Standing in a carefully maintained compact compound, complete with beautifully manicured lawns and gardens, and slightly hidden from the direct sight of the pedestrians, the Nipponzan Myohoji is the only Japanese Buddhist temple in the City of Calcutta. Popularly known as the Japanese Buddhist temple, it is a place of tranquility, a place for quiet reflection and self-contemplation, and an oasis of peace for all, irrespective of religion.
Although few people in Calcutta are aware of the presence of a Japanese temple in the city, except the locals, the Nipponzan Myohoji is located on Lake Road, renamed Kabi Bharati Sarani, on the southern fringe of the Rabindra Sarovar Lake, near Dhakuria Flyover, officially named Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu Bridge.
The Nipponzan Myohoji was founded by Nichidatsu Fuji, an ardent follower of the great Buddhist monk Nichiren, who believed that the Lotus Sutra illuminates the path to enlightenment. To spread the message of his spiritual guide, Nichidatsu Fuji visited Calcutta and established the Nipponzan Myohoji in 1935, constructed on the piece of land donated by the noted industrialist and philanthropist Jugal Kishore Birla, a vocal supporter of Hindu philosophy.
During those early days, the temple hosted a few followers of a pacifist Japanese religious movement, derived from a 13th-century branch of Buddhism called Nichiren Buddhist. They believed that the Lotus Sutra, the collection of the final teachings of Lord Buddha, contains the highest truth of Buddhist teachings, suited for the Third Age of Buddhism, and is the complete guide to illuminate the path for salvation. It is one of the most popular Mahayana sutras, based on which Tiantai, Tendai, Cheontae, and Nichiren schools of Buddhism were established.
Standing very near to the lake, the temple is a serene spot where the stress and strain of the city-life seem to be washed away. At the entrance of the milk-white imposing building of the two-tiered Japanese Buddhist temple Nipponzan Myohoji, there is a small signage in Japanese, which means, I take refuge in the wonderful law of the Lotus Flower Sutra. The exterior of the temple is decorated with golden borders and crowned with a Stupa. There are similar other smaller stupas on each of the tiers of the temple.
An extended portico equipped with a short flight of stairs leads to the interior of the temple that houses a milk-white idol of Buddha, seated on an altar, richly decorated with colourful silken fabrics and tall candle-stands. While decorated bronze lampshades hung from the ceiling, the walls are dotted with flowing Japanese calligraphic scrolls, along with a photograph of Nichidatsu Fuji, the founder of the temple.
The second floor of the building contains a meditation room, and an extension houses the Arya Dharma Library, containing mainly books in Japanese. While the monk’s quarters are located at the back of the temple, the front part consists of a well-maintained garden, containing a flat pillar with a message of peace engraved with Japanese calligraphy in bright golden colours. The pillar is flanked by a pair of golden lions, symbolizing the guardians of the faith. However, the Japanese refer to these figures as Komainu or lion-dog.
Twice a day, in the early morning hours and at dusk, the Monks of the temple offer prayers in the Japanese language, to the sound of beating drums that symbolize the rhythm of our lives. The total ambiance created by the chanting of the prayer of the monks, along with the sound of the drums, initiates a heavenly feeling of peace and tranquility in the heart of the visitors. Two auspicious days are especially celebrated in the temple. One of them is the anniversary celebration of the temple on 15 February when respected monks from various parts of the world grace the occasion, and another is the Buddha Purnima, the birthday celebration of Lord Buddha.