Travelogues

Beijing Autumn 1/2 TanZhe Temple 潭柘寺

What do you do on a weekend during Autumn in Beijing? Do what most Beijinger will do – head to the mountains just located two hour drive from the city.

Tanzhe Temple and Jietai Temple are the two old temples that are most well-known and worshipped in by most visitors in suburban Beijing. They are about a two-hour drive and are 30 km away from the downtown city.

Autumn in Beijing 金秋北京

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Autumn leaves start to fall

As you drive up to the mountain, you will be greeted with the beautiful sights of autumn leaves along the slops of the Tanzhe Mountain.

Oldest Temple in Beijing

Located at the foot of Tanzhe Mountain in Mentougou district is Tanzhe Temple 潭柘寺. It is one of oldest and most well known Buddhist temples around Beijing.

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Tanzhe Temple was originally established in the Western Jin Dynasty (307 AD). So far, it has existed for more than 1,700 years. It is the first temple built after the introduction of Buddhism to Beijing. There is a proverb stating that “Tanzhe Temple came into being first, and then came Beijing City”.

先有潭柘寺,后有北京城

At that time, Buddhism failed to be accepted by people, so it developed very slowly. After that, the suppression of Buddhism was carried out twice in the Northern Wei Dynasty and the Northern Zhou Dynasty. Therefore, there had been no developments since its construction was completed.

It was not until the Tang Dynasty that Buddhism began to flourish. Tanzhe Temple also flourished gradually and reached a peak until the Ming and Qing Dynasties when it had a few ups and downs.

Main Constructions

Facing southwards, the main constructions of Tanzhe Temple can be divided into three parts: mid, east and west. The mid part is mainly the Buddha halls, chiefly including the Hall of the Heavenly King (Maitreya Hall) 天王殿, Grand Hall (Mahavira Hall) 大雄宝殿 and Pilu Pavilion 毗卢阁.

Hall of the Heavenly King (Maitreya Hall) 天王殿

Maitreya Buddha is seated in the Hall of the Heavenly King. In front of Maitreya Hall sits a big bronze pot about 1.85 meters (2 yards) in diameter and 1.1 meters (3.7 feet) in depth, which was used as a cooking dish by the monks. There used to be three pots in total and this remaining one is the smallest. We can only imagine how many monks were in it at that time.

Grand Hall (Mahavira Hall) 大雄宝殿

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Grand Hall (Mahavira Hall) 大雄宝殿

Right behind the Hall of the Heavenly King, Mahavira Hall has a double hipped roof, yellow glazed tiles and green edges. There is a big green glazed owl kissing both sides of the main ridge. It is a relic of the Yuan Dynasty, fastened by a glittering gilded long chain.

Pilu (Vairochana) Pavilion 毗卢阁

The double-floored Vairochana Pavilion, located at the end of the central axis is the highest building in the scenic spot. The carved brick art works on the roof lend an air of enchantment to the pavilion. A picture of eight dragons scrambling for a pearl is engraved on the front of the ridge while there are six phoenixes flying around peony flowers carved on the back.

There are also two adornments on both sides of the ridge where more remarkable pictures are also sculpted. On the face of the adornments a dragon chasing a pearl is depicted, while the picture on the back is a portrait of a dragon and a phoenix (Chinese people believe that both the dragon and the phoenix bring prosperity.). What makes this traditional picture special is the relative position of the dragon and the phoenix. In olden times the male was considered superior while the female was regarded as inferior in China. So the dragon representing the male should be drawn above the phoenix that represents the female. But in this temple, the relative position of the dragon and the phoenix is inverted. There is a legend that explains the reason. The last reconstruction of Vairochana Pavilion was in the Qing Dynasty when Empress Cixi was the real power behind the throne, and this inverted picture was dedicated to the empress to please her.

East Part

The east part consists of the imperial palaces for the emperors of the Qing Dynasty for their short stays there. They are mainly courtyards, among which the Pavilion of Floating Cups is the most famous one. In the pavilion hangs a holographic horizontal tablet of “Yi Ting” by Emperor Qianlong.

West Part

The west part has scattered pathways and yards. Some of the Buddha halls are square and some are round. The Goddess of Mercy Pavilion is the highest Buddha hall and is also the highest construction in the temple. Its corners are fastened by brass bells.

Liao dynasty stupas

Exit

Definitely worth a visit, especially during Autumn months. Be prepared for lots of walking and the autumn leaves viewing crowd.

Date Visited : Oct 2017

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