Viet Nam News
BẮC GIANG — An excavation team from the Việt Nam Institute of Archaeology and Bắc Giang Province Museum discovered valuable artifacts after a month-long excavation in the remnants of Mã Yên pagoda.
These artifacts will serve as important evidence about the presence of an important Buddhist architectural structure hundreds of years ago.
Mã Yên pagoda is located in the northern province of Bắc Lũng commune, Lục Nam district of Bắc Giang Province. Mã Yên is also the name of a mountain, shaped like a horse’s saddle. This region has some ancient sites, including Hình Nhân Mountain (which looks like a human being standing) or the Elephant mountain, and is surrounded by the endless pine forest.
Doctor Trịnh Hoàng Hiệp from Việt Nam Institute of Archaeology, leader of the excavation team, said, “Each artifact found has special value. It helps to clarify the relationship between the relic and other structures of Trúc Lâm Zen in the past. The search and evacuation has been done in a cautious and meticulous manner. Artifacts found were carefully classified so that we could identify the number of construction materials used in a specific period of time in an architectural structure. Artifacts were cleaned, recorded, reported and sent to the province’s museum.”
Construction materials and daily items made of ceramics from different periods of time, in which the earliest was during the Trần dynasty (the 13th-14th century), were found.
“Early this year, we also held an evacuation session but didn’t expect much because the pagoda had been damaged by locals searching for antiques. But this time, the result was beyond our expectation,” said Hiệp.
Vũ Thị Sang, a native of Xuân Phú village, Bắc Lũng commune, said, “About 10 years ago, when locals passed by this area, they found artifacts and antiques under layers of falling leaves. People then came to search for antiques and some thought there might have been valuable gold or silver items here; therefore, they brought metal seeking devices, digging back and forth to search for valuable items. This relic, therefore, was seriously damaged.”
With a total excavation area of 200sq metres, the archaeologists discovered different architectural parts of the pagoda, which included the foundation, remnants of the main ceremonial hall, which included the staircases, gates, decorative tiles, bowls, plates and stone mortar.
Old stuff: A pedestal found in Mã Yên pagoda. Construction materials and daily items made of ceramics from different periods of time, in which the earliest was during the Trần dynasty (the 13th-14th century), were also found after a month-long excavation in the remnants of Mã Yên pagoda. — Photo baobacgiang.com.vn
Besides, an ancient well and the foundation of other large-scale structures were found scattered in an area covering thousand of square metres. The excavation team said this could have been the accommodation of monks, the kitchen and the pre-ceremonial hall.
According to historical documents, Mã Yên was built from the Lý-Trần dynasty (12th-13th century), yet till now, there is still not enough archaeological evidence to affirm that the structure was built as early as during the Lý dynasty (the 11th).
With construction materials and decorative patterns discovered, it can be identified that the structure appeared during three periods of time, which included the Trần dynasty (13th-14th century) with the discovery of the lotus petal-shaped stone base (used as a pedestal for the pillar in a building), the Lê Trung Hưng dynasty (the 17th-18th century) and the Nguyễn dynasty (19th century).
A common thing among pagodas during the Trần dynasty is that their rear is protected by the mountain, facing a big stream, and as such, their location was often in a remote high mountain peak and away from the residential area.
The foundation for this statement is that the pagoda used wood to build the surrounding wall. During the excavation, there was no sign of brick found. It is very likely that people used wood from the forest to build the surrounding wall. With heavy, big tiles found, it can be inferred that the pressure capacity of architectural items, like pillars, is quite strong. The structure used two types of stone, one available in the area and used for the foundation and the other is sandstone from other localities used as the pedestal for pillars.
The excavation team hopes to discover decorative items shaped like the bodhi leave, dragon or phoenix’s head, which were very popular in pagodas during the Trần dynasty.
With the artifacts found and reference to historical documents, Mã Yên is considered as one of the great heritage relics, and to have a connection with and be influenced by Trúc Lâm Zen from the Trần Dynasty, according to archaeologists.
Mã Yên lies to the west to the Yên Tử Mountain region, which was the founding place of Trúc Lâm Zen.
Yên Tử Mount, located more than 1,000 metres above sea level, was found by King Trần Nhân Tông. After successfully leading the Trần dynasty to its final victories over two Mongol invasions, King Trần Nhân Tông gave the throne to his son and went to Yên Tử in 1299 to create the Trúc Lâm Buddhism Zen Sect, which had a significant impact on the development of Vietnamese Buddhism. — VNS