Things to see in Hanoi - Pagodas
Tran Quoc Pagoda
This pagoda may be one of the oldest in Vietnam. According to legend, it was built during the Nam De Dynasty (544-548). Originally, the pagoda had been built adjacent to the Cai River and called Khai Quoc (Founding of the Nation). Its name was changed to An Quoc Pagoda. Then in the reign of King Le Kinh Tong (1600-18), the river bank broke, the people removed the pagoda and rebuilt it on Ca Vang island in the middle of West Lake (its current location) where the Ly Kings had built Thuy Hoa Hall and the Tran Dynasty had constructed Ham Nguyen Palace. King Le Hy Tong (16680-1705) changed its name to Tran Quoc. The present pagoda still maintains a unique architecture so different from other pagodas. At the front, there is a visitors hall before entering the interior of the pagoda. At the rear there are two corridors and a bell tower. Inside the pagoda are various beautiful statues, the most notable of which is the wooden gilded statue of Shakyamuni Buddha. There are also stone slab steles, the oldest of which was built in 1639 on which Dr. Nguyen Xuan Chinh wrote the history of the major repair to this pagoda in that very year. There is a luxuriant Bo tree in the pagoda's current playground that was a monument presented by the President of India who paid a visit to the pagoda in 1959.
Ngu Xa Pagoda
Ngu Xa is a small archipelago in Truc Bach Lake in inner Hanoi, which has long been famous for its copper casting.
Ngu Xa Pagoda, then called Quang Tu, was built in the 18th century. Apart from honoring Buddha, it was built in honor of the monk Nguyen Minh Khong who, according to legend, was the founder of the art of copper casting. There is an Amida (Di Da) Statue here that was built in 1952 and yet is the biggest copper statue among those of north Vietnam's pagodas. The whole statue weighs 10 tons and the lotus comprising 96 petals alone contains over a ton and a half of copper. This Amida statue of Ngu Xa Pagoda is a masterpiece of Hanoi's copper casting artisans in contemporary times.
The Ngu Xa Pagoda is one of the three pagodas rebuilt in the 1940s and 1950s. The building materials, were therefore new (concrete, steel), but the architecture of ancient pagodas and temples was maintained. The other two pagodas are Quan Su rebuilt in 1942 and Hung Ky in 1933.
Quan Su Pagoda
Situated halfway along the street bearing the same name and numbered 73, the entire compound is the ancient village of An Lap. In this place at the beginning of the Le Dynasty (15th century), a hall called Quan Su was built to receive ambassadors from Laos, Chiem Thanh (Cambodia), etc. When they visited the capital of Thing Long. Because they were all Buddhists, a pagoda was built near Quan Su for their convenience to worship. Later the Quan Su Hall was destroyed, but the pagoda was maintained.
It continued to undergo various changes and in 1934, the Bac Ky (northern Buddhist Association) used this pagoda as its headquarters. In 1942, it was rebuilt incorporating its current architecture and interior decoration. In 1958, Vietnam's United Buddhist Association was founded and took the pagoda as its office.
It is a group of structures consisting of a pagoda and a tower built in the middle of a square lake. The whole group was officially called Dien Huu Pagoda and Lien Hoa Tower, but the tower has traditionally been called the One-Pillar Pagoda. It is of a square shape and each side is nine feet long with a curved roof placed on a round stone pillar. The pillar is approximately 4 feet in diameter, twelve feet high (excluding the underground section) supporting a system of beams of timber, thus making up a framework for the tower resembling a blossoming lotus stretching up out of the square pond that has a surrounding brick wall. From the edge, there is a narrow brick path running through the pond to a nice ladder leading up into the Buddhist tower where there is a notice reading that the Lotus tower and pagoda were built in memory of a dream had by King Ly. The inscription states "King Ly Thai Tong (1028-1054) dreamt of seeing the Quan An Buddha sitting on a lotus tower to which the King was led. Upon waking, the King told his lords about his dream and sought their advice. Some of them advised him to build a stone pillar in the middle of the pond and place a Buddhist's lotus tower on the pillar just as the King had dreamt." Then Buddhist monks were asked to pray and worship for the King's longevity. Consequently, the pagoda was called "lasting life" (Dien Huu) and that took place in 1049.
The One-Pillar Pagoda has undergone numerous changes and repairs. On September 11, 1954 before their withdrawal, the French army mined and destroyed the Lien Hoa Dai. When the liberation forces took over Hanoi, the government rebuilt the pagoda in accordance with its original structure and completed it in April 1955.
The Lang Pagoda is located in Lang Village in the Dong Da District of Hanoi. It was built during the reign of King Ly Anh Tong (1138-1175). Over eight centuries have elapsed since its original construction and its exterior has undergone numerous changes during repairs. Yet, it remains in its original location. It was last altered during the mid-19th century.
The beauty of the Lang Pagoda's architecture is indeed its very composition, harmonious and balanced. The gate is a line of four pillars built of brick with three intricately curved roofs. The square pillars stretch skyward with the two central pillars the highest ones. The three curved roofs are not on top of the pillars but rather attached to their sides with the mid-roof higher than the other two, thus creating a solemn gesture.
Upon entering the gate, a brick playground stretches out with a stone bed in the center on which the King's chair was placed during festivals held in the past. At the end of the playground, there is Tam Quan gate from which a walled brick lane, decorated with prints of flowers leads to an eight-sided house where the "god" statue is placed and to whom the flowers are dedicated during festivals. Beyond the eight-sided house is the main pagoda, whose architecture achieves a sense that is both majestic and spacious, giving the entire complex a symmetrical and balanced relationship.
Repairs to the pagoda in the 19th century restricted the number of old relics that it could contain. The new decoration was of a rather nondescript character with two exceptions: (1.) Under the corridor's roof, there are two lines of ten beautiful halls that depict the various kinds of punishments in the world of the dead to deter sinners; and (2.) At the back of the pagoda, apart from normal Buddhist statues, there are statues of King Ly Than Tong and the senior Buddhist monk, Tu Dao Hanh. The king's statue is made of wood and the monk's of painted rattan.
The presence of these two statues originated from the following legend: Tu Dao Hanh had been born as the son of Sung Hien Hau, younger brother of King Ly Than Tong. As the king did not have any children, he abdicated the throne in favor of the son of Sung Hien Hau who became King Ly Than Tong (1116-38). Due to that abdication, King Ly Than Tong' son, Ly Anh Tong had Chieu Thien pagoda constructed and dedicated to and for the worship of his father, the king, who was also the senior Buddhist monk, Tu Dao Hanh.
Hoe Nhai Pagoda
Called Hong Phuc Tu, it is located at 19 Hang Than Street in Hanoi. This is another ancient pagoda built in the Ly Dynasty according to legend. In the past, the pagoda compound was rather large but by the start of the 20th century, it was significantly reduced to the size it is today. Inside there are a number of stele that are even older than those built in the year of Chinh Hoa 24 (1703). The steles clearly note that the pagoda's location was in Hoe Nhai Street in Don Bo Dau, also known as the Dong landing stage. Thanks to these steles, modern historians have been able to determine that on January 29, 1258, Vietnamese forces achieved victory over the Nguyen invaders and that the liberation took place at this Hoe Nhai pagoda.
There are 36 statues in the pagoda, the oldest being of Cuu Long and the most salient being one of Buddha sitting on the back of a bending king. Perhaps the statue was sculpted in accordance with the legend of King De Thich Indra voluntarily lying as a bed for Shakyamuni to sit upon to give lectures to audiences.
This pagoda is the center of the Tao Dong sect, one of the two major sects of Thien Tong in the north.
The Kim Lien Pagoda
This pagoda was built on the peninsula of Nghi Tam on the bank of the West Lake; today it is in Quang An Village, Tu Liem District. According to legend, the pagoda was part of the former Tu Hoa palace of the Ly Dynasty. Princess Tu Hoa, daughter of King Ly Than Tong, sent royal gifts to this area to establish the Tam Tang center. This center was later moved to Nghi Tam Street. The pagoda was built in the 17th century in 1631. Seven years later, the people made contributions in labor and materials to further enlarge the pagoda. By 1771, Lord Trinh gave an order to remove Bao Lam pagoda in the west of the capital in order to repair this pagoda and changed its name to Kim Lien and it is still called that today. Surprisingly, the existing architecture is due to repairs done in 1792 and took the form of Tam (Han Chinese meaning "three"). It is composed of three pavilions, each of which has two roof layers and give the appearance of being slightly curved and supple.
Lien Phai Pagoda
Halfway along Bach Mai Street, there is a lane called Lien Pagoda that leads to the ancient Lien Phai Pagoda. It is considered a historically valuable site due to the garden of towers at the rear of the complex. There on a hillock are nine towers built in three lines: the first line has two towers, the middle, five, and the last also has two towers. The mid-line occupying the highest part of the hillock, has Cuu Sinh Tower (life-saving tower) constructed of stones at the center of it. Legend has it that this contains the remains of the first monk and tower caretaker, Trinh Thap.
Trinh Thap was a disciple of the Trinh family and was entitled to build his private residence in Hong Mai Street (now Bach Mai). Trinh had the hillock at the rear of his property dug up to build a water tank. During the excavation, he discovered a rock in the shape of a lotus rootstock. He considered it a sign from Buddha and was convinced that he had some sort of destiny with this religion. He turned his palace into Lien Tong Pagoda, cut his hair and became the first Buddhist monk at this pagoda. He died at the age of 37 and his remains were kept in the tower built in the middle of the hill where he had found the rock. That is Life-Saving Tower.
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Excerpted from Hanoi: Past and Present by Nguyen Vinh Phuc, The Gioi Publishers, Hanoi, 1995
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Published on 12/6/03