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Monday, June 6, 2011

No. 47: Yuantong Temple, Kunming, Yunnan

Yuantong Temple (圆通寺) in Kunming, Yunnan (云南, 昆明市), is upside-down:
One walks down from the Mountain Gate (山门) to the Main Hall (大雄宝殿).
A pond fills the space that would usually be occupied by a courtyard.
Unlike the previous two temples, Yuantong Temple is located smack-dab in the center of Kunming. It was so easy, we in fact walked back to our hotel after one visit [for dinner the day before this visit].

Yuantong has a feature rare among temples: after entering the front gate, instead of climbing up to the Main Hall, the stairs lead down. The temple is located in a giant pit, with a pond at the bottom. So where one would expect a courtyard there is actually an expanse of water surrounding a small auxiliary hall.

The temple was built during the latter half of the Tang Dynasty, during which time Kunming was held by the rebellious Nanzhao kingdom. This entity had affinities with the countries to the south, so there is a strong connection with Thai-style Theravada Buddhism.

In fact, there are two unusual halls on the grounds. One is built in Thai style to represent the Theravada teachings. I ran into a group of Thai Buddhists there who were delighted to see it. The other hall is built in Tibetan style to house figures such as Tsongkhapa and others dear to Tibetan Buddhists.

Behind all the halls, in the "cliff" created by the back rim of the hole in the ground, were some finely-carved images in a sort of grotto.

[Note: In the Shenzhen Daily version of this article, I described a meeting with a monk and a visit to an abandoned set of pagodas. This was in error; it actually happened the previous day. We did, however, make one more visit before our flight.]

Leaving this temple, we jumped into a cab to visit the famous Twin Pagodas associated with the former West Temple and East Temple, joined by a newly-developed "old shopping street" between. It seems there are gardens to the east of the East Pagoda; but alas, we had no time to visit, but jumped into another cab, returned to the hotel, and grabbed our bags as we headed for the airport.

(An edited version of this article was published in the Shenzhen Daily February 4, 2013.)

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GALLERY

This ancient gateway leads to the main hall of Yuantong Temple, Kunming
A pond lies in place of a main courtyard at the temple (postcard above)
The Main Hall of Yuantong Temple, viewed across the pond
The Thai Hall is a nod to Theravada Buddhism
The pagoda of former West Temple now stands in a park-like setting
200 meters directly east, East Pagoda still has some temple-like grounds around it.
BONUS IMAGE: A closer view of the East Temple above, rendered as a vintage postcard.

Kunming, Yunnan (云南, 昆明市), has another set of Twin Pagodas (双塔). This is
the easternmost of the two, graced in springtime by a riot of purple flowers.

Click here to visit the next article in chronological order || Click here to view the trip details

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