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Zhenjue Temple

By Devik Balami at
Zhenjue Temple

The English name for the Zhejue Temple is the Temple of the Great Righteous Awakening which is the most formal name for this temple. The Zhenjue Temple is most popularly known as the Five Pagoda Temple and is located in Haidian District, Beijing, China.

Actually, Zhenjue Temple is a Buddhist temple complex constructed in Ming dynasty and has faced lots of renovations. The complex houses Five Pagoda Temple along with other wooden buildings.

Some Historical accounts of Zhenjue Temple

The temple was constructed only during the reign of the Chenghua Emperor in 1473. The Zhenjue Temple complex also houses the number of wooden buildings along with the five pagoda temple. There were at least six buildings during the times of the Ming dynasty. The temples were renovated during the Qing dynasty in 1761 CE. During this period, the halls were tiled in yellow. The temple complex was damaged by fire in 1860 and again in 1900. During these events, only five pagoda temple survived the destructions but other wooden temples perished. At present, the temple houses the Beijing Art Museum of Stone Carvings.

The architectural designs of five pagoda temple is somewhat similar to that of the Mahabodhi Temple of India, but it is not clear how the architectural styles were introduced to China. One legend says that the design was presented to the imperial court by the high-ranking Indian monk, Pandida. The monk not only brought the architectural designs but also five golden Buddha statues with him. Other legends mention that the Buddha statues were actually buried under each of the pagodas. However, the references can be found in much older Chinese art and architecture, one of the references is the mural painting in the Dunhuang Grottoes.

Features of Zhejue Temple

Among the buildings constructed in the temple complex, the Five-pagoda Temple has been constructed on the square foundation known as the diamond throne which measures 7.7 meters tall. Since the five pagodas are built over the diamond throne, this temple is also popularly known as Diamond Throne Pagoda. The foundation can be easily accessed through a spiral staircase and supports five pagodas and a glazed pavilion. These five pagodas are associated with the Five Dhyani Buddhas. Four of the pagodas are positioned at the corners of the foundation while the fifth one stands in the center. The pagodas stand at the corner of the foundation have 11 layers of eaves whereas the center is slightly taller and has 13 layers. The total height of the central pagoda is 17 meters. All the pagodas are constructed from bricks and white marble. But now the building has a rusty color due to the oxidation of iron traces in the stone. The walls of the foundations are decorated with the carving of the one thousand sagacious Buddhas images arranged in rows. The walls also have the Buddhist symbols, animals, and floral designs as well as Sutra texts.

It is believed that the square foundation or the Diamond Throne's architectural style is inspired by the Mahabodhi Temple in Bodh Gaya, India that marks the place where Buddha is said to have attained enlightenment. But the design of the square foundation in Zhenjue Temple is different than that of the Mahabodhi Temple in the proportions of the structure. For example, the pedestal of the Mahabodhi Temple is much lower compared to the overall height than that of the Zhenjue Temple. The central pagoda in the Mahabodhi Temple is much taller than the corner pagodas while the central pagoda is only slightly taller in the Zhenjue Temple. Also, the decoration of both the temple is different.

Another peculiar decoration found in the Zhenjue temple is footprints of Buddha which symbolizes the spread of Buddhism all over the world. The temple also house numerous one storey wooden buildings housing Buddha statues.