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Sunday, October 17, 2010

EXTRA: Famen Temple, Xi'an, Shaanxi

The "True Relic Pagoda" (圣真身宝塔) at Famen Temple (法门寺) in Xi'an, Shaanxi (陕西,
西安市), collapsed in 1981, and relics (舍利子), including a finger bone of the Buddha
(佛), were found there in 1987. The relic is now on display in a modern "pagoda" nearby.
On August 4, 1981, disaster struck Famen Temple.

After a massive rainstorm, the temple's ancient "True Relic Pagoda," which had been rebuilt in 1579, cracked down the middle and half of it came sliding down in a mass of bricks.

The temple, which at the time was being used by government bodies, was returned to the Buddhist association in 1984, and government-sponsored restoration of the partially-collapsed pagoda began soon after, in 1985.

On April 3, 1987, the underground "palace" below the pagoda was opened, and the reports of ancient documents proved to be true: the room contained precious relics, including a piece said to be a finger-bone of the historic Buddha, Shakyamuni.

The chamber below the pagoda can be visited today. However, the relic has been moved to a compound next to the old temple, a huge complex with a courtyard 1230 meters long and 108 meters wide, and a "pagoda"--with a modern design hardly recognizable as such--to hold the Buddha's finger. At 148 meters, it's one of the tallest Buddhist pagodas in the world.

Frankly, it was all a little too much for me. Despite the whopping 120rmb entrance fee, I spent virtually all of my time in the small, older temple compound, including the underground palace. I only walked the length of the new plaza to return to my bus for the 120 kilometer return trip to Xi'an.

Famen Temple is a good example of the impact of modern tourism on China's ancient temples. I suspect many visitors will go to the new complex, never realizing that a precious jewel of an ancient place sits right next door.

(An edited version of this article was published in the Shenzhen Daily November 19, 2012.)

GPS Info:
  • 34.43996, 107.90454



The Gate and Pagoda at the original compound of Famen Temple
The restored Ming-Dynasty True Relic Pagoda at Famen Temple
Interior of the "Underground Palace"
A 13-meter Vairocana was "endowed by a pilgrim of Shenzhen"
The ultra-modern Namaste Pagoda rises 148 meters at the end of a 1230-meter concourse

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