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Lama Temple

A Bird's Eye View of Yonghegong LamaseryLocated at the northeast corner of the old city of Beijing, the Yonghegong Lamasery (Lama Temple) is the largest and most perfectly preserved lamasery of Gelug Sect (Yellow Sect of the Lamaism) in present day Beijing. It was originally used as official residence for court eunuchs during the Ming Dynasty and was converted to the palatial residence of Emperor Yongzheng when he was just a prince in 1694. In 1725, the 3rd year of Yongzheng's reign period, it was upgraded to imperial palace for short stays away from the Forbidden City by the emperor and renamed Lama Temple. It was not until 1744, the 9th year during the Emperor Qianlong's reign, the Qing court formally changed the status of the dwelling to that of a lamasery, and made it the national center of Lama administration.

Consisting of seven courtyards in a raw, the dimensions of Lama Temple are magnificent. Generally speaking, the front (south)structural layout in the temple is bright and spacious while the back(north) is concentrating, compact yet meticulous. Main structures--Tianwangdian, Yonghegong, Yongyoudian, Falundian and Wanfuge - are all aligned along the northsouth centraI axis. with annex halls standing on both sides. The cluster of buildings in the temple, including halls, pavilions and towers, is a harmonious blend of traditional Han, Tibetan, Manchu and Mongolian features.

Main Buildings in Yonghegong

Situating at the south end of Lama Temple is the first courtyard, which contains a screen wall and three archways, hence another name, Archway Courtyard. The symbols of red walls, yellow tiles and stone Iions show that Giant Buddha Statue in Wangfugethis lamasery was originally the dwelling of an imperial family member. Walking through the central grand glaze-tiled archway and along a straight road which was used for the carriages of emperors and their wives during the Qing Dynasty, you will reach the Zhaotaimen (Gate of Peace Declaration), comprising three large archways and patterned with decorative dragons and flowers.

Passing through this gate, you will enter the third courtyard of Lama Temple that contains a Drum Tower on the western side and a Bell Tower on the eastern side, and in front of these towers are two octagonal Stele Pavilions. Articles written by Emperor Qianlong was cawed in the steles in four languages--Chinese and Manchu in the east one while Mongolian and Tibetan in the west one-explaining the reasons that the former imperial residence must later be changed to temple. Tianwangdian(Hall of Heavenly Kings) is the main building of the courtyard. Originally the main entrance to the Emperor Yongzheng's residence, it houses the statues of four fearsome looking Heavenly Kings(namely Dhrtarastra, Virudhaka, Vitupaksa and Dhanada). Enshrined in the center of the hall ls the seated statue of smiling Maitreya. Behind the shrine is the statue of Weituo(Skanda), a protector of Buddhism (bstan-srung)ranked first among the 32 guardian generals, facing backward to the fourth courtyard.

The core structure of the fourth yard is the hall of Lama Temple. Built in 1694, or the 33rd year of Emperor Kangxi's reign, the hall was a meeting place for Yongzheng before his enthronement. It became the Daxiongbaodian (Shrine of Greatness and Magnificence, or the Mahavira Hall,) after changing into a lamasery. Standing in front of the hall is the Mount Sumeru, a Ming bronze sculpture. According to the Buddhist tradition, Mount Sumeru is supposed to be the centre of the world. Sitting in an oval white marble pool and 1.5 meters in height, the Mount Sumeru consists of seven tiers. On the top of it lies the legendary paradise where Sakyamuni lives; on its middle slopes are the dwellings for mankind; and at the bosom, the floral design stands for sea waves, below which devils abide in the hell. What is surprising is that the positions of the stars and constellations roughly correspond to the findings of modern astronomy. Enshrined on the central altar of the hall are Buddha of the Three Ages: Sakyamuni, Buddha of the Present in the middle, Dipamkara, Buddha of the Past on the left, and Maitreya, Buddha of the Future on the right. Flanking Sakyamuni are statues of Ananda and Kasyapa, his two disciples. On both sides of the hall stand the statues of 18 arhats, which are of the size of ordinary Wanfuge and Flying Corridorpeople and are treasures of sculpture art.

The complex to the north is the fifth yard centered by Yongyoudian (Hall of Eternal Blessing), which was Emperor Yongzheng's living room when he lived there as a young prince and, at the time of his death his coffin was placed there. In this building are three big Buddhas carved out of wood: the Buddha of Pharmacy on the left, the Lion-roaring Buddha on the right, and the Buddha Amitayus or the Longevity Buddha in the middle.

From Yongyoudian continue north is the Falundian (Hall of the Wheel of the Law), which is the location for Lamas reading scriptures and holding Buddhist ceremonies. The Falundian comprises very special features as its structure contains the architectural styles of both Tibetan and Han nationalities. A large statue of Tsong Kha—pa(1 417-1 478), the founder of the Yellow Sect of Lamaism, is displayed here in the centre of the hall. Behind this statue is the famous Arhat Hill containing 500 Arhats having different facial expressions and poses which were made of five kinds of metals——gold, silver, copper, iron and tin. The hill was reputed as one of the Three Superb Wooden Carvings of Yonghegong (Lama Temple).

 Lama Temple Tour

The Yonghegong can be said as treasure house of relics which is indeed an epitome of the religious art of China. In 1961 it was listed by the State Council as one of the historical sites under state protection. So during your Beijing tour, you should not miss this famous attraction-Lama Temple.