Sunday, April 15, 2007

Why visit Pagodas and Temples in Hanoi, Vietnam?

Hanoi is not only the political and cultural centre of the country, but also a centre of Buddhism. For nearly a millennium, despite many ups and downs, Buddhism with its pagodas, temples and monks was the soul of the capital of Thang Long. Pagodas and temples remain sacred to this day, and are the places that sustain the people's belief.

Considered the oldest pagoda in Hanoi, Tran Quoc is located on Kim Ngu island in West Lake. In the 6th century it was known as Khai Quoc pagoda and was located on the outside of the Yen Phu dyke. It was later renamed An Quoc, and moved to its present position in the 17th century. The name was changed to Tran Quoc by King Le Hy Tong in the late 19th century Tran Quoc pagoda is the most famous zen monastery on West Lake and in Thang Long - Hanoi.

This pagoda is the headquarters of the United Buddhist Association of Vietnam and is one of the busiest in Hanoi, thanks to the large number of monks and to the Buddhists and tourists who come here to sightsee and burn incense sticks. In the 15th century, a pagoda was built here for ambassadors from other countries by the Le dynasty. The pagoda was called Quan Su, the name it bears today.

Known as Dong Tran Linh Tu in the reign of King Ly Thai To, Bach Ma is the city's oldest temple and is closely associated with the myth of a spiritual battle between Cao Bien, a high mandarin of the Tang dynasty, and the naive spirit Long Do. The local hero won the day. Legend has it that King Ly Thai To had a defence system built around the Thang Logn citadel, but it kept collapsing. The king then ordered his mandarins to pray in this temple. After that, a white horse appeared from the temple adn travelled in a circle from east to west. The hoofprints of the horse described the perimeter of the sacred area of Thang Long citadel. The King subsequently had a statue made of the Horse God who had helped defend the capital, and the temple has been known by the name Bach Ma ever since.

I will continue with part II of this Pagodas and Temples in my next post.

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