A Slice of Heaven on Earth

Pottering around Đà Lạt on a scooter, I saw several street signs leading to Linh Phuoc Pagoda. Calling out to me as if to say, “You need to see me before you leave”. With Waze on hand as my backup map, I followed directions and found this gorgeous temple in the small town of Trai Mat about 8kms from Đà Lạt city centre.

Upon entering the main gate, the commanding view of this celestial structure boggles the mind. There are 4 main sections each of which incredibly beautiful and unique in their own right. It’s truly overwhelming at first sight and I did not know where to begin exploring this intricate and ornate pagoda. Built by monks and followers of the Mahayana Buddhist sect from Thua Thien circa 1949, this temple complex only gained popularity in the 1990’s when it was restored by the abbot at the time.

The main temple architecture has a distinct Chinese influenced flavour with it’s ornate pillars, dragons and mythical creatures all of which are made out of broken china, terracotta, glass, porcelain and beer bottles. The 49 metre long dragon in the courtyard is almost exclusively made with broken beer bottles! This winding serpent is composed of 12,000 broken bottles. The use of these unusual mosaic tiles have given the pagoda the nickname, Ve Chai, which literally means “pieces of broken glass bottles”.

On the inside is a gorgeous gold statue of Buddha Sakyamuni. The pillars are intricately inlaid with more broken china while the backdrop depicts the infinite tree of enlightenment and the ceiling is painted to represent the heavens (blue sky with clouds) above.

Next to the main temple is the 7 tier Da Bao tower again reminiscent of ancient Chinese architecture which has a grand bell on level 2. Considered the largest bell in Vietnam today, it is 4.3 metres high, 2.3 metres in diameter and weighs 8.5 tons. Here visitors write their wishes and prayers on a piece of paper, stick it to the bell and chime the bell three times to send their prayers to Lord Buddha. It’s considered a sacred experience and one not to be missed.

While I was busy taking in the beauty at this part of the temple, a grand old Vietnamese lady summoned me to remove my shoes and climb up the spiral staircases to view what was on the tiers above. Each floor has a wonderfully serene and divine statue of Buddha in his many incarnations. Each one seemingly blessing visitors as they reach the top most tier. The view out from the top of the tower is stunning.

Across the walkway from the bell tower is an 18 meter high statue of the Goddess of Mercy, Bodhisattva Guan Yin. Her statue is covered with over 600,000 dried “Bat tu” (helichrysum bracteatum) flowers, also known as everlasting or straw flowers. At first I missed this. Upon closer inspection I realised her entire statue was covered with these flowers. How amazing is that?

Last but not least, I almost missed heading this way thinking it was just another annexe prayer room of the temple. To the left of the bell tower, behind the temple complex is the grandest gem of them all. Almost hidden from sight. If not for the many people who were making their way there, I would have left without seeing this awesome temple. When I laid eyes on the 5 metre tall majestic golden yellow statue of Buddha, I was at a loss for words. With natural light beaming in from the roof top illuminating the statue ever so subtly, it felt like I was looking at a heavenly being before my eyes. Even as I write this, I have no words to describe how enchanting and breathtaking it is. It truly needs to be seen to be appreciated.

The interior is 3 levels high with so much going on in terms of design that every statue, every pillar and every meticulously detailed mosaic design on the walls compete for your visual attention.

None of these photos I’ve taken at the entire complex do justice to it’s actual beauty when seen up close and in the flesh.  Every inch of this lovely temple has a story to tell and I’m sure it’s a different one for every visitor. It’s a truly heavenly place and one where I spent a considerable amount of time reflecting. We see with the mind’s eye and yet everything we see is but a reflection of the mind. 

Linh Phuoc is by far one of the most impressive and stunning pagodas I’ve seen anywhere. It’s over the top and grandiose but will take your breath away and leave you in awe.

The Roving Photographer
March 22, 2016

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