domingo, 9 de octubre de 2016

THE BATTLE OF DAN-NO-URA

In the stories concerning Yoshitsune and his loyal retainer Benkei we have already referred to the battle of Dan-no-ura, the last conflict between the Taira and Minamoto clans. In this great sea-fight the Taira perished, including their infant emperor, Antoku-tenno. Thus is the memorable scene described in the Heike Monogatari, translated by Dr. W. G. Aston (the empress drowning herself in the ocean, with her only son and heir in her arms):

"'This world is the region of sorrow, a remote spot small as a grain of millet. But beneath the waves there is the Pure Land of Perfect Happiness. Thither it is that I am taking you.' With such words she soothed him. The child then tied his top-knot to the Imperial robe of the colour of a mountain-dove, and tearfully joined together his lovely little hands. First he turned to the East, and bade adieu to the shrine of the Great God of Ise and the shrine of Hachiman. Next he turned to the West, and called upon the name of Buddha. When he had done so, Niidono made bold to take him in her arms, and sank down to the bottom one thousand fathoms deep."

It is said that for seven hundred years after this great battle the sea and coast in the vicinity have been haunted by the ghosts of the Taira clan. Mysterious fires shone on the waves, and the air was filled with the noise of warfare. In order to pacify the unfortunate spirits the temple of Amidaji was built at Akamagaséki, and a cemetery was made close by, in which were various
 monuments inscribed with the names of the drowned Emperor and his principal followers. This temple and cemetery pacified the ghostly visitants to a certain extent, but from time to time many strange things happened, as we shall gather from the following legend.
There once lived at the Amidaji temple a blind priest named Hōïchi. He was famous for his recitation and for his marvellous skill in playing upon the biwa (a four-stringed lute), and he was particularly fond of reciting stories in connection with the protracted war between the Taira and Minamoto clans.
One night Hōïchi was left alone in the temple, and as it was a very warm evening he sat out on the verandah, playing now and again upon his biwa. While thus occupied he heard some one approaching, some one stepping across the little back garden of the temple. Then a deep voice cried out from below the verandah: "Hōïchi!" Yet again the voice sounded: "Hōïchi!"
Hōïchi, now very much alarmed, replied that he was blind, and would be glad to know who his visitor might be.
"My lord," began the stranger, "is now staying at Akamagaséki with many noble followers, and he has come for the purpose of viewing the scene of the battle of Dan-no-ura. He has heard how excellently you recite the story of the conflict, and has commanded me to escort you to him in order that you may show him your skill. Bring your biwa and follow me. My lord and his august assembly now await your honourable presence."
Hōïchi, deeming that the stranger was some noble samurai, obeyed immediately. He donned his sandals and took his biwa. The stranger guided him with an iron hand, and they marched along very quickly. Hōïchi heard the clank of armour at his side; but all
 fear left him, and he looked forward to the honour of showing his skill before a distinguished company.
Arriving at a gate, the stranger shouted: "Kaimon!" Immediately the gate was unbarred and opened, and the two men passed in. Then came the sound of many hurrying feet, and a rustling noise as of screens being opened. Hōïchi was assisted in mounting a number of steps, and, arriving at the top, he was commanded to leave his sandals. A woman then led him forward by the hand till he found himself in a vast apartment, where he judged that a great company of people were assembled. He heard the subdued murmur of voices and the soft movement of silken garments. When Hōïchi had seated himself on a cushion the woman who had led him bade him recite the story of the great battle of Dan-no-ura.
Hōïchi began to chant to the accompaniment of his biwa. His skill was so great that the strings of his instrument seemed to imitate the sound of oars, the movement of ships, the shouting of men, the noise of surging waves, and the whirring of arrows. A low murmur of applause greeted Hōïchi's wonderful performance. Thus encouraged, he continued to sing and play with even greater skill. When he came to chant of the perishing of the women and children, the plunge of Niidono into the sea with the infant Emperor in her arms, the company began to weep and wail.
When the performance was over the woman who had led Hōïchi told him that her lord was well pleased with his skill, and that he desired him to play before him for the six following nights. "The retainer," added she, "who brought you to-night will visit your temple at the same hour to-morrow. You must keep these visits secret, and may now return to your abode."
Once more the woman led Hōïchi through the apartment,
 and having reached the steps the same retainer led him back to the verandah at the back of the temple where he lived.
The next night Hōïchi was again led forth to entertain the assembly, and he met with the same success. But this time his absence was detected, and upon his return his fellow priest questioned him in regard to the matter. Hōïchi evaded his friend's question, and told him that he had merely been out to attend some private business.
His questioner was by no means satisfied. He regretted Hōïchi's reticence and feared that there was something wrong, possibly that, the blind priest had been bewitched by evil spirits. He bade the men-servants keep a strict watch upon Hōïchi, and to follow him if he should again leave the temple during the night.
Once more Hōïchi left his abode. The men-servants hastily lit their lanterns and followed him with all speed; but though they walked quickly, looked everywhere, and made numerous inquiries, they failed to discover Hōïchi, or learn anything concerning him. On their return, however, they were alarmed to hear the sound of a biwa in the cemetery of the temple, and on entering this gloomy place they discovered the blind priest. He sat at the tomb of Antoku Tenno, the infant Emperor, where he twanged his biwa loudly, and as loudly chanted the story of the battle of Dan-no-ura. About him on every side mysterious fires glowed, like a great gathering of lighted candles.
"Hōïchi! Hōïchi!" shouted the men. "Stop your playing at once! You are bewitched, Hōïchi!" But the blind priest continued to play and sing, rapt, it seemed, in a strange and awful dream.
The men-servants now resorted to more extreme] measures. They shook him, and shouted in his ear: "Hōïchi, come back with us at once!"
The blind priest rebuked them, and said that such an interruption would not be tolerated by the noble assembly about him.
The men now dragged Hōïchi away by force. When he reached the temple his wet clothes were taken off and food and drink set before him.
By this time Hōïchi's fellow priest was extremely angry, and he not unjustly insisted upon a full explanation of his extraordinary behaviour. Hōïchi, after much hesitation, told his friend all that had happened to him. When he had narrated his strange adventures, the priest said:
"My poor fellow! You ought to have told me this before. You have not been visiting a great house of a noble lord, but you have been sitting in yonder cemetery before the tomb of Antoku-tenno. Your great skill has called forth the ghosts of the Taira clan. Hōïchi, you are in great danger, for by obeying these spirits you have assuredly put yourself in their power, and sooner or later they will kill you. Unfortunately I am called away to-night to perform a service, but before I go I will see that your body is covered with sacred texts."
Before night approached Hōïchi was stripped, and upon his body an acolyte inscribed, with writing-brushes, the text of the sutra known as Hannya-Shin-Kyō. These texts were written upon Hōïchi's chest, head, back, face, neck, legs, arms, and feet, even upon the soles thereof.
Then the priest said: "Hōïchi, you will be called again to-night. Remain silent, sit very still, and continually meditate. If you do these things no harm will befall you."

That night Hōïchi sat alone in the verandah, scarcely moving a muscle and breathing very softly.
Once more he heard the sound of footsteps. "Hōïchi!" cried a deep voice. But the blind priest made no answer. He sat very still, full of a great fear.
His name was called over and over again, but to no effect. "This won't do," growled the stranger. "I must see where the fellow is." The stranger sprang into the verandah and stood beside Hōïchi, who was now shaking all over with the horror of the situation.
"Ah!" said the stranger. "This is the biwa, but in place of the player I see—only two ears! Now I understand why he did not answer. He has no mouth, only his two ears! Those ears I will take to my lord!"
In another moment Hōïchi's ears were torn off, but in spite of the fearful pain the blind priest remained mute. Then the stranger departed, and when his footsteps had died away the only sound Hōïchi heard was the trickling of blood upon the verandah, and thus the priest found the unfortunate man upon his return.
"Poor Hōïchi!" cried the priest. "It is all my fault. I trusted my acolyte to write sacred texts on every part of your body. He failed to do so on your ears. I ought to have seen that he carried out my instructions properly. However, you will never be troubled with those spirits in future." From that day the blind priest was known as Mimi-nashi-Hōïchi, "Hōïchi-the-Earless."

No hay comentarios:

Publicar un comentario