Photographer's Note


The elements that represent a typical Vietnamese country-side image are an old banyan tree in the front-yard of a temple where residents gather during every local event or ceremony.

According to Tran Van Giap, "the Village Pagoda is a cultural center linked to the village, which is an economic and social cell of traditional Vietnam. Since long, the ancient Viet and Muong in the mountains have worshipped Buddha in grottos where stalagmites and rocks were supposed to be Buddhas.
Some pagodas reminded of dwelling houses with thatched roofs and made of three compartments or gian — altar in the middle but there was no statue of Buddha but just a piece of cloth on it was the word Phat (Buddha) in calligraphy. The most ancient vestiges of pagoda go back to 11th century (fragments of polished stone in Thay pagoda). Wooden frames left behind from the 14th century (Thai Lac pagoda in Hai Hung and Bối Khê in Ha Tay) give us an idea of the architecture of village pagodas: square basement (about 10m on the side and a height of 0.70m to 1m, 4 main pillars and 12 small ones). The low roof protrudes beyond the basement. The interior is ornate with numerous sculptures. In general, there is no surrounding wall. The cult room often has but one statue, sometimes there is only one stone altar without statue, (provided there is a symbolic sign, for instance the Chinese character Phat: Buddha). From the 16th century on, the number of statues has gradually increased."

Under such concept, the Đại Bi Pagoda in Bối Khê Village, Tam Hưng Commune, Thanh Oai District, Hà Tây Province is one of the oldest ones of the country. In short, people called it by the village’s name, Bối Khê Pagoda. It has been built under the Trần Dynasty in the 14th century, with a special composition:

The vestibule, the left and right corridor and the trinity hall were constructed in the shape of “National” word. The rear hall and the altar are in the shape of “Public” word.

The Bối Khê Pagoda has been used to serve the local saint, Mr. Nguyễn Bình An, who has been credited for his construction of this temple itself and organization of the guerilla to fight back the Chinese from the North. Currently, the pagoda has been preserving the original couplet reflecting the victory:

Bắc quốc chí kim kinh nộ vũ
Nam bang tự cỗ vọng tường vân

[Until now, the northern country still be scared of the mad rain,
Since long, southern people always waited for the peaceful cloud]

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Additional Photos by Ngy Thanh (ngythanh) Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Star Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 472 W: 125 N: 2331] (8456)
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