites, magic!

  7. Once again, you have captured the essence of fire in your photos. I am learning so much about your ancient rituals and customs - I've had a wonderful visit with you, almost feeling as though I, too, attended the ceremony. I think this sentence is so descriptive and poetic: "it is something like the hometown of people's heart"

  8. This is a wonderful post! I have been exploring every word and photo. Your culture is full of tradition and is so colorful. I would love to see a ceremony like this someday. Very awesome!

  9. Thank you for sharing this ceremony with us. It is so interesting to meet people from all over the world and it is very important that women meet today. I wish you a very happy day. I hope to meet you again many times.

  10. Hello,Snowwhite.
    I went to see the ceremony last spring.
    Luckly I was showered by a lot of flying sparkles in the crowd!! I was healty healty last year! Thanks!

  11. Snowwhite,
    thank you for your visit & comment. I love this idea of one time, one meeting. I have enjoyed reading through your blog... so interesting! And such an education on culture & tradition.
    I'll be back to visit again soon.

  12. This is one of my favorite ceremonies I have participated at while living in Nara. True! It IS sort of addictive. I agree with you (old guy by you?).
    Thanks for sharing.

  13. What a fascinating celebration. A true celebration of collaboration and togetherness.

  14. Wonderful details of ceremony. The images are amazing as usual.

  15. It is a wonderful ceremony with depth and mystery. Your pictures are so evocative. I am glad you shared it with us. Like the Buddhists, Hindus also use green leaves during ceremonies.Thanks for visiting my blog.

  16. I have gone there three times. But spectator are getting more every years so we can not enter the just under te balcony without a ticket. But before when I entered inside the February-Hall,I moved to that atmosphere.

  17. Hi, snowwhite, I'm amazed not only with your fantastic shots but also with your energy and efforts to create this post. I know how early you had to get there to secure your position to take pictures, on the balcony and under the balcony, and how you braved the cold of very early morning. This post is a precious result of your efforts as well as your talent. Thank you.

  18. What a fascinating ceremony... And you have captured it so nicely that it gives a feeling that I have attended it!!
    Wonderful, I loved the post very much!
    Have a great day:)

  19. oh my, you've shown me so much here, and I love learning about these traditional ceremonies. your photos are fantastic. I can almost smell those burning cedar leaves. have a beautiful day snowwhite! I love this post.

  20. les photos avec le feu sont superbes, bravo car c'est pas toujours facile a faire

    Publicity ;o) Every Friday (and the Weekend), The Challenge "Walk In The Street Photography"

  21. It takes time and energy and an eye for beauty, a good command of technique of photgraphy to take this kind of dramatic,gorgeous,
    and overwhelming pictures. I really admire you.

  22. On paper I see the scene of this ceremony every year. But never with such angles for the touches. I'm astonished at your captures of the moments.
    And I remember clearly when I went to see it.

  23. I see on the news tonight the terrible earthquake in Japan. My thoughts and prayers are with you and your countrymen.

  24. Dear Snowwhite, I hope you are safe, for I have been watching TV and am shocked by the force of the Tsunami. It's so sad to see everything destroyed and to know that so many people died.
    I will pray for you.

  25. お気遣いありがとうございます。とても嬉しかったです。都内はこれから帰宅難民の対応で大変になりそうです。

  26. Joyful, Reader Wil,
    Thank you for your concern. The earthquake was very powerful, but Nara is far away from the epicenter. We all are OK. I wish tremors stop soon and pray for people in the afflicted area.
    Thanks again.


  27. Hi, Hope you are fine. Stay safe!

  28. Very impressive ceremony... Those fire pictures are so warming... I like very much the keepsake you pick up... Wish you well...

  29. Indrani, Tsuki,

    Thank you for your concern.
    These disasters could have happened anywhere in Japan.

    How powerless we are in front of the Mother Nature. I pray for the people and the area, no more loss, no more sufferings, never radioactive accident.

  30. I hope you are ok. Came via last week's My world Tuesday.


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