1,300-Year-Old Torch Ritual Held at Nara Temple; Flames of Shuni-e Ceremony Light Up Todaiji

The Yomiuri Shimbun
The path of the flames of the giant pine torch is seen over a four-minute exposure at Todaiji temple’s Nigatsudo hall in Nara on Friday.

A dazzling torch ritual of repentance that dates back nearly 1,300 years and lasts two weeks started Friday at Nara’s iconic Todaiji Temple.

In the annual Shuni-e Ceremony, a massive pine torch is waved around in the inner sanctum, sending off sparks that are believed to bring good health and fend off disaster.

The tradition started in 752 during the Nara period (710-784) and involves a number of selected monks staying in the temple’s Nigatsudo hall for 14 days, performing various rituals to seek penitence for people’s misdeeds.

On the first day of the ceremony — generally referred to as Omizutori — the monks entered the hall at around 7 p.m. on Friday. Leading the procession is an official, called the Doji, carrying the giant pine torch on a 6-meter long pole weighing about 40 kilograms.

The flames light up the night sky as the ball of fire is spun on its axis and waved around. The ritual is performed every evening through March 14.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
A monk performs a ritual in preparation for the Shuni-e Ceremony in Nara on Thursday.