What makes One Pillar Pagoda in Hanoi to be recognized as Asia’s most unique piece of architecture by the Asia Book of Records? What specialty about this historical monument to be one of Vietnam’s two most iconic pagodas?
One Pillar Pagoda (Chua Mot Cot) is the truly futuristic architecture, exceeding the world architectural design for nearly a thousand years with the groundbreaking concept of “against gravity”.
It’s also one of the long-standing cultural historical relics, a characterized and typical symbol of Hanoi City thousand year civilization.
The pagoda was built in October 1049 (lunar calendar), under the commission from King Ly Thai Tong. The story is related to a dream of the king when he met Guan Yin Buddha (Quan Am) and received a blessing from her. Then he commanded to construct this monument in gratitude for the deity.
Before the pagoda was opened, this is the place where monks recited the Buddhist scriptures and prayed for the longevity of the monarch. Therefore, it’s also called Dien Huu pagoda, which means “long-lasting happiness and good luck”.
During the Ly Dynasty era, an annual Buddha-bathing ceremony on the occasion of Vesak (the birthday of Gautama Buddha) was held here, on the 8th day of the 4th lunar month.
After that, The monarch would free a bird. Then people followed, to give thanks and support to the emperor, and pray to Quan Am for prosperous sovereignty.
In 1105, King Ly Nhan Tong extended the pagoda and added Linh Chieu pond and a gilded lotus throne atop. Experiencing decades, it was repaired and restored many times in Tran, Post-Le, Nguyen dynasties.
In 1954, French colonists used detonation to destroy the pagoda on their hurried retreat from Vietnam.
In 1955, Ministry of Culture had One Pillar pagoda rebuilt from its remnants, based on the blueprint they found out.
Looking from afar, the pagoda is in the square shape with each side of 3m and 4 curved roofs covered 4 dragon head-shape. The rooftop is decorated with dragons flanking the moon.
It was designed to resemble a lotus stretching up out of the square pond. The pond is 20m long on each side with a low wall surrounding. In the right season, lotus will blossom, resembling for the Buddhist symbol of purity.
The basement is on the top of a big stone pillar including two blocks which are connected together skillfully. This stone pillar is approximately 4m high (excluding the underground section) and 1.2m in diameter.
Following the Buddhism thoughts, One Pillar Pagoda deeply bears humanist philosophy with the square-shaped outer representing the yin, and the circle-shaped column representing the yang. Yin and Yang are two opposed sides but create the balance of living beings, the law of circulation of the universe.
In front of the entrance stair
From the yard to the pagoda floor, we will walk through 13 sidesteps, two sides of the brick-tiled wall with stone stele introducing the history of the pagoda.
The entrance stair to One Pillar Pagoda
Stepping inside the lotus throne, we will see the purple shrine with sacred bird imagery in the roof. In the center, the statue of Guan Yin Buddha (Quan Am) sits on a lacquer dipped gold trim red wooden lotus in the highest position.
The statue of Guan Yin Buddha
What specialty about One Pillar Pagoda is, in the 11th century, its building principle is against the concept of gravity: big top tiny bottom.
The new concept is revolutionary in itself, exceeding the realization of approaching the idea of “anti-gravity” in building the design in the early 20th century.
The pagoda structure shows the harmonious combination of imagination and unique architecture with a system of wood beams that create the solidity and beauty for the pagoda.
According to the court records, King Lý Thái Tông had no child and need a son to be the successor. In one night, he dreamt that he met Guan Yin Buddha (Quan Am), who handed him a baby son while seated on a lotus flower.
Lý Thái Tông then married a peasant girl that he had met and she bore him a son. In 1049, the construction was built, in a style of a lotus emerging out of the water, to resemble the lotus seat of his dream in the honor of the deity.
One Pillar Pagoda is the cultural and historical symbol for a-thousand-year civilization in Hanoi. It’s the pride of Vietnamese people, of the ancient and splendor of national history image of One Pillar Pagoda on 5000 VND coin. Behind the pagoda, there’s a bodhi tree, which is the gift of Indian president Rajendra Prasad to Ho Chi Minh president. The tree is believed to be an offshoot of the one where Buddha became enlightened and started helping humanity.