Aesthetics of impermanence

Print edition : September 04, 2015

Sakura, or cherry blossons, in Kyoto, Japan.

The great stupa of the Toji Temple towers above one in all its magnificence, reminding one of the greatness of the spirit within one. Photo: Benoy K. Behl & Sujata Chatterji

Ninnaji Temple, Kyoto, has perhaps the most beautiful sakura blossoms in the entire region. These are called Omuro sakura, and they blossom a little later than other kinds. The trees here are not very tall, and visitors can see the delight of the sakura better. Here, one can see the stupa in the background. Photo: Benoy K. Behl & Sujata Chatterji

The sweet joy of beautiful sakura in Kyoto, in the temple gardens of the city. Photo: Benoy K. Behl & Sujata Chatterji

The drooping sakura by night. The transient beauty of the blossoms takes one to an ethereal world, particularly under the light of the stars. Photo: Benoy K.Behl and Sujata Chatterji

At cherry blossom time, it is the tradition for girls to dress in clothes that reflect the joy and beauty of the season. Photo: Benoy K. Behl & Sujata Chatterji

Close-ups of the blossoms. The fragrance of cherry blossoms fills the air and one is conscious of the bountiful abundance of nature. Photo: Benoy K. Behl & Sujata Chatterji

There are two kinds of cherry blossoms, one kind that is held up by the branches and the kind seen here, which droops down. Both kinds are equally beautiful. Photo: Benoy K. Behl & Sujata Chatterji

THE fragrance of the blossoms was thick in the air and the calls of ecstatic birds filled our ears. Sujata Chatterji and I had a wonderful 32 days in Japan. Here are a few photographs of sakura (cherry blossoms) that we took in Kyoto. There is rain much of the time in spring, and we had to wait some days for clear afternoons on which to take the photographs. It was all the more difficult because the peak time of sakura lasts only for a few days.

Japan is famous for the beauty of its cherry blossoms in spring. For the Japanese, sakura are much more than just very pretty flowers. A tree that you see looking almost unbelievably beautiful with sakura is some days later bare, without a single flower. It reminds one so clearly that all the beauty of the world, all the things of the world, are impermanent. One is all aware of the transience of the world around one, but the flowering and fading of sakura makes quite an impact upon the viewer. The beauty is so much and it goes away so soon. It is well known that the appreciation of sakura is a national culture in Japan. All Japanese are fully sensitive to the beauty of cherry blossoms and spend much time enjoying them. Along with a consciousness that all in this world is only maya, which will not last, one is encouraged to appreciate the beauty while it is there. A sense of aesthetics permeates the quality of Japanese life.

Benoy K. Behl is a film-maker, art historian and photographer known for his prolific output of work over the past 36 years. He has taken over 46,000 photographs of Asian monuments and art heritage, made 132 documentaries on art and cultural history, and held exhibitions in 40 countries. He has been invited to lecture by most of the important universities and museums around the world that have departments of Asian art. His landmark book The Ajanta Caves is published by Thames & Hudson, London and Harry N. Abrams, New York, and is in its fifth print run. Behl is at present conducting a project of documentation of the Hindu deities and Indian cultural influences in Japan. Sujata Chatterji is Behl’s partner and assistant director on this project.

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