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Tanzhe Temple

By Gaurav Manandhar at
Tanzhe Temple

Introduction to Tanzhe Temple: A 3rd Century Buddhist Temple

Tanzhe Temple is an ancient Buddhist temple situated in the Western Hills in western Beijing. This temple was recognized as the most important temples in the nation. It is recorded that the temple was built during the Jin Dynasty in the 3rd century. The area of the entire temple complex is found to be 6.8 hectares.

Historical account of the Tanzhe Temple

It is recorded that the temple was first established in the 1st year of Yongjia period during the 3rd century in western Jin dynasty. At the initial period, the temple was named as Jiafu Temple but as time passed by the temple was renamed as Xiuyun Temple by Kangxi Emperor during the Qing dynasty.

It is learned that the Tanzhe temple was much more venerated during the period of Qing dynasty. It was more especially during the reign of four emperors namely Kangxi Emperor, Yongzheng Emperor, Qianlong Emperor, and Jiaqing Emperor. All these emperors visited the premises of the temple and venerated the Buddha statues which in turn attracted more people to visit the temple and pray to the Buddha.

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Architectural features of the temple

Even though the temple was built during the Jin Dynasty, the temple complex had several buildings built during the period of Ming and Qing dynasties. These buildings still exist at present period. Other than these dynasties structures, the temple complex also houses the structures built during the Yuan dynasties.

At present period, the temple complex has around 900 rooms and 638 halls which are still maintained in the style of the Ming dynasty and Qing dynasty. The two Emperor trees near the Hall of Three Sages were planted during the Liao Dynasty about 1,000 years ago.

The building found in the temple complex are arranged in three main north-south axes. Along the central axis, there are the Archway, the shamen, Deveraja Hall, Mahavira Hall and Vairochana Pavilion.

In the temple complex, it is found that the temple is divided between the Hall of Abstinence, the Ordination Altar and the Hall of Guanyin. Among these three halls, the latter one has received fame and is most popular because of its association with Princess Miaoyan, daughter of Kublai Khan. It is believed that the princess had entered nunnery here in the 13th century. The indentations can be found on the stone on which she always knelt and prayed within the hall. It is also believed that she was also buried within the temple compound.

Important Architectural structures

Mahavira Hall

Mahavira Hall is the central hall of the temple. It measures 24 m in length and 33 m wide. This hall was constructed for the sole purpose to perform regular religious ceremony by the Buddhist monks. The Mahavira Hall has double-eave hip roofs which are covered with yellow glazed titles. Under the eaves, one can find a plaque with the words "Fuhai Zhulun" written by Qianlong Emperor during the Qing dynasty. On each end of the main ridge, there is a giant colorful glazed Chiwen with vivid style. It is learned that the Chiwen was added during the Yuan dynasty.

Normally, Chiwen is a legendary animal with a dragon head and fish tail. The sole purpose of placing Chiwen was to prevent the water leakage, avoid fire and protect their families. It was said that when Kangxi Emperor visited Tanzhe Temple, he saw the Chiwen was going to leave. Then he ordered to build a long gilded chain and plug a sword to lock and prevent the Chiwen from escaping.

Yigan Pavilion

Another name for the Yigan Pavilion is Liubei Pavilion. The ground of the Pavilion was made up of white marble. The Pavilion constitutes a dragon waterway in the northeast corner of the pavilion. This dragon waterway provides spring spout from its mouth which flows towards the winding sinks. It is learned that visitors emulate ancient people's custom of Qushui Liushang while taking rest in the Pavilion.

Pagoda Forest

It is observed that the Tanzhe Temple complex constitutes a large scale of tomb pagodas. There are nearly 70 pagodas which were built in different dynasties. To the matter of fact, these pagodas are preserved even in the current period. If we look are the architectural value, these pagodas have various styles such as stone column pagodas, monolayer square pagodas, dense-eave brick pagodas and overturned-bowl shaped pagodas with Tibetan style.