Thursday, November 23 2017

VietNamNews

Pagoda with a difference

Update: August, 20/2017 - 09:00
Authentic touch: Dragon carvings on the pagoda roof.—VNS Photo Bạch Liên
Viet Nam News

Cổ Lễ Pagoda stands out among the many other pagodas in Việt Nam.

One thing about it is that it was once rebuilt to look a bit like a building in Europe.

Another thing about it is that its monks and nuns all joined the fight against French invaders seventy years ago.

By Bạch Liên

Among the thousands of pagodas in Việt Nam, Cổ Lễ Pagoda in the northeastern province of Nam Dinh stands out. For centuries, inhabitants have cited three strange aspects of the edifice: its architectural mix of occident and orient, its bell, and its courageous monks and nuns who joined armies to fight against invaders

Located in Cổ Lễ Town of Trực Ninh District, Cổ Lễ Pagoda was built by Zen Buddhist Nguyễn Minh Không during the Lý Dynasty under the reign of King Lý Thần Tông (1128-1138). The pagoda was originally built of wood and was heavily degraded over the centuries. Superior Buddhist Monk Phạm Quang Tuyên rebuilt it in 1902, inspired by European Gothic architecture.

He designed the pagoda himself, creating arched domes to make it resemble a cathedral, but preserved the spirit of a traditional Vietnamese pagoda with its curved tiled roof. The curved corners of the roof are also decorated with typical stone carvings of dragons.

In front of the pagoda is the nine-storey lotus-shaped tower, called in Vietnamese Cửu phẩm liên hoa. The octagonal base of the 32m high tower sits on the back of a turtle facing the pagoda. Inside is a staircase spiralling to the top, from where limber visitors get a panoramic view of the area.

Big Bell

In the centre of the pagoda stands a 9,000kg bronze bell cast in 1937, one of the biggest pagoda bells in the country, measuring 4.2m in height and 2.2m in diameter. The bronze was mixed with jewels donated to the pagoda by local inhabitants.

When the casting ended, war against French colonial invaders broke out. The monks tried to hide the bell by sinking it in the lake by the pagoda so the French invaders would not see it. It was only fished out in 1954, and has since occupied a place of honour above the lake surface.

Sacrifice

The pagoda is also famous for the fact that all its 27 monks and nuns joined the army to fight against invaders in 1947, following President Hồ Chí Minh’s appeal for national resistance.

“No other pagoda had such a large number of monks and nuns taking part in the war,” said Most Venerable Thích Tâm Vượng, deputy chairman of the provincial Buddhist Sangha Executive Committee who has been head of the Cổ Lễ pagoda for several years.

Four patriotic verses reflecting the revolutionary pride of the monks and nuns before going to the battlefield were carved on a stele of the pagoda :

We take off the Buddhist monk frock to wear the military coat

Unsheathe the sword; carry the guns, to eliminate invaders

We leave the pagoda to save the country

Ready to sacrifice our lives for the country.

Twelve of those 27 monk soldiers did not come back. The survivors went back to the pagoda or continued on a military path.

One of those survivors is General Đinh Thế Hinh who lives in Hà Nội’s Thanh Xuân District. At 90 years old, he still remembers clearly the day when he and others decided to take up arms.

In his diary he kept, he wrote: “On February 27, 1947, after a solemn flag salute ceremony, superior Buddhist Monk Thích Thế Long received 27 Buddhist frocks from 27 monks and nuns, and placed them on the Buddhist altar. He put on the heads of those monks and nuns the soldiers’ hats to which were attached golden stars. He then created a group of 27 soldiers of the National Defence army under Regiment 34."

During wartime, the pagoda became a safe house for secret revolutionary activities. After the war, Thích Thế Long became deputy chairman of the National Assembly of Việt Nam. After his death in 1985, a street in Nam Định city was named after him.

Every year, the pagoda festival held from September 13-16 attracts tens of thousands of people including non-Buddhists. They come here to admire the great architectural work, rest in a peaceful landscape shaded by age-old trees, and contemplate the tranquil nenuphar lake near the entrance to the pagoda which has become one of the most important historic and cultural sites of the Red River Delta. — VNS


 

GLOSSARY

For centuries, inhabitants have cited three strange aspects of the edifice: its architectural mix of occident and orient, its bell, and its courageous monks and nuns who joined armies to fight against invaders

The inhabitants of a place are the people who live there.

Cited means pointed out.

Aspects are characteristics.

An edifice is a large, grand building.

Architectural means to do with architecture, which is the design of buildings.

Occident means the western part of the world (especially Europe and America) and orient means the eastern part (Asia).

Invaders are people who come to a country from another country to conquer it and take it over.

The pagoda was originally built of wood and was heavily degraded over the centuries.

Degraded means going into a worse condition.

Superior Buddhist Monk Phạm Quang Tuyên rebuilt it in 1902, inspired by European Gothic architecture.

When something inspires you, you want to go out and do something creative and positive.

Gothic means the style of architecture that was popular in Western Europe in the 12th and 13th Centuries.

He designed the pagoda himself, creating arched domes to make it resemble a cathedral, but preserved the spirit of a traditional Vietnamese pagoda with its curved tiled roof.

A dome is a rounded roof.

If a pagoda resembles a cathedral, it looks like a cathedral.

Preserved means kept.

The octagonal base of the 32m high tower sits on the back of a turtle facing the pagoda.

Octagonal means with eight sides.

Inside is a staircase spiralling to the top, from where limber visitors get a panoramic view of the area.

Spiralling means winding.

A panoramic view is an all-round view.

The bronze was mixed with jewels donated to the pagoda by local inhabitants.

Donated means gave.

When the casting ended, war against French colonial invaders broke out.

Casting means throwing in material as part of the process of making something.

The pagoda is also famous for the fact that all its 27 monks and nuns joined the army to fight against invaders in 1947, following President Hồ Chí Minh’s appeal for national resistance.

An appeal is a serious call.

Resistance means fighting against someone and, in this case, not allowing people from another country to conquer and take over Việt Nam.

Four patriotic verses reflecting the revolutionary pride of the monks and nuns before going to the battlefield were carved on a stele of the pagoda :

To be patriotic means to be loyal to your country.

A stele is an upright column.

We take off the Buddhist monk frock to wear the military coat

A frock is a dress, or cloak.

Unsheathe the sword; carry the guns, to eliminate invaders

To unsheathe a sword means to take it out of the holder in which is kept.

Eliminate means get rid of.

Ready to sacrifice our lives for the country”

To sacrifice means to give something up – even your life – for the sake of someone, or something else.

They come here to admire the great architectural work, rest in a peaceful landscape shaded by age-old trees, and contemplate the tranquil nenuphar lake near the entrance to the pagoda which has become one of the most important historic and cultural sites of the Red River Delta.

To contemplate something means to think about it for a long time, and carefully.

Tranquil means quiet and peaceful.

WORKSHEET

Find words that mean the following in the Word Search:

  1. The material first used to build the Cổ Lễ Pagoda back in the days of the Lý Dynasty.
  2. Something monks at the Cổ Lễ Pagoda sank, to hide, when the war against the French broke out.
  3. The month every year when a festival is held at the Cổ Lễ Pagoda.
  4. A structure at the Cổ Lễ Pagoda that is thirty-two metres high.
  5. A female monk.

 

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© Duncan Guy/Learn the News/ Viet Nam News 2017

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1. Wood; 2. Bell; 3. September; 4. Tower; 5. Nun.

 

 

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