Previously, we shared the story of the Prinkipo orphanage, the largest wooden building in Europe which, however, is small compared to the Daibutsu-den or Great Buddha Hall, considered the largest wooden building in the world. It holds the record despite being 33 percent smaller today than when it was first constructed due to several renovations.

It is located within the Tōdai-ji complex, a Buddhist temple in Nara, Japan, whose first building was constructed in 746 AD.

The Daibutsu-den was built between 747 and 752 AD, the year when the colossal bronze statue of the Buddha Vairocana it houses inside was inaugurated (despite being unfinished), standing about 16 meters tall and weighing 437 tons. Over ten thousand Japanese, Indian, and Chinese monks attended the ceremony.

The Great Buddha
The Great Buddha. Credit: Public domain / Wikimedia Commons

It is estimated that around 370,000 blacksmiths and 500,000 carpenters worked on the building’s construction. Today, it measures 57 meters in width and 50 meters in height and depth. However, due to various fires throughout history, it had to be rebuilt twice, making these dimensions 33 percent smaller than the original building. The current structure dates back to 1709.

Legend has it that more than two million people participated in the construction of the Great Buddha statue, which is remarkable as it would have represented nearly half of Japan’s population at that time.

The Tōdai-ji temple was built at the behest of Emperor Shōmu in response to a series of disasters and epidemics that plagued the country during the Tenpyō era (729-749 AD). The emperor believed that Buddha was the answer to the calamities, but his worship clashed with traditional Shintoism.

Daibutsu-den. Credit: Vesna Vujicic-Lugassy / Wikimedia Commons

Thus, according to legend, the monk Gyoki went to the Grand Shrine of Ise (the most important Shinto shrine in Japan), where he spent seven days reciting sutras until the oracle declared that Buddha was compatible with the worship of the sun goddess Amaterasu. The path for Buddhism in Japan was then opened.

Today, the Tōdai-ji temple remains active, and its community of monks continues to perform daily rites and ceremonies, the most important of which is the water and fire ceremony called Shuni-e.

The temple and all its buildings are UNESCO World Heritage Sites and one of Japan’s main tourist attractions.

Shuni-e Ceremony
Shuni-e Ceremony. Credit: ignis / Wikimedia Commons

Within the grounds roam sika deer, considered by Shintoism as messengers of the gods, and they can be fed with wafers sold by the monks on the premises.

This article was first published on our Spanish Edition on August 23, 2019: El edificio de madera más grande del mundo alberga una estatua de Buda de 16 metros de altura


Tōdai-ji (Sitio Oficial) | Encyclopaedia Britannica | Wikipedia

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