Location: In Tien Lu Village, Hoai Duc District, Ha Tay Province.
Characteristics: It’s impressive construction and history immerse the visitor immediately: its multi-pillared temples, ornate altars, leisure areas, where mandarins would play chess with live human pieces.
Tram Gian Pagoda, also called Tien Lu Pagoda, is built in the "noi cong ngoai quoc" architectural style which means Cong Chinese character in the inner part and the Quoc Chinese character in the outer.
The pagoda was probably originally built in 1185 during the reign of King Ly Cao Tong on its present site at the top of the low Tien Lu, or Ma Hill. It nestles snugly on that hill in a natural cushion of mature trac, or kingwood and tram, or canari trees, and watched over by giant pines.
At festivals the separate pavilions were given over to all-consuming and lavish praise, no more so than the Gia Ngu where the statue of Buddha was paraded during water puppet performances on the semi-circular lotus lake.
A visit demands a degree of effort: a climb of several hundred steps, a walk down an alley paved with bricks and stone, reveals a two-storey bell tower of eight elegantly corner-curved roofs. Known as the Bell Tower of Tram Gian, it still preserves its detailed art work, its supporting columns carved with intricate lotus shape, the wood panels in the shape of dragons, flowers and leaves, clouds and the sky. Under the roof hangs a 1.4m tall bell, made in 1794 on which is also carved a literary work by Tran Ba Hien from nearby Van Canh Village.
Then, and another healthy flight of stairs on, there’s the main pagoda – the legacy of the Tran Dynasty in the 14th century but largely destroyed by the Ming invaders in the 15th and rebuilt probably during the Le Dynasty, as much as a tribute to those times.
There the statues of two Guardian Spirits, the Good-encouraging Spirit and the Bad-punishing Spirit, preside and the Thien Huong, or Celestial Perfume, and in the inner part of the second house two Thuong Dien, or Upper Altars, for the praise of Buddha. A four curved-cornered and columned roof shelters a drum, an equally large gong, both dating from the 10th Year of Canh Hung (1750).
The pagoda is seen as one entity or 100 smaller ones. It houses 153 statues mostly made of wood, some of clay red lacquered and trimmed with gold, all to the greater glory of Tam The, the Past, Present and Future Lives. A large terracotta platform supports an ornately carved altar bearing lotus flower, legends, and dragon, tiger, horse, and elephant reliefs. Nearby stands the black-lacquer jackfruit-tree wood statue of Tuyet Son styled on one found in the Himalayas. The imagery goes on at every turn: arranged and ornate altars to worship 18 Arhats and the Ruler of Hell in the Ten Great Halls, a separate pagoda and altar to worship Saint Boi or Monk Nguyen Lu also known as Binh Yen. Legend has it the statue is actually his rattan preserved body covered by an oil cloth.
Two mighty central columns bear parallel scrolls inlaid with mother-of-pearl praising the victories of the Vietnamese people’s struggle against foreign invasion:
Up till now that northern country is still afraid of the fierce rains
And since the by gone days the southern land is still waiting for the auspicious clouds.
In the pagoda itself, a statue lauds General Dang Tien Dong, who served King Quang Trung in the historic battle of Dong Da and then in 1794 helped repair the pagoda, casting its bell and erecting stele. He too was commemorated as one of the architects, if not of the pagoda itself, then certainly of its place in history. Not for nothing have Xu Doai locals praised the pagoda through time:
So Communal House, Gia Temple and Thay Pagoda, all are beautiful
But still cannot be compared with Tram Gian Pagoda.
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