Takekiri Eshiki – The Bamboo Cutting Festival

20th June, 2015

Sakyo Ward, Kyoto City Kuramadera Temple, Kyoto, Japan.

Takekiri Eshiki - Bamboo Cutting Festival

Image Courtesy: Felix Filnkoessl used under the Creative Commons Licence

Takekiri Eshiki, translates to Takekiri, meaning “cutting bamboo” and Eshiki, meaning “event”. Therefore, Takekiri Eshiki  – The Bamboo Cutting Festival, is a bamboo-cutting ceremony where the bamboo is cut into pieces. To the people of Japan, bamboo is the representation of an evil serpent. Therefore, cutting of the bamboo symbolises “Victory over Evil”. Only Monks cut the bamboo into pieces and they cut it hard using sharp swords, which cause bamboo pieces to fly in all directions.

The origin of this story is based on a monk named Buen, and dates back to the 9th century. It is believed that one day, while Buen was undertaking penance in the mountains, monstrous male and female serpents attacked him. The monk first cut and killed the male serpent by chanting a powerful Shito mantra during which the female serpent pleaded for mercy and promised to help people to make a stream from the mountain. The serpent kept her word and since then the villagers have enjoyed affluent water and worshiped the serpent by creating a little shrine.

In honour of the female serpent, every year, eight male parishioners clad in costumes of warrior monks form two teams. Upon a signal, the teams rush out to cut the 4-meter long and 10-cm thick green bamboo poles with strokes of mountain swords into eight pieces. The poles symbolise the serpents, which are incarnations of evil. The ceremony is performed to pray for a bountiful harvest.

The area represented by the winning team is believed to enjoy rich harvests that year. The 2 teams are named Omi and Tanba, which represent the eastern and western sides of Mt Kurama respectively. In olden days, the area around the Lake Biwa was called Omi and parts of Hyogo and Kyoto préfectures were called Tanba.

The pieces of cut bamboo are believed to guard homes against misfortune. At the end of the ritual, a female bamboo, roots intact, is returned and replanted in the grove from which the male trees were taken.

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