Ninh Binh’s record-breaking pagoda, Bai Dinh Spiritual Centre in Gia Sinh Commune, Gia Vien district, is drawing crowds of visitors, curious to see the magnanimous construction with their own eyes.
The original pagoda was built by a Zen Buddhist priest Nguyen Minh Khong (1066-1141) in the 11th century, the Vietnam news agency reported Friday.
The new building covers an areas of 700 hectares, making it the largest pagoda in Vietnam, and the complex is slated for completion in 2010, in time to celebrate 1,000 years since King Ly Thai To moved the country’s capital from Hoa Lu in Ninh Binh to Hanoi (then Thang Long).
VNA reported that there’s more record-breaking architecture. The pagoda’s magnificent three-door gate is the biggest of this kind in Vietnam, built with 550 tonnes of iron wood. Four 13,8m-high pillars tower over the entrance, flanked by two 5.5m-high solid bronze guard statues, weighing 12 tonnes each.
Around the gate are eight smaller bronze statues of Kim Cuong angels, each weighing 8 tonnes.
But it is inside the gate that you will find the real gem of the pagoda.
At the top of the bell tower is the 36-tonne bell — the heaviest bell in Vietnam.
The bell is a mixture of bronze and gold and was cast in Hue — the country’s cradle of bronze casting. When it is rung, the sound can be heard as far as 10km from the tower.
The bell isn’t the only bronze marvel in the complex. Not far from the tower is Kwan Yin Sanctum: a wooden building with five main chambers and two side chambers.
Tucked away in the center of the sanctum is the stunning 10m-high bronze statue of Kwan Yin with thousand hands. When looking up at this vast piece of art, it’s not surprising to learn that the 80-tonne statue is the biggest depiction of Kwan Yin statue in Vietnam.
Kwan Yin is not alone. The building leads onto Phap Chu Sanctum — an area dedicated to worshiping Lord Buddha Sakyamumi, the founder of Buddhism.
At the heart of the building is a high platform in the central chamber where a 10m-high bronze statue of Lord Buddha sits on his lotus throne.
The Center for Vietnam Record Books recognized the 100-tonne statue as the tallest and heaviest bronze depiction of Lord Buddha in the country in 2006.
The statue was born as part of a collective effort of bronze casters in Y Yen district, Nam Dinh province.
If you are not completely overwhelmed by the size of the statue you will notice the wall behind it, which is divided into nearly 1,300 small pigeon holes, each with a small bronze statue of Buddha.
The grand scale of the pagoda is best seen at Tam The (past, present and future) Santum.
Built on the highest hill in the region, Tam The Sanctum is the largest construction in Bai Dinh complex, and is also the biggest sanctum for worshiping Buddha in the country.
The massive structure covers an area of 3,000sq.m. There are seven chambers, each dedicated to celebrating the three tenses of Buddha. The sactum is home to the largest set of three-tense Buddha statues in the country, each weighing a massive 50 tonnes.
There are also 500 valuable Arhat stone statues – the most at any pagoda in Vietnam.
On the way to the old pagoda, favorite stop off points include Sang (light) Cave, where the surprisingly flat ceiling and floor resemble half an Olympic-sized swimming pool.
The cave, which worships Buddha, was bestowed with an inscription by King Le Thanh Tong in the 15 th century: “Minh dinh danh lam,” which means “famous land scape on the mountain top.”
Nearby Toi (Dark) Cave, with its weird and wonderful rock formations and fairy pool, worship Mau (Vietnamese Mother Goddess).