The Chinese Pagoda
In English, the word pagoda is generally meant to mean any tall, tiered structure from China, Japan or south central Asia.
In Chinese, where the word originated, it pertains to the shape of the building, which is used as a shrine for housing sacred Buddhist or Taoist statues and relics.
Some pagodas are also built to house mausoleums of certain notable people.
The ground floor of a pagoda is generally a prayer hall for monks and not a place of worship for the general masses, that would be a temple, a much more practical, square shaped building with an ornate roof.
WHITE HORSE TEMPLE. LUOYANG.
China's first Buddhist temple built during the Han dynasty , situated in Luoyang, Hennan province.
The word pagoda comes from the Chinese, Minan dialect.
PA = eight.
GO = corner.
DA = tower.
An eight cornered tower.
Most pagoda's have eight or nine levels, as to have ten or more would signify heaven or perfection, something unobtainable here on earth, however, there are some pagodas with as many as 15 levels.
The first Buddhist shrines were found in India and known as Stupa.It is thought that the pagodas in the east were derived from these Indian Stupas which were built to symbolise Buddha's death.
Guatama Buddha was born in Lumbini in ancient India, now present day Tibet.
Most of the older pagodas are made from wood, but there are also pagodas made from brick, stone and metal, materials much better suited to stave off rot and fire damage. Because of the height of pagodas, they became targets for lightening, causing many of them to burn down.
The Chinese use the Lunisolar calendar, where the date is defined by the phases of the moon and the solar year, and not the Gregorian calendar which uses only the solar year for dates.
During China's history, different rulers and ruling groups, known as dynastic rulers or dynasties, ruled over the country.
Many dynasties took decades to become fully established, Chinese dynasties were not an overnight transition, such as the Royal shifts of power experienced in the west, hence the overlapping of some dynastic timelines.
Therefore it is easier to date Chinese artefacts by dynasty, rather than date.Below is a list of Chinese dynastic timelines used in this article.
SOME CHINESE DYNASTIC TIMELINES.
Tang Dynasty - 618 - 907.
Liao Dynasty - 916 - 1125
Song Dynasty - 960 - 1279.
Yuan Dynasty - 1271 - 1368.
Ming Dynasty - 1368 - 1644.
Qing Dynasty - 1644 - 1911.
AN ANCIENT STUPA, SANCHI, INDIA.
The word stupa means mound or heap, but in this case is meant to mean an ancient Buddhist shrine, first found in India as far back as the 1 st century.
FUGONG PAGODA, SHANXI.
China's oldest pagoda which dates back to the Liao dynasty.This wooden tower is situated in Shanxi City in Yunnan province.
LINXIA HUASI GONGBEI, LINXIA.
Situated in Gansu province this ornate and unusual pagoda houses the mausoleum of Ma Laichi, a Grand Sufi Master who brought the Khufiyya movement to China, a faction of Chinese Islam.
LIUHE PAGODA, HANGZHOU.
A wooden pagoda that dates back to the Song dynasty.Located in Zheijang province, overlooking the River Qiantang.
LONGHUA PAGODA, SHANGHAI.
Part of the Longhua Temple complex, this is the oldest complex in the city of Shanghai and dates from the Song dynasty.
PIZHI PAGODA, SHANDONG.
Part of the Lingyan Temple Complex in Jinan, Shandong Province.
A Pizhi is a type of Buddha, one who has achieved enlightenment through self study and self cultivation, without the help of guides or teachers.
Therefore this stone pagoda is a rarity in China.
WILD GOOSE PAGODA, XIAN.
This large, brick built pagoda is situated in the city of Xian in the Shaanxi Province and hails from the Tang dynasty.
TIANNING PAGODA, CHANGZHOU.
China's tallest pagoda at 505 ft (154 m) this tower is the fifth to be built on this 1,350 year old site, and was completed in 2007.
The unusual 13 level tower is constructed from wood with bronze tiles and jade ornamentation. At it's pinnacle it houses a large bronze bell whose peel can be heard five kilometres away.
OTHER ARTICLES ABOUT CHINA, BY THE SAME AUTHOR.
© D.B.Bellamy. July 2010.
Images courtesy of wikimedia commons.