Temple Complex at Bai DinhMarch 14 in Vietnam
After leaving the caves, we were taken to lunch at the hotel at Bai Dinh. When we arrived for lunch, we were taken to an enormous banquet room, at which there guests sitting at two tables. Otherwise, the place was totally deserted. We sat for quite some time, waiting to be fed. After a while, someone rolled out a cart with a variety of dishes, none of which looked very good. As it turned out, looks were not deceiving, as the food was terrible. It was not until many hours later that I realized that the reason we’d eaten at this restaurant is that it was the only way to gain entrance to the top of the Temple Complex at Bai Dinh. If you don’t eat at the restaurant, you have to walk up from the bottom, and then back to the bottom to get back to your car. These logistical considerations don’t seem like a big deal until you actually visit the temple complex, which is positively immense.
The Temple Complex was built from 2003 to 2010, on the site of an earlier temple. We were told that the complex was built by an enormously wealthy businessman, but we couldn’t seem to find out any information about him, how he earned his money, or why he choose to build the complex. What we did learn is that the complex is the largest in Vietnam and is thought to house the largest Buddha in Southeast Asia (100 tons).
To the best of my recollection, there are at least 6 temples/pagodas in the complex. The largest pagoda is at the top of the hill. It houses 3 Buddhas, which are 80 tons each. The buddhas, are cast in bronze and covered in gold leaf. The three buddhas represent past, present and future. The 3 Buddhas are surrounded by statutes who guard them, as well as elaborate carvings. Also, there are niches all around the room (and, as we soon discovered, all over the complex) in which there are small gold leaf Buddhas. Each person who donates at least $500 USD to the construction of the complex has their name placed on a plaque in front of the niche. I was surprised that a $500 contribution gave you the right to have your name put on a niche, but as Arie pointed out, $500 is a lot for someone who is Vietnamese. As we walked around the pagoda, we noticed that people who praying and leaving money in the donation boxes placed everywhere. We also saw women who work at the complex remove the donations (cash by the handful) and place it in baskets. We were told that the money was used for upkeep of the complex.
Next to that pagoda, up a hill, we walked up at least 300 stairs to see an enormous “Happy Buddha,” who has a beatific smile and an enormous belly. The legend is that this Buddha travels the world, making people happy.
Down the hill is a 13 story pagoda, that houses an Indian Buddha, and ashes from a famous Indian Buddhist (I couldnt’ quite figure out the details). In this pagoda, all of the carvings and gold work were done by Indians, who came to work on the complex.
A bit farther down the hills is a convention center (which was empty).
Then, as you walk down further, there is yet another pagoda, which has a 100 ton Buddha. Again, many, many people are praying and leaving offerings.
Further down the hill is a pagoda that has the Indian god Shiva. Why? I don’t know. But, he was stunning.
Next, there is a pagoda that houses a bronze bell and drum. The instruments are played at holidays (like lunar new year) and the sound carries for approx 15 miles.
As you continue to walk down the hill, you pass corridors filled with 250 carved statutes of the ancestors. Touching the statutes is supposed to bring good luck, so their feet’s, knees — any body part that one could reach — are shiny where they were rubbed. And, behind these statutes are many more niches, with Buddhas who are marked for their donors.
The size of the complex is awesome and overwhelming, all at the same time. It took us the better part of two hours just to walk through, and I could have spent hours gazing at the beautiful figures and people watching.Read more