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Tay Phuong pagoda in north VietNam (February 09, 2004)

VietNam Tay Phuong pagoda
Besides being an important place of pilgrimage, the ancient pagoda that sits on Tay Phuong Mountain in the northern province of Ha Tay is a veritable showpiece of architecture, engraving and sculpture that draws tourists and historians from near and far.

The original Tay Phuong Pagoda was built way back in the third century and underwent several restorations before being entirely rebuilt in three sections in 1632: the Hall of Prostration, the Main Shrine, and the Sanctuary, all with double-tiered roofs. This architectural arrangement was inspired by the Buddhist and Confucianist though that there are three forces governing the world.

The pagoda assumed its current form in 1794 under the Tay Son regime. The main building sits above the others to symbolise a higher state of being, the building at the rear has the role of a foundation and symbolises the earth, while the structures closest to the world of man stand out front.

Each aspect of the design has a special meaning. For example, the double tier of the roof represents the yang and yin, the sloping roofs represent the sun, the moon, the starts and the deities, and the slopes on the eight sides stand for the Eight Signs of the Sacred Octagon.

What makes Tay Phuong Pagoda famous, however, are the 62 magnificent wooden sculptures of the Buddha in various forms as well as the Vajrapanis and Arhats deities. One in particular portrays the Sakyamuni Buddha meditating at the foot of Snow Mountain at a time when he was leading a life of extreme asceticism, and the emaciated body in the statue demonstrates a profound knowledge of human anatomy on the part of the sculptor.

The figures of the Arhats bear distinctive and original features depicting the gods in meditation. All these carvings were done more than 300 years ago by the inhabitants of Trang Son, a village three km from the temple.

Tay Phuong also houses assorted statues of monks who lived or stayed there, a bell cast in the 18th century, and the altars of emperors of the Canh Thinh dynasty.

Interestingly, the temple was a French military post from 1949 until 1954. Getting there from Ha Noi requires a trip of 30 km along the Lang - Hoa Lac Highway and the road to Thach Xa Commune in Thach That District.

After stopping at the foot of Tay Phuong Mountain for a look and refreshments, visitors must climb more than 230 stone steps shaded by bamboo trees to reach gate with a sign reading "Tay Phuong Co Tu" (ancient pagoda of the West).

According to the inscription on a 17th-century stone stele there, the place is also known as Sung Phuc Tu, which simply means "pagoda" and Hoang Son Thieu Lam Tu.

Buddhists and tourists flock to Tay Phuong for the festival on the fifth to seventh days of the third lunar month to enjoy the marionette shows, tug-of-war, cock fighting, human chess and other games and entertainments. For the faithful, the highlight is the ritual expiation of sins called Sam Hoi on the second day. (VNA)

Reprinted with permission from Nhan Dan Newspaper


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