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Buddha’s here

Amida Buddha returns to India after 1,500 years, albeit for a week. SHAILAJA TRIPATHI TANEJA reports

Photo: V. V. Krishnan

A treasure Amida Buddha from Japan at the exhibition of Buddhist treasures in New Delhi

It’s homecoming for Amida Buddha. From Vaishali in 552 A.D., the statue of Amida Buddha, said to be the oldest Buddha idol, reached Japan. Ever since, it has been enshrined in Zenkoji temple, a 1,300-year-old pilgrimage site in Nagoya, Japan . After almost 1,500 years, the idol is coming back to India, albeit for a short while in Zenkoji Shonin exhibition at National Museum.

The exhibition, being organised by the Japanese foundation and Japan desk of Foxmandal Little, is part of the law firm’s corporate social responsibility.

What makes the event significant is the fact that the exhibition will enable Indians to view the statue that even the people of Japan haven’t been able to see . The actual image is never shown to the public, but every seventh year an exact replica is revealed in a grand ceremony called Gokaicho. Both the actual and the replica are being showcased here.

It is a triad of Amida Buddha with the attendants Kannon and Seishi Bosatsu in gilt bronze. The standing Amida image is shown with the right hand raised and the left hand lowered in the position known as Token-in where only the forefinger and middle finger are extended. The attendant figures wear ornamental crowns and have their hands folded across their chest. The triad is the principal devotional image at Zenkoji and is said to have originated in India. It then travelled to China and was brought to Japan by Hata No Kosedayu in 552 A.D.

Gakkai legend

“The story goes that it was made by an Indian merchant called Gakkai in Vaishali. He was wealthy but miserly. He didn’t believe in Buddha’s philosophy. Buddha wanted to reform him and make him use his money to help the poor. Once, his daughter fell ill and he took her to Buddha. He told him Amitabha is the lord of west direction so move towards west and start praying. The girl survived. He became an ardent follower and made the statue of Amida Buddha for the world to see,” narrates Vikram Bakshi, Head, Japan desk, Foxmandal Little.

The golden coloured statue is three metre high. It is the first Buddhist image to arrive in Japan and heralded the beginning of Buddhism there . “It is said that anyone who touches the statue becomes tremendously powerful. Nobody is allowed to touch or see the statue,” says Bakshi.

As a tradition, generation after generation, women from the noble family become caretakers of the temple and the statue. The exhibits and the statue are accompanied by the 121st head Seigyoku Shonin of Takatsukasa family. “The exhibits, the logistics, exhibition lay-out, everything were decided by the nuns. They were quite apprehensive initially. To ensure smooth functioning, we involved all the Japanese companies in India like Nippon and Canon,” says Bakshi.

The nuns will also visit Vaishali, Gaya and Sarnath to take part in prayers.

Other exhibits

Apart from the statue, on display are 160 exhibits from the temple. The premises of the temple are full of rare artefacts and in fact its main hall is a national treasure. Items like coronation dresses, princesses’ kimonos, imperial seals are on display. These items were given as offerings to the temple by Tokugawa shoguns — the most powerful warlords in Japan. They used to patronise the temple.

Shin Buddhism revolves around the concept of Amida Buddha. The name Amida is Japanese, derived from Amitabha of the ancient Sanskrit language meaning infinite light and eternal life. Amida Buddha is a manifestation of the absolute reality which is described in Mahayana Buddhism as the Dharmakaya. The historical Buddha of our era, Shakyamuni (or Gautama) who lived in India, is considered by Shin Buddhists as a manifestation of Amida Buddha revealing the Mahayana sutras to the world. “The concept of Amitabha Buddha originated in India and travelled abroad.

The pure land tradition is now practiced in South East Asia but hardly in India. There are four Buddhas and Amida Buddha is one of the manifestations. It is the incarnation of a figure called Dharmakaya, repository of Dharma,” says Rajiv Mehrotra, Honorary Secretary/Trustee, The Foundation for Universal Responsibility of His Holiness The Dalai Lama.

“Countries like Thailand and the U.S. were trying to get the exhibition but we got it.

The oldest statue of Lord Buddha coming back to India symbolises India’s resurgence,” says Bakshi.

(The exhibition will be on till November 30 at National Museum)

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