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It is hard to believe that amidst the humdrum of the city, lies a Japanese Forest.

The Japanese Forest is a lesser-known attraction at Eco-park. It has been beautifully landscaped on 3.5acre of land. Amongst several things, the Japanese have pioneered and excelled in gardening and landscaping.

Shintoism, the East Asian religion has its roots in Japan. It is also known as the nature religion. This Forest has intelligently amalgamated both, the elements of nature and God to enchant the visitors. The principle, that nature and God are one and all the same, has been captured in this mesmerizing forest.

A Shrine At A Theme Park?

When HIDCO was constructing a public park in New Town, the excavations led to several interesting finds. Amongst the many relics, they dug out stone lanterns, Chimes, statues of Buddha, and his disciples. Several other artefacts and objects of Shinto belief were rescued from the site. The find dated back to a Japanese monk, who had travelled to Kolkata post World War-II to propagate Shintoism. He practised the religion diligently in this very land for close to 50 years along with his disciples. The Japanese Forest has been built as a mark of respect to the noble monk.

Shintoism

Shintoism is also known as Kami-no-Michi (Kami meaning god or spirits). It has been practised in Japan since the 300CE, exactly when Buddhism entered the region. The religion has taken specific best practices from Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, and other East Asian religions. Shintoism believes that every animate and inanimate object has spirits. It reveres supernatural entities and the religion is built around the same belief. Various rituals and practices have been designed and established and have been propagated around the world since then.

Komainu

These are lion-dog statues considered to be shrine guardians. A series of ferocious-looking Komainu carved out of stone stands at the entrance of the shrine. They are usually in pairs with either an open mouth or closed mouth. The open mouth pronounces the first letter of the Sanskrit alphabet “a” and the closed mouth pronounced “um”, the end.

Torii

Torii gateway

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Torii gateway is an entrance to every Shinto shrine. This symbolizes the transition from the worldly space to the sacred. Going forward, a series of Torii gates will catch one’s attention from a distance. The brightly coloured vermillion gates arranged closely to each other is a gift. A wealthy businessman has offered the Torii gates to the shrine as he has received blessings from the Kami in manifolds. The names of people who donate the Torii gates are inscribed on the pillars. One is supposed to walk mindfully along the pathway and count one’s steps till the end of the series. Many get to hear a mystic rhythm emanating from within the pathway.

Walk it, to believe it!!

Alcove of Buddhas

Alcove of Buddhas

Past the Torri is an alcove of several small Buddhas carved by the disciples themselves. Every statue has a different expression and pose. The disciples resemble the smiling buddhas. It is said that they come to life at night to protect the premises. The disciples make way to a beautiful arched walkway covered with flowering creepers.

 

 

Labyrinth

The labyrinth has been designed in an interesting way with concrete slabs and aromatic tuberose in between. One would be intrigued to walk along the concentric circles, to the fragrance and sight of aromatic flowers. One is supposed to walk along the designed pathway. It is said that one would be able to concentrate and get rid of worldly worries, if walked with a strong faith.

Bamboo Groves

The display of yellow bamboos in the bamboo grove is fascinating. Bamboo has been considered lucky amongst several religions. The Japanese get inspiration from the bamboo tree with regards to resilience, the power to spring back, and a commitment to continuous growth.

The Sacred Shrine

Sacred Shrine

The shrine has been built in reverence of the monk who travelled all the way to India to propagate Shintoism. The bright yellow walls are decked with several animal figures glittering in gold. The rhythmic beats of the gong greet one to the humble site. The entrance makes way to prayer wheels with scrolls of prayers within. The sanctum sanctorum has the kami (god) painted white seated in all his grace. The authorities have plans to renovate the three-storied pagoda and the courtyard.

The 7 Disciples

In Shintoism, the followers are as important as the kami. The seven prime disciples who have stayed here and practised together with their leader have their place in the landscaped patch of green. The seven disciples seated together in peace just by the waterbody signifies the power of meditation. It is said that by sitting next to the disciples and meditating for a while, one gains serenity and peace of mind.

Wish Fountain

A Sori Bashi (little wooden bridge) build over the waterbody signifies calmness, wonder, and continuity. Shinto shrines and Zen gardens are incomplete without a water body, as water signifies purity. Toro, decorative stone lanterns which were found as relics are being placed in strategic places along with other important relics of significance.

Moon Gate

Moon Gate

Walking past the crescent-shaped Moon gate is considered to be extremely lucky. Newly-weds are recommended to walk along the path for a prosperous and happy beginning of a new phase in life. Besides the gate, is a collection of Bamboo lights that looks transcendental during the night. Hollow bamboo shoots cut strategically with lights emanating, adds an enigmatic experience to the tour. Wind chimes are of great significance in many South Asian religions. A walk along the gallery of wind chimes will lend a magical meditative state to the body and mind.

 

 

 

Japanese Restaurant

A Japanese restaurant, within the forest, is coming up shortly with some exotic Japanese delicacies to treat your taste buds. For the time being, you can relish a hot cuppa and reminisce this Japanese wonder.

I was at the Japanese Forest on a lovely winter afternoon with a bunch of my college buddies.

Click on the link below to know more about Japan.

15 Tips While Travelling to Japan

 

STD(SanchitasTravelDiary) Rating – 4.5/5

 

Read this article before you visit Myanmar, the land of Buddhists, humble monks, gold and gemstones.

1. Timeless Beauty

Built more than 2500 years ago, it is the oldest Pagoda in the world. It is also regarded as one of the wonders of the world. It has been the custodian of art, culture, history and architecture of Myanmar.

2. All that glitters is gold

The stupa is made out of hundreds of genuine gold plates and ornaments. These have been donated by the monarchs and the devotees. The tradition of donating gold started with the 15th century Queen Shin Sawbu. The queen even donated gold worth her own weight towards the construction of the stupa.

3. Buddha Relics

The most sacred pagoda in Myanmar has the relics of the 4 previous Buddhas of the present Kalpa.

  • Eight strands of hair of Gautama Buddha.
  • A piece of the robe of Kashyapa.
  • Water filter of Konagamana.
  • The Staff of Kakusandha.

4. Diamonds and rubies

The crown at the top of the spire is tipped with 4,531 diamonds, 2,317 rubies and a 72 carat (15 g) diamond embedded on the peak.

5. The Great Bell of Dhammazedi

The Portuguese adventurer Filipe de Britto e Nicote plundered the Shwedagon Pagoda. His men confiscated the 300 ton Bell of Dhammazedi to melt it down to make canons. But the bell fell into the Bago River and is yet to be recovered in spite of several attempts. There are several mysteries in and around the Bell of Dhammazedi.

6. Circumnavigation

It is customary to circumnavigate clockwise starting with the eastern directional shrine. It has the statue of Kakusandha the first Buddha of the present Kalpa. Followed by the Southern directional shrine with the statue of Konagamana. The western directional shrine has the statue of Kashyapa followed by Gautama Buddha in the north.

7. Fortification

During the Anglo-Burmese wars, the British had occupied Shwedagon Pagoda and used it as a fortress. It also vandalised certain portions of the divine Paya. During the second Anglo-Burmese war, the military occupied the pagoda for 77 years. They not only looted the priceless artefacts but also sacked several precious treasures from the shrine.

8. Natural disasters

Shwedagon pagoda was affected by a series of earthquakes and other natural disasters. The worst being in 1768, leading to partial demolishment of its different facades. Every time it was destroyed, the rulers along with the devotees refurbished and erected an even bigger and stronger pagoda. The Myanmarese believes in silently forging ahead with a never say die attitude.

9. Call for Independence

Several landmark meetings and demonstrations were held in front of the Shwedagon pagoda. In 1946 General Aung San had addressed a mass meeting at the Stupa demanding, “Independence now” from the British. In 1988 his daughter Aung San Suu Kyi too had addressed a gathering of 5 lakh Burmese demanding democracy from the military regime.

10. Dress code

As a mark of reverence devotees are requested to be modestly dressed. It includes knee-length bottom wear and elbow-length top wear. Visitors are requested to enter the premises barefoot as a mark of reverence to the Buddha.

 

STD rating – 5/5

My several trips and long stays in Myanmar developed into a love for this country and its people. On delving deeper I found that Myanmar and India share deep ties with regards to religion, borders, people, politics and also emotion.

My trip to this 2,500-year-old Buddhist Pagoda was a long-awaited one. Considered to be the oldest pagoda in the world. It is nestled quaintly over the Singuttara hills. With not many high-rises in the city of Yangon, the golden spire of the pagoda can be seen from far off places of the city. It creates a golden halo in the skyline during the evening. Fully armed with a camera, maps, travel documents, history of the pagoda and an open conscience I was all set to soak in.   

About Shwedagon Pagoda

The Pagoda has 8 strands of Buddha’s hair and many other holy relics. All of these have been preserved with the utmost care. It is considered to be the most sacred place for the people of Myanmar and worldwide following Theravada Buddhism.

Built by the Mon dynasty, currently, the Shwedagon pagoda stands at 110 meters on a 114acre hill. There are several gates for entry, each intricately crafted. The pagoda has been gilded with gold plates while the tip of the stupa is encrusted with 4531 diamonds. Studded with thousands of other precious stones, no wonder why it finds its place in the list of “wonders of the world”. There are several stupas, shrines and statues within the premises. Devotees visit the pagoda from distant places worldwide to worship the Buddha in his various forms. The most captivating sight is in the evening, with the sun setting in the background and colouring the sky a crimson red. Post the sunset, devotees offer prayers along with incense sticks and flowers in front of the main shrine. With the fascinating hues of the sky, Shwedagon Pagoda glitters like a jewel in the night sky. It is indeed a photographer’s delight.

Shinbyu (novitiation ceremony), a tradition with Theravada Buddhism is followed at the pagoda. Monks of the pagoda offer a saffron robe along with several other objects guides a person enter monkhood. During my trip to the Pagoda, I could see quite a few Shinbyu processions. Little children and young boys were carried by their friends and family with elan. A decorated umbrella with embellishments was used to offer a princely status to the boy entering monkhood. I was also fortunate enough to witness a few marriage ceremonies, where couples along with their families had come to offer prayers for a prosperous and happy married life.

How to reach

Myanmar can be reached directly by flight. Yangon international airport is now well connected. I took a direct flight from Kolkata to Yangon.

Entry fee – $8 for foreign visitors, locals pay less.

Timing – 2.00 pm to 10.00 pm

Best time to visit – Avoid summers, as summer in Myanmar is pretty harsh. Though, evenings are quite pleasant.

Dress code – Visitors are expected to wear knee-length bottom wear and elbow-length tops/shirts. Incase one ain’t dressed appropriately, one may use the Longyi, the traditional dress of Myanmar available within the premises.