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 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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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STD(SanchitasTravelDiary) Rating – 4.5/5