New Delhi, India
September 5, 2007
Having paid the entry fee (25 RMB per person), we stopped at the first gate of Yonghegong. In front of this gate are the statues you see outside so many buildings in Beijing: a lion playing with a ball, and a lioness playing with a cub. Through the gate, we walked down a long, wide path flanked by trees in which greyish-blue birds (magpies?) fluttered. Another gate, and we reached the first pavilion. Yonghegong has a number of pavilions, all vividly painted and lacquered, with glazed tiles covering curving eaves. Pomegranate and persimmon trees laden with blush-red fruit curve picturesquely across courtyards, and prayer wheels stand outside each pavilion. Inside, the pavilions are even more colourful: statues of deities (including, obviously, the Buddha himself in his many avatars), all of them gilded and painted, often studded with semi-precious stones and draped with silk scarves, occupy most halls. Offerings of fruit, flowers and incense lie below the statues. To conserve the interiors, no incense is burnt inside the halls; incense burners stand outside each hall, scented smoke rising gently from the many joss sticks left by devotees.
Among the most notable of the halls at Yonghegong are:
Yonghedian (The Hall of Harmony and Peace): Built in 1694, this hall has a pomegranate tree drooping prettily on one side, covered with ripe fruit when we visited. The hall honours the three Buddhas: the past (Kasyapa Matanga), the present (Sakyamuni) and the future (Maitreya).
Falundian (The Hall of the Wheel of the Law): Screened by a garden of pine trees, this hall contains a large gilded statue of the Tsongkhapa, the founder of the Yellow Hat sect. The thrones next to the statue were meant for the Dalai Lamas when they came here to teach.
Wanfu (The Pavilion of Ten Thousand Happinesses): This pavilion is Yonghegong’s pride and joy, for it houses the world’s largest statue carved from a single block of wood: an 18 m tall Maitreya Buddha of white sandalwood. Gilded and painted – so you can’t really see the wood, actually – the Maitreya was gifted to the emperor by the 7th Dalai Lama. It took all of three years to transport the statue from Tibet to Beijing. Very impressive.
The easiest way to get to the temple is by the subway: take line 2 to Yonghegong station. The back of the temple abuts the station, but a high wall runs right round, so you’ll have to walk about five minutes or so down Yonghegong Dajie to get to the temple entrance.
From journal A Week in the 'Northern Capital'