Tram Gian pagoda used to be a big pagoda, a Buddhist center of the country, and a school teaching sutras to thousands of Buddhists.
The peaceful scenery of Tram Gian pagoda
Established about 1,000 years ago, Tram Gian pagoda in An Dong hamlet, An Binh commune, Nam Sach district, used to be a big pagoda, a Buddhist center of the country, and a school teaching sutras to thousands of Buddhists. Nowadays, the pagoda still retains its unique architecture and many valuable antiques.
Historical spiritual place
Located in a peaceful rural area near the Kinh Thay river, Tram Gian pagoda also has the courtesy name Vinh Khanh.
Entering the pagoda, one is first impressed by a tranquil space with mossy tiled roofs, quiet corridors, and an ancient tower garden.
Legend has it that the pagoda dates from the Ly dynasty (around the 11th century). In the Tran dynasty, general Nguyen Huy Tinh's troops were stationed at the pagoda to intercept Yuan soldiers attacking Thang Long from the Bach Dang river.
Until the Le dynasty, the pagoda was rebuilt on a large scale. At that time, a Nguyen man, who followed Truc Lam religious order with the Buddhist name Dieu Quang, in the village was the head of the pagoda. He opened classes at the beginning of every summer to preach sutras, so numerous monks and nuns attended his classes.
During resistance wars against French colonials and American aggressors, the pagoda was a revolutionary base. Later, part of the pagoda became the headquarters of the commune People's Committee. When the commune People's Committee built a new headquarters, the pagoda became a venue of cultural activities of locals.
"The pagoda has had a strong attachment to people in my native land for generations and witnessed ups and downs of history. To everyone, it is as familiar as the banyan tree and river wharf and has become our spiritual fulcrum," said Nguyen Thi Xa, 83 years old, in An Doai hamlet, An Binh commune.
The pagoda was rebuilt on a large scale in the 17th century and restored many times in the 19th and early 20th centuries; therefore, its architecture bears imprints of these times.
The main works of the pagoda are located in an almost closed architectural complex. Starting from the east is a bell tower with five bit doc compartments and three multilayered middle compartments with a curved roof. In the tower is a 125 cm high bell cast in the 2nd Thanh Thai year (1890).
2 m behind the bell tower is a seven-compartment front chamber 16 m long and 8 m wide. Connected with the front chamber is a three-compartment Triratna chamber 11 m long and 8 m wide, forming a ding (丁) character.
Three sides of the Triratna chamber face a narrow yard. On the left of the chamber is a Mother Goddess house. On the left of the Mother Goddess house are two adjoining guest houses, consisting of an outer one with three compartments and an inner one with five compartments.
Behind the Triratna chamber are seven-compartment Tu An house and an ancestral house. Behind the ancestral house is a 4 m wide yard, followed by a nine-compartment cung house. Guest and cung houses are connected to each other by a corridor consisting of eight compartments and two lean-tos.
Behind the pagoda is a garden of 10 towers, nine of which were built in the Nguyen Dynasty and one in 2003.
Facing a yard covering an area of more than 1,000 m2 are a tower house, a monk house, inner and outer temples, and many other dependent works, part of them were destroyed, and the rest were deformed.
Precious book sets
Five of seven sutra woodblocks at Tram Gian pagoda are still kept intact
At present, hundreds of valuable antiques, such as Buddha statues dating from Le and Nguyen dynasties, including statues of three Truc Lam patriarchs, ancient incense burners, stone stelae, etc., are being kept at Tram Gian pagoda.
Apart from the rare and valuable antiques, Tram Gian pagoda is also famous for woodblocks of sutras for printing. There remain more than 700 woodblocks of seven sutra book tiles. Of these, many copies of two book titles have been lost while five others remain intact, especially Khoa Hu Luc – a set of Vietnamese Buddhist books compiled by Tran Thai Tong (1218-1277).
About 5 – 6 years ago, Venerable Thich Tuc Phuong, head of Tram Gian pagoda, had some woodblocks of sutras at the pagoda restored.
These woodblocks of sutras were carved at the request of monk Vien Giac from the reigns of king Minh Mang (1791-1841) to king Tu Duc (1829-1883) for preaching.
The inscriptions on the woodblocks of Nhat Tung (Daily Service) book are half Chinese and half Nom (ancient Vietnamese script based on Chinese characters) while those on the other woodblocks are Chinese.
At that time, the pagoda had 12 mau (3,600 m²) of fields and two buffaloes, income from those was divided into three parts to make the woodblocks, maintain the life of monks and wardens, and take care of worshipping work.
The pagoda was recognized as a national historical and cultural relic in 1990 and a tourist destination in 2019 by the provincial People's Committee.
Bearing special historical and cultural value, but Tram Gian pagoda cannot retain its original architecture.
The number of compartments at the pagoda fell from 100 at the beginning of the 20th century to 82 after fierce wars.
In 2009, VND13 billion was spent in repairing many items of the pagoda, bringing the total compartments to 85.
Later, items of the pagoda were renovated many times but Mother Goddess, meditation, and back stele houses, which were destroyed in the past, have not been repaired or restored.
The common house (for monks, nuns, and Buddhist followers to listen to sermons) has been closed for two years because the roof was damaged, the door was decayed, and the walls were peeled off. Some woodblocks were rotten, and inscriptions on a number of woodblocks were worn out or broken.
As a unique tourist attraction of the Eastern land, Tram Gian pagoda should be renovated and propagandized soon to preserve and promote its historical and cultural value.