Oldest Buddhist center in Vietnam calmly defies time

By Kieu Duong   March 23, 2019 | 12:41 pm GMT+7

Dau Pagoda, considered the first Buddhist center of Vietnam, goes back 1800 years, but it wears well the wear and tear of time.

The pagoda, in the northern province of Bac Ninh, worships the Four Dharma Buddhas - goddesses that combine Indian Buddhism and Vietnamese mythology.

Oldest Buddhist center in Vietnam calmly defies time

According to the provincial culture department, work on the Dau Pagoda in Thuan Thanh District, 1.5 hours east of Hanoi, began in the year 187 and completed in 226. 

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An architectural highlight of Dau Pagoda is the Hoa Phong Tower, 17m high, which stands in the middle of the front yard. The tower is a rustic unbaked-brick structure.

In 1313, under the reign of King Tran Anh Tong, Mac Dinh Chi renovated the pagoda and built a 9-storey tower. Today only three storeys remain. Mac Dinh Chi (1272–1346) was a renowned Confucian scholar who was the highest-scoring graduate in the palace examinations at the age of only 24. 

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Inside the tower are two bronze bells made in 1793 (left) and 1817 (right). An old verse about the bell says that wherever you go, if you see the Tower, you are back home.

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The Hoa Phong Tower has 4 arched entrances on each floor. At the corner of the tower is the altar of "Four Heavenly Kings," rules of the four heavens in Buddhist mythology. The 1.6 m high wooden statues were made in the 18th century.

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The pagoda's incense burning altar stands in the middle. 

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In the pagoda's upper house, on the highest platform stands the statue of Goddess Dau or Phap Van, one of the Four Dharma Buddhas. The Four Dharma Buddhas - Phap Van, Phap Vu, Phap Loi and Phap Dien are the goddesses of clouds, wind, thunder and lightning.

It is said that a kind of wood called "dung thu" was used to make the statues, but there has been no confirmation of this. According to a study conducted by researcher Nguyen Huu Toan and published in the Cultural Heritage magazine's 2006 edition, the wood might not exist and the name might carry a symbolic meaning. It is speculated that the material is wood from an ancient tree in a sacred forest.

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Below Goddess Phap Van are the statues of her maids Kim Dong and Ngoc Nu on both sides performing an ancient dance. In the picture is the portrait of Ngoc Nu.

In front of Phap Van is a wooden case with a stone inside. The box is made from the same wood as the statues. The legend is that the stone is the incarnation of a child of an Indian monk named Khau Da La and his disciple, nun Man Nuong. Khau Da La had come to Vietnam to spread Buddhism.

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In front of the temple are statues of the guards of heaven who have stood there since the 18th century.

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The two corridors parallel to each other are the worshipping area of 18 Arhats - the 18 enlightened disciples of the Buddha who had attained nirvana and knew the true nature of existence.

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Portrait of a Arhat statue at Dau Pagoda. The image of the 18 enlightened disciples is a common theme in Buddhist art, seen most in China and Vietnam in the forms of sculptures and paintings.

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The pagoda's courtyard and the Hoa Phong Tower.

The pagoda has about 100 different statues, many of which are considered the epitome of ancient Vietnamese sculpture. Dau Pagoda is the pride of the region, and it was recognized as a national monument in 2013.

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There are currently 8 brick towers on the pagoda premises, resting place of monks who used to live in the temple. The towers date back to between the Le and Nguyen dynasties, that is, between the 14th and the 19th centuries.

 
 
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