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Historical Relics of Xi’an–the Big Wild Goose Pagoda

It is said that every stone or brick in X{‘an has a story behind it, and this is not far from the truth. The 3,000-year-old city of Xi’an served intermittently as the capital of Ii dynasties for altogether l,l00 years, beginning from the Zhou dynasty in the 11th century B.C. The peasant uprisings led by Huang Chao and Li Zicheng also established their regimes here. During the Tang dynasty (618-907), Xi’an was the political, economic and cultural center of China, It was in fact one of the largest cities in the world during the Middle Ages. Today, it has a population of 2.7 million and is the capital of Shaanxi (Shensi) Province.

As would be expected, the city is the site of numerous ancient buildings, historical monuments and cultural relics. The Neolithic Exhibit at the 6,000 year-old Banpo Village is here. Also here are the life-size pottery figures of the legion of warriors and chariots unearthed in the tomb of Qin Shi Huang (The First Emperor of tile Qin dynasty)who unified China and built the world-famous Great Wall and the scenic Huaging Pools, the Greater and Lesser Wild Goose Pagodas of the Tang dynasty, the forest of steles of the Song dynasty (960-1127)and the Bell and Drum Towers of the Ming dynasty(1368-1644). Ruins of the capital cities of the Western Zhou dynasty(11th 8tb century B.C.), the Qin dynasty (221-206 B. C.) and the Han dynasty(206B.C.-23A.D.) can also be seen here.

The Greater Wild Goose Pagoda is located within the compound of the Monastery of Grace in the city’s southern suburbs. Built in 648 by Emperor Gao Zong of the Tang dynasty to honor his mother when he was still a crown prince, the monastery originally had 13 courtyards surrounded by 1,897 rooms where some three hundred monks lived in seclusion. These included monks from Japan and India. The monastery was destroyed late in the Tang dynasty, and the present, much smaller structure, was built during the Qing dynasty but in the Ming style. Just inside the cuoryard is a magnificent hall with Bell and Drum Towers on either side. In the center of the hall are three lofty Buddha statues flanked by 18 arbats (disciples) all different in expression and posture. The stone lamp before the temple is a recent gift to the city of Xi’an by the city of Kyoto in Japan. The Japanese cities of Kyoto and Nara are both sister cities.

Behind the hall stands tile 64-meter-high Greater Wild Goose Pagoda built in 652 with originally five stories and two more added later. This square wood-and-brick structure is a master piece of Buddhist architecture. It remains intact and in good condition notwithstanding 1,300 years of weathering and an earthquake of eight degrees on the Richter scale that occurred during the Mind dynasty. Poets of such fame as Du Fu and Bai Juyi who visited the pagoda eulogized it in verse.

The purpose of building the pagoda was to house Buddhist scriptures brought from India by the Tang dynasty pilgrim, traveler and scholar Xuan Zhuang (602-664), who went to India to study Buddhism. At the same time he introduced Chinese culture to India and furthered cultural exchange between the two countries. He returned with 657 volumes of Buddhist scripture which he translated in this pagoda into a Chinese version in 1335 volumes. The Greater Wild Goose Pagoda thus became a symbol of cultural exchange between China and India. Among the many Tang dynasty treasures here are two tablets engraved in the calligraphy of Chu Zhuliang, the famous Tang dynasty calligrapher, from inscriptions by the Tang emperors Tai Zong and Gao Zoag. The tablets, inlaid in the walls of the first story, describe Xuan Zhuang’s procuring of the Buddhist scriptures amt his translating them into Chinese.

One and a half kilometers south of the city stands the Lesser Wild Goose Pagoda within the compound of the Jianfu Temple. Built more than 12 centuries ago, in 709, and 43 meters high, the pagoda has withstood 70-odd earthquakes, the greatest damage being done in 1555 when the top was shaken off. The basic structure has remained intact to this day.

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