Japan Temples: Nigatsu-do & Sangatsu-do, Todaiji
The Nigatsu-do (Hall of the Second Month) and the Sangatsu-do (Hall of the Third Month) in Nara are located within the grounds of Todaiji Temple to the west of the Daibutsuden (Great Buddha Hall) close to Kasuga Taisha Shrine and Wakakusayama.
Nigatsu-do dates back to 752 during the Nara Period and is particularly associated with the Omizutori ("drawing water") ceremony believed to have been started by the monk Jitchu in 760 as a repentance service to the Boddhisattva Avalokiteshvara (Eleven Headed Kannon). The practice was originally known as Shuni-e (修二会).
The ceremony continues to this day and is held between March 1 and the evening of March 14.
(Visitors are advised to check the exact dates each year with the Tourist Office in Nara)
Priests carry long, flaming torches up to the balcony of Nigatsu-do and hold them over the crowds below. The burning embers that rain down on the onlookers beneath are believed to bestow good fortune for the coming year. At the climax of the festival, sacred water is drawn from a well at Nigatsudo around 2am on the morning of March 15.
The temple building burnt down during the Edo Period in 1667 during that year's Shuni-e ceremony and so the present building dates from 1669 and is designated as a National Treasure.
Built on a hill, Nigatsudo has wonderful views from its terrace back over Todaiji, the five-story pagoda at Kofukuji Temple, Nara Park and as far as Mount Ikoma on the border of Osaka and Nara prefectures on a clear day. To reach the platform at the top of the temple ascend by either the stone steps or the covered wooden walkway.
Sangatsu-do (Hokke-do) is located just to the south of Nigatsudo and is considered to be the oldest building in the Todaiji temple precinct. it was founded in 733 by the priest Roben, the first abbot of Todaiji. The name Hokke-do comes from the practice of holding a yearly service for the Hokekyo sutra in March by the lunar calendar - hence 'Hall' or 'temple of the third month.'
The building has remained intact, though the Raido (chapel) was added as recently as 1200.
The temple contains a number of extremely important statues including a 3.6m-tall, dry lacquer image of Fukukenjaku Kannon, who strives to save all souls from suffering. The image is surrounded by 14 other statues including flanking clay images of Nikko-Bosatsu and Gakko-Bosatsu, both National Treasures.
Other statues include dry lacquer images of Bonten (Brahma) and Taishakuten (Indra), both National Treasures and the Four Heavenly Guardians (all National Treasures). To the right of Bonten is a wooden statue of Fudo-Myo-o and to the left Jizo-Bosatsu (both Important Cultural Properties). In front of the platform holding the pantheon are two 3 meter tall dry lacquer Deva Kings.
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Todaiji is north east of Kofukuji and north of Nara National Museum. Todaiji is a 30 minute walk from Kintetsu Nara Station. Todaiji is also around a 45 minute walk from JR Nara Station. Nara Kotsu buses run to the temple from both stations including the yellow Nara City Loop Line Bus #2, the #70, #72, #97 and the #160; get off at Todaiji Daibutsuden bus stop.
Opening hours are 8am-4.30pm or 5pm daily from November to March and 7am-5pm or 5.30pm April-October.