29/09/2009 | 09:12:23

Ba Da Pagoda

Almost hidden behind the busy streets full of restaurants and chic shops, Ba Da pagoda remains a spacious and unique architectural find behind its small entrance at number 3, Nha Tho street.

Information from stone tablets gives the date of the original temple on this site as 1056 (during the reign of King Ly Thanh Tong). The story recounts that when, under the reign of King Le Thanh Tong (1460-1497) the walls of the new citadel were being built, a stone was discovered that resembled a woman. Believing that this was a sacred sign sent by the Mother Goddess of the land, the local people constructed a temple in the area to memorialize the stone. They named it Ba Da Temple or the Temple of the Stone Lady. Through rebuilding and restorations of the temple the stone was lost more than once, but always found again.

Early in the 1900s, the stone finally disappeared and the temple caught fire. Once more it was rebuilt but a stone statue of Buddha was created to replace the lost stone lady. This meant that the temple became a pagoda and was given a new name: Linh Quang Tu (Sacred Light), although the old name is the one still used.

Going through the entrance arch and along a narrow passage you come to a courtyard. An elderly monk, the keeper of the pagoda, presides at a stall selling Buddhist books. He took us into the pagoda, after lighting incense sticks and praying at the stone incense burner. In the courtyard are stupas, with the names of past monks and religious symbols written in Han script and formed with ceramic pieces.

The pagoda consists of one large chamber, dominated by the six statues of Buddha, the hindmost and most sizable of which reaches to the ceiling. Though many of the ancient decorations were lost in the fire, the two bronze bells, cast in 1873 and 1881, and a crescent gong from 1842 survived. The first bronze bell can be seen at the entrance of the pagoda on the right-hand side, while on the left-hand side is a modern bell.

Similar to many other pagodas and temples in Vietnam, Ba Da pagoda reserves a special place for local residents to place wall plaques or pictures of their beloved dead family members. The Vietnamese people believe that this action will bring the spirits of the dead people under the protection and love of Buddha, where the spirits can enjoy peace and will have more power to help their living family members. The plaques are along both walls at the entrance to the pagoda and the photographs are on the left.

Further into the pagoda are two altars. The one on the left is dedicated to the saint Duc Thanh Hien and the one on the right to Duc Chua Ong, a historical personage. The ten temple gods of the Buddhist Hell stand five each side, along the walls.

The statues of Buddha  dominate the area behind the central altar, their size and deep bronze color giving the pagoda an aura of calm and peace.

The pagoda is an important place of teaching and learning for the Thien (Zen) Buddhist sect and is the headquarters of the Municipal Buddhisit Association. Monks and nuns live in the monastery attached to the pagoda. The monastery supported the revolutionary cause against the French. In recognition Ho Chi Minh visited the pagoda in 1945, and again in the following year. On the latter visit he said, “The Buddhist work does not separate from the matters of the world.”

At the back of the pagoda is a building where statues, photographs and names of the past leaders of the pagoda are placed on the ancestors’ altars. Hanging here is the second old bell and the gong.

Written on the brass panel outside of the pagoda is a short poem. This uses the name Linh Quang for the pagoda and the old name for Hanoi.

Linh Quang pagoda is in the heart of Thang Long.
The way of truth is both visible and invisible,
The magic of the stone was sent from heaven to earth,
This majestic place stands near the beautiful Sword Lake./.

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