Friday Review

An eighth century wonder at Kamakura

Situated on a multi-level terrace garden, Hasedera is a delight to visit besides its religious significance. The terrace, based on a hill, offers a panoramic view of the city of Kamakura and the sea.

The main deity of the temple is the Goddess of Mercy, Kannon. The colossal statue was made from a single piece of camphor wood in the eighth century.

It is said that two similar images were made and one was kept in Hase near Nara, the old capital of Japan. The other was set adrift in the sea leaving the choice to the statue to find a place with which it had a karmic connection.

After drifting for about 300 miles it came ashore at a place, where it is believed to have brought bad luck to the people and so the statue of Kannon was thrown back into the sea. Finally it reached Kamakura and its arrival brought along good tidings to the city. So a permanent ‘Hase Kannon temple’ was built for the Goddess, thus named after its place of birth.

At 9 mt (30 ft), it is the tallest wooden sculpture in Japan. It has eleven faces each with a different expression proclaiming Kannon’s compassion towards various types of human suffering. The Treasure House is part of the Konnondo housing artefacts from the periods of Kamakura, Heian, Muromacho and Edo.

A Buddha named Amida is also seen in a shrine Amidado (Amida Hall) at Hasedera. He had promised that anyone who chanted His name with devotion would be granted rebirth in the Pure Land. It is said that Yoritomo Minamoto (1147-99) commissioned this statue on his 42nd birthday, as it was considered to be an unlucky year for men.

What catches one’s attention are the numerous stone images of Jizo, the guardian deity of children, arranged near larger images of monks or steps on the sides. These votive sculptures were earlier set up by parents praying to Jizo for the protection of their children. But today they represent the souls of children lost to miscarriage, stillbirth or abortion.

Some of the images are dressed with bibs, hand-knitted caps and sweaters. We were told that nearly 50,000 sculptures have been donated, but around 1,000 images on display currently would remain only for a year after which they would be buried or burned to allow new ones to be set up. Jizo figurines can be bought in the temple premises.

The beautifully laid out garden also contains a pond with a bamboo fountain and stone lanterns.

Nearby is the shrine known as Bentendo with the image of Benten (Benzaiteb), the Shinto goddess for feminine beauty and wealth. Bentenkutsu, a cave containing images of Benten and other minor deities lit with candles, is situated next to it.

The lush garden with different species also has some rare plants such as the cherry blossom in two colours — bright red and pale pink. Tourists throng this small town for its natural beauty and amazing shrines.

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Printable version | Nov 28, 2020 11:30:22 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/An-eighth-century-wonder-at-Kamakura/article16644631.ece

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