UNESCO sites and World Heritage towns have a certain air about them that call for a completely divine experience and when coupled with one of the older religions in the world the effect is sublime. Nara located in the Kansai region of Japan is one such place. The small town of Nara attracts a host of tourists because the Great Buddha it houses but also because of what it is as such. The quaint town boasts of ample greenery, a spiritual history, well-livered populace, artists who spend a day in the park creating a masterpiece, snazzy shopping quarters, great food places and Sentos or Japanese communal bath-houses. So on a bright summer day Nara presents a delectable version of sites concocted to perfection!
Walking about in Nara and a trip to the Kasuga-Taisha shrine is a perfect ending to any Japanese experience. The Nara Park, with the nearby Man’yo botanical garden, is filled with deer, again messengers to God, roaming about in the lush green park accepting biscuits and food from the lesser mortals as they prance about the complex of religious buildings. Nature is God, Shintoism strongly prescribes and the walk to Kasuga-Taisha is quite an ennobling experience with large doses of nature along the way. I think, therefore I am said Buddha. And reflecting well and often is a way to be, a way to think for oneself. As the park gives way to the shrine the stone lanterns begin to make an appearance. The multitude of lanterns one after the other guide the average walker to the shrine that is filled with lanterns of every sort. While the sculptural lanterns look pensive and wabi-sabi in every sense, in the evening they are lamps of hope brightly lit and not fighting with might the darkness.
The shrine that practises Shintosim is active and alive with followers who come from far and wide to pray. School children by the dozen prance about on a day off. While they make conversation one cannot help but wonder how beautifully the famed manners of the country have trickled down over many generations and have not got lost in spite of globalisation and fast-changing world. They speak with twinkling eyes and a disarming smile posing for pictures with us specimens from the other world, cause Nippon, as they lovingly address their country, is another world in itself. Apprehensively purchasing a ticket to the inside I walk through to mainly see the old-world temple coloured in a peppy orange and including the bonsai plants by the dozens. Crossing one room to another the route takes its own way before commencing into the lantern room, a dark room with twinkling lanterns one after the other hung in different designs and types all across the room. Walking through the lanterns thrills the senses and the burning lamps shimmer playfully all across the room, its a case of first loves. The votive lanterns are offered with the fulfilment of a vow and suddenly the space symbolised with fulfilled vows makes for an extremely uplifting experience.
With a host of positivity and if I may say, divine intervention the walk back is no different, with vendors selling away delicious sweet potatoes and cherry-blossom ice-cream in season! Just as we made our way out school children came up with school assignments sitting about in the Nara park and solving some really long division sums! Soaking in at a Sento in Nara, the experience of the brilliant lanterns replays and a Dylan Thomas comes to the mind.
“Do not go gently into that good night,
rage rage against the dying of the light!”
_ Dylan Thomas
No, do not!