Ancient pagodas around Hanoi’s West Lake

Around Hanoi’s most famous lake, Ho Tay (West Lake), are more than 20 temples and pagodas ranked as national relic sites for their unique cultural and architectural values such as Tran Quoc, Kim Lien, Pho Linh, Tao Sach and Van Nien.

Tran Quoc Pagoda

Tran Quoc Pagoda

Tran Quoc is one of the oldest temples in Vietnam, located near the West Lake, at the end of Thanh Nien road.

It was originally constructed in the sixth century during the reign of Emperor Ly Nam De (from 544 until 548), thus giving it an age of more than 1,450 years. When founded the temple was named Khai Quoc (National Founding) and was sited on the shores of the Red River, outside of the Yen Phu Dyke. When confronted with the river’s encroachment, the temple was relocated in 1615 to Kim Ngu (Golden Fish) islet of the West Lake where it is now situated. A small causeway links it to the mainland. The last major repair to the temple was undertaken in 1815 when the main sanctuary, reception hall and posterior hall of the dead were renovated.
Over the years, the temple was variously named An Quoc (Pacification of the Realm) and Tran Bac (Guardian of the North) as well.
With its harmonious architecture taking advantage of the watery landscape, the pagoda is a picturesque attraction. The sunset views from the temple grounds are renowned.
Among the historic relics are statuary pieces dating to 1639.
On the grounds of Tran Quoc is a bodhi tree taken as cutting of the original tree in Bodh Gaya, India under which the Buddha sat and achieved enlightenment. The gift was made in 1959, marking the visit of the Indian president Rajendra Prasad.

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Kim Lien Pagoda

Kim Lien Pagoda

Kim Lien Temple is situated in Quang An Village, Tay Ho District. Built on the Nghi Tam Peninsula on the bank of West Lake, Kim Lien Temple originally belonged to the area of the former Tu Hoa Palace of the Ly Dynasty.

According to history, the Ly Than Tong King had a daughter called Princess Tu Hoa. He built a place which was named for his daughter Tu Hoa. He let Tu Hoa and her imperial maids stay in this palace in order to give her a lesson of understanding and respect for their social positions.

Kim Lien was designed with three pavilions, each of which has two roof layers. These pavilions were also built in slightly curved shapes. In addition to its nice disposition, the gate of Kim Lien Pagoda is also a symbol of sophisticated and elegant architecture.

Among the temples and pagodas in Hanoi, Kim Lien Pagoda is considered one of the magnificent pagodas that retain its ancient architecture.
Over the years, the pagoda has been renovated several times, with major renovations in 1445, 1631, 1639, 1771, and 1792. This information is all carved on steles. In 1983, the pagoda was renovated but still retains architectural features of Tay Son times (the 18th century).

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Pho Linh Pagoda

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As an ancient temple of Hanoi, Pho Linh Pagoda was built in 1079, with beautiful architecture and quiet space, unlike the nearby Phu Tay Ho Temple.
Pho Linh Pagoda is a fine example of a Vietnamese pagoda, with both traditional Buddhist symbolism and Tibetan statues and imagery.

The first area you come to as you enter the pagoda is the newer part of the complex. Here you will see both statues and murals reflecting Tibetan Buddhism, set around an open courtyard. Tibet is considered the closest place to Vietnam from which Buddhism came, so many temples in Vietnam are now incorporating Tibetan style.

As you continue your walk, with the lotus pond on your left — particularly beautiful in lotus season — the imagery becomes somewhat darker: along the wall the 10 deadly sins are represented, along with their gruesome punishments.

The walkway opens up into the temple courtyard, a peaceful spot in which to relax overlooking the pond, should the mood take you. The main building is at the end on the right.

Inside is a shrine with representations of Buddha in each of the phases of his human life: he tried many different ways to reach Nirvana and these are represented by statues, including an emaciated Buddha. The fat Buddha near the front symbolises what Nirvana may look or feel like, representing complete fulfilment. At the back is Buddha reaching enlightenment.

The gold statue in the centre depicts the dragons that protected Buddha at his birth. In Hinduism this would have been Naga, the seven-headed snake, but the Chinese changed this to a dragon. Baby Buddha is at the front of the altar.

On either side of the altar are the angry and benign protectors, and in cases on the walls are the 10 judges of the 10 sins, as represented in the paintings outside.

As is common, the main building faces water — in this case a large pond — beside which is a shrine dedicated to the Goddess of Mercy, or Quan Am.
If you turn right when going up the stairs from the courtyard, you will enter an enclosed yard. On the left is the accommodation building and directly opposite is another shrine dedicated to the three Mother Goddesses. You can see the Goddess of the Mountain’s grotto on the left, with gaudy lighting and the cave of animals — primarily tigers and deers — a reflection of the animist beliefs of the time when the religion came to be.

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Tao Sach Temple

Tao Sach Temple (also known as Linh Son Tu) is situated in Nhat Tan Commune, Tay Ho District. Tao Sach Pagoda was built during the Tien Le dynasty. It was restored many times. twenty-four stone steles in the pagoda record the restorations from 1740 to 1927. Tao Sach Pagoda, together with pagodas of Chau Long, Ngu Xa (Ba Dinh District), Quang Ba, Quan La (Tay Ho District) Bo De and Me Tri Thuong (Tu Liem), belong to the Buddhist Branch of Tao Dong established in the 16th century.

Tao Sach Pagoda is the head office of Hoa Nghiem, a Buddhist charitable association. In the pagoda, there are twenty-five statues including eighteen Buddhist statues, five statues of mothers, a patriarch and a hau statue. The worshiping weapons are abundant in materials and diverse in model and design. Tao Sach Pagoda is an attractive visiting place in the West Lake tourist zone.

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Van Nien Pagoda

The thousand-year-old pagoda is considered one of the most famous in the old capital of Thang Long.

According to historical records, Van Nien Pagoda was built in the 2nd Thuan Thien under the Ly Dynasty, one year after King Ly Thai To moved the capital from Hoa Lu to Thang Long. Previously, the pagoda was called Van Tue and situated in Quan La, present-day Ve Ho Village, Xuan La Ward, Tay Ho District.

According to ancient books, in 1014, Most Venerable Monk Huu Nhai, Patriarch of the Vietnam Buddhist Sangha, asked the king to establish a makeshift platform in the pagoda to organize rites for those who wanted to follow the Buddhist religion. The king issued an edict to agree with the monk’s suggestion. This fact shows that the pagoda was probably built before the Ly Dynasty because at that time it became the favorite place for many venerable monks to stay and lead a religious life.

The pagoda has five worshipping halls and three sanctums which connect together into the shape of the Chinese letter “Ding”.
Like other pagodas in the north, the pagoda has three Buddhist statues of the past, present and future which are placed at the highest position and followed by Buddha Amitabha and then Goddess of Mercy. On the outside, there is a newborn Buddha statue. On the roof of the pagoda there are three letters of “Van Nien Tu” which mean the pagoda will exist forever.

Although the pagoda has experienced several restorations, it still maintains typical architectural features and objects which have a great historical and artistic value, such as the wall of the main hall which was built with a typical kind of brick in the Ly Dynasty.

It also has a set of 46 round statues, including 26 Buddha statues, 20 statues of Mother Goddesses and late patriarchs; two stone bells dated in the Nguyen Dynasty; 11 genie ordinances; and many other worshipping objects.

Notably, on the bell cast in the Gia Long Dynasty (1802-1820), there is a chronicle written that Van Nien Pagoda is an ancient relic and a beautiful spot in the west of the imperial capital of Thang Long.

Although the pagoda is not large, it is situated near West Lake so it has a spacious and serene landscape. On the first or fifth day of the lunar months, people often go to the pagoda to pray for peace, health and happiness.

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Tu Lien Pagoda

Tu Lien Pagoda, also known as Tu Tong Pagoda, has been renovated several times and today it is quite solid with stone material. Its main entrance looks to Au Co street; behind is the tall bell tower looking to the lake of Tu Lien.

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Thien Nien Pagoda

Thien Nien Pagoda is also called Sai or Trich Sai since it is located in Trich Sai village. The pagoda was built in honor of Buddha, mother Goddess and Lady Phan Thi Ngoc Do – a concubine of King Le Thanh Tong. Besides, it honored Da Quoc Cong Mac Ngoc Lien, a mandarin in the Mac Dynasty who donated land for the pagoda.

Lady Phan Thi Ngoc Do attained the honor of the Queen of silk weaving. She handed down the trade of silk weaving to the people of Bai An, Nghia Do and Trich Sai. The pagoda’s festival to remember her falls on the fifth day of the first lunar month. It is said that Thien Nien Pagoda was built on the basement of Bat Thap Pagoda constructed under the reign of King Ly Nam De in the 6th century. At the end of the Le Dynasty, the great tutor Da Quoc Cong restored the pagoda. In 1893, the villagers restored and enlarged the pagoda.

Thien Nien Pagoda has a three-gate entrance, a courtyard, a garden, a main pagoda, a mother goddess palace, a patriarch’s house, a monk’s residence, a kitchen and a stupa garden. The four roofs of the main pagoda are covered with Vietnamese tiles. In the middle of the rooftop are the three characters Thien Nien Tu. The upper main hall and a four-compartment house connect the front hall with the patriarch’s house and mother goddess palace.

Thien Nien Pagoda has 38 valuable statues. The most ancient are the statues of Trinity of Buddha of three epochs: the past, present and future carved in the 18th century, and statues of the Amitabha Trinity, Sakyamuni and Avalokitevara on the mountain.

The most impressive statues are the 10 Kings of Hell bearing the imprints of carving art in the 19th century. Besides, the Thien Nien Tu Chung Bell was cast under the reign of King Thanh Thai. The stele erected in 1709 reads the silk weave trade and biography of Lady Pham Thi Ngoc Do. Other sacred objects are horizontal lacquered boards, parallel sentences, altar and throne.

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Tay Ho Pagoda

This is a small pagoda located on a peninsula in the middle of the West Lake. It is said to be a popular destination among unmarried people, who come here on Sundays and on the first and 15th day of each lunar month to pray for good fortune. It should be noted here that Phu Tay Ho does not belong to Buddhism or Confucianism.

Tay Ho Pagoda is one of Hanoi’s most popular destination, especially on the first and 15th of each lunar month. It is dedicated to the Mother Goodness, Thanh Mau. Many pilgrims come not only to pray and show their worship but also to relax and enjoy the magic and landscapes in the middle of Hanoi. While the Citadel in Hue street seems calm, Quan Thanh on Thanh Nien street serious and Kim Lien pagoda quiet, Tay Ho Pagoda is always much merrier and more animated.

As the legends goes, she appeared in the 17th century as a pretty girl in front of a fisherman on the lake, smiling and reciting poetry. Then she disappeared without revealing her identity. Later the locals found out who she was and built Tay Ho Pagoda in Ha Noi. From the gate, visitors will see the 3-door entrance which was built in curves, and roofs covered with tube-tiles. The panels on either sides cite the legendary meeting between Phung Khac Khoan and Goodness Lieu Hạnh. There is a large-scale architecture facing two storey towers in the main hall. In the centre is a beautifully decorated panel reading “Tay Ho Hien Tich”.

There are many worship objects in the Pagoda such as: panels, altar, royal seat, and fresco. All were beautifully and artfully carved and decorated, bearing signs and styles of the 19th century. There are also canopies, altars and three bronze bells, a stone incense-burner, three nominations to God Kim Ngưu (Golden Buffalo) and 50 statues of different sizes.

Quan Thanh Temple

Quan Thanh Temple is located at the crossroads of Thanh Nien Street and Quan Thanh Street, near West Lake, Ba Dinh District. Built during the reign of King Ly Thai To (1010-1028) and renovated many times, the temple is also called Tran Vu temple, since it is dedicated to Huyen Thien Tran Vu (Guardian of the North of the Country).

Quan Thanh temple is an important historical and cultural place in Hanoi. According to legend, Tran Vu is a figure who helped King An Duong Vuong chase away demons during the construction of Co loa Citadel. The temple first existed in the south of the To Lich River (1160) but then was moved to the Northwest of the capital (the present site) (1474). Quan Thanh temple attracts visitors for its famous beautiful structure and religious cultural place.

Quan Thanh temple is also renowned for woodcarving. Many wooden structures in the temple were carved skillfully with different shapes and patterns such as four sacred animals, fish, fir trees, bamboo trees, flower baskets, swords and daily activities on heaven and earth.

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Quan Thanh Temple-6Compiled by Pha Le (VietnamNet)