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Japanese Gandhian talks peace at Rajghat

'With the teachings of Gandhi, we can aspire for world peace,' says a 69-year-old Buddhist nun of Japanese origin.

india Updated: Jan 30, 2007 12:54 IST

It is a freezing 5.00 am at Rajghat. A slightly built woman clad in a yellow robe is chanting a mantra and beating the uchiwa daiko drum as she walks towards the memorial to Mahatma Gandhi whose death anniversary the nation observes on Tuesday.

Once in a while she stops to greet passers-by, some of whom are quite familiar with her. Katsu Horiuchi, a Buddhist nun of Japanese origin, has after all made India her home for the last 19 years.

"Today people do not stop me on the way. They know that I have my own way and journey. I bow to them as I feel I'm bowing my head before god in every human form," she says philosophically.

So what brings the 69-year-old Katsu behen - as her Indian friends lovingly call her - to Rajghat every dawn, even in the biting cold of winter? Her single-minded mission of world peace.

"With the teachings of Gandhi, we can aspire for world peace," said Katsu behen. Her day thus begins with a prayer at Rajghat.

As the sounds of her uchiwa daiko (a Japanese drum) reverberate in the silence of the morning, she chants the well-known Buddhist verse, "Na Mu Myo Hoi Ren Ge Kyo", which preaches peace and brotherhood.

Horiuchi lives at Sannidhi, the building that also houses the Gandhi Hindustani Sahitya Sabha (HSS) - a government institution working towards the constructive contribution of society by promoting Indian culture and Gandhi's teachings.

"I never felt I was a stranger in this country which today is my home."

Offering a chair in her room at Sannidhi, she says in fluent Hindi, "Gandhiji ki diksha se vishwa shanti ki kamna ki ja sakti hai" (With the teachings of Gandhi, we can aspire for world peace). India must be like a guiding star to show the path of peace to deviant souls."

Her association with India began way back in 1958, when she came to study Hindi under a scholarship provided by the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR).

But destiny had something else in store. She met Kaka Kalelkar as her teacher. "He was disciplined, a true divine personality," says Katsu behen about the Gandhian who was also a writer and statesman.

"I was his adopted daughter. He taught me simplicity, humaneness, and inspired me to render my services to society."

Having had guidance from people like freedom fighter Bibi Amtu Salam, Kaka saheb, and the Japanese Buddhist leader Nichidatsu Fuiji - who met Mahatma Gandhi in 1933 - she found her life's mission.

She says, "I was directed to adopt Gandhiji's path of non-violence by Fuiji Guruji". And she did that during her second visit to India in 1988. Horiuchi got Indian citizenship in 2001.

Today she is busy with the construction of the Shanti Stupa - inaugurated in 2003 - at the Indraprastha Park in Delhi. It is a symbol of peace and harmony that Fuiji Guruji wanted to be placed all over the world.

With the support of the Indian government and others, she is working hard to fulfil this dream. Touching 70, Horiuchi's spirit is hardly dimmed.

"I am just five years old here in India," she jokes. "I hope people here will help a five-year-old monk!" She believes the memorial will be completed by 2007.

Says Kusum Shah, secretary of the HSS about Katsu behen, "I have seen her as a young girl. She always wanted to become a doctor. But things changed after she met Kaka saheb".

"We are often worried about her health. She does not rest. Today she wants to see Fuiji Guruji's and Mahatma Gandhi's dream come true."

Horiuchi is the author of "Japani Lok Katha", a book of Japanese folk tales for children that she translated into Hindi. She also edits "Shanti Path", a journal in Hindi published from the HSS.

Offering two toffees, which she light-heartedly calls "prasad" (holy offering), she says, "In my land, those who are yuddhapremi (follow the path of war) are also welcome. I know one day they will be the peacemakers."

First Published: Jan 30, 2007 12:54 IST