The birth of pagodas in China dated back to around 100BC when it was spread from its motherland, ancient India. Originally, pagodas were used for conserving and burying the sarira which means the cremated ash of Sakyamuni, the founder of Buddhism. As time went, blended with unique Chinese elements, Chinese pagodas developed continually and formed gradually.
The first important period for pagodas’ evolution is the Han Dynasty (202 B.C. -220A.D.), Wei Dynasty (220 A.D. -265 A.D.) and Jin Dynasty (266A.D.-420 A.D.). Following the usage of the pagoda in ancient India, it was still regarded as tomb of Buddhist masters and carrier of Buddhist spirit. Besides, another function arose. It became the object of veneration or commemoration. Sarira or Buddha statues were worshiped inside the pagoda. Playing such an important role, pagodas were usually situated in the centre of monasteries. Each of its ascending floors is a little bit smaller than the last one which makes the whole structure like a pyramid. Pagodas in this period were mainly built by timber because this material is light, durable, strong and aesthetic. As an old Chinese book refers, the initial dougong and the flying eave appeared, the wooden pagodas were all Louge-style and simply square figure with huge base. Basically, pagodas of this kind of structure had internal staircase to facilitate people to have a better view of scenery beyond. An interesting thing is that the number of the steps was exact the amount of the floor. However, it is quite pitiful that they did not exit nowadays due to the shortage of its material. Timber easily became rotten or catched fire especially in rainy and lightening days. A new material, brick, enriched pagodas during Wei dynasty. To some extent, the application of brick made up the shortage of timber and became the dominant material of pagodas, but it also has shortages. It lacks elasticity so that it is complex to build flying eave. . Thus, new technology and material were forced to come out.
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As the influence of Buddhism in China increased, the development of pagodas reached the summit during Tang dynasty (618A.D. – 907 A.D.), Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms (907A.D. – 960A.D.) and Song dynasty (960 A.D.-1279 A.D.). Pagodas had already been improved to a mature level that been used from traditional to multi functions; built from simple to complex structure; selected monotonous to various material.
Various functions of pagodas have appeared from storing treasures to balancing Fengshui. They were also places for people to pray for blessings and return favors. Besides, pagodas served as watchtower in that time of war and chaos. However, one of their basic functions was to develop and spread Buddhism.
The initial square shape was rarely seen, instead, pagodas were built into hexagon or octagon those are more stable than rectangle. This change was basically for the consideration of safety and durability. As everyone knows, China is situated on Eurasia Plate and pacific plate where earthquake happens frequently. This new evolution of pagodas’ shape ensured both safety and beauty. Additionally, it was convenient for tourists to admire views from different direction from high pagodas.
Coloured glaze, a new beautiful material was brought to pagodas during Song dynasty. normally, brick was used for basic construction material and coloured glaze was used as decoration. The gigantic flying eave and structural Dougong(bucket arches) were designed at each level. under it were exqusite sculptures and murals where many famous folk fairy tale or stories of buddhisattavas were usually recorded. Unlike timber or brick, pogodas in coloured glaze were much more beautiful and preservable.so far, numerous paintings and vivid scupltures are still can been seen. In addition, valuable material like gold, pearl, jade also were used for many royal pagodas.
A third key period of the evolution of pagodas is from Yuan dynasty ( 1206 A.D. – 1368 A.D. )to Qing dynasty(1644 A.D.- 1911A.D.). People regarded pagodas as a landmark or tool to balance Fengshui or suppress the local ghosts. Generally speaking, pagodas in this period mainly interitated the style of previous dynasties. However, pagodas had been influnced by a new religion, lamaism. Thus, a new shape called Pingxing shape. Addtionally, the technology of designing structures and making materials reached the peak of its whole history which contributed to a higher level of pagodas’ aethesice. Partial structure were also grew from Dougong to Chuan, Fang, Chuilianzhu and so on.
Instead of extending timber or brick structure, pagodas were more built with Zhuanfangmu structure which means use the brick to imitate the wooden material. This structure was born in Tang dynasty, but fully developed during Ming dynasty and Qing dynasty.
All in all, pagoda plays a quite important part in Chinese architecture history. It is a not only the media for spreading Buddhism but also the fruit of the Chinese’ creation. Great numbers of Buddhist texts, treasure were conserving in the pagodas despite dynastic changes or frequent wars. The variable structures, exquisite decoration fully illustrate how Chinese people respect architecture and Buddhism.
As everyone knows, Japan has kept good friendship with China for thousands of years. Meanwhile, China had exterted very essential influnce to Japan no matter in commerce, culture or ideaolody. It was in Asukaji Jidai(600 A.D. -710 A.D.) that pagoda was first brought into Japan from Tang dynasty.
Similarly to china, pagodas in Japan were also located in monasteries and used for housing sacred relics. Because of the wet weather in Japan, the Louge style pagodas of moisture proof timber frame were quite popular at that time. This certain pagoda type was called Duochong type. It imitated the design of pagodas in Tang dynasty with huge square base, but it has its own structural characteristics, the relatively lower base, interlocking beam, exaggerated flying eaves and central pillar. The strong comparison between the slender body and the extremely wide flying eave with clay tiles made became one of the most impressive characters of Japanese timber architecture.
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There is no big evolution in the material of Japanese pagoda. Generally, majority of Japanese pagodas were built with timber. An excellent representation of pagodas in this period was the five-storey pagoda in HÅryÅ« Temple, the oldest timber frame pagoda in Japan so far. It is one of the most symbolized buildings throughout Japanese architectural history. According to the symmetric rule, it is located on the symmetric of the temple. It has inornate but elegant out-appearance. The special design is not solely for atheistic but also for the deeper concern of Buddhist metaphor. The square-shaped base is represented the earth and the big central column means ‘the axle of world’. The spire on the peak of the pagoda symbolized that the Buddha is the master of the universe. The five-storey designed was basically according the believing that each level represents one of the Buddhist elements: wind, water, fire, earth and sky. The secret of why it can exit such a long time that it was designed to absorb the movements of the earth so that it could resist earthquakes or typhoons efficiently. Together with the whole temple, they were listed on the world cultural heritage in 1993.
A second momentous period is Heian Jidai (794 A.D.ï¼1185 A.D. )which is regarded as the transition period. This peaceful period still kept nice friendship with Chinese Tang dynasty. Thus, pagodas got fully development and many of the pagodas were localized at the same time. The three-storey pagoda in Kiyomizu-dera (clear water temple) is a good example for that period. It inherited the wide overhangs of the previous pagodas whereas it was coated with distinct vermilion, the respected colour in Buddhism. A Zian kannon (believed to round the wish of giving a birth) is placed inside the pagoda.
Another eye-catching pagoda is the Toji( known as the eastern temple) in Kyoto which was built by imperial edict in 796 A.D to guard the city. It used to have a partner called sai-ji (means western pagoda). They stand grandly on each side of the gate to the capital to provide protection. The five- storey pagoda, 57 meters high, is the tallest pagoda in Japan. Due to damage of the fires and wars during 16th century, it was reconstructed in 1603. It was also listed on World Heritage sites.
As the introduction of esoteric Buddhist sects, the touhoutou(a type of pagodas) became popular since the Karamura Jidai(1185-1333) when Japanese style gradually went into mature stage. This type of structure was born in Chinese Tang dynasty but without a standard out-appearance. However, it was promoted to two main characters when brought to Japan, one is the 2-storey eave and the other one is the circular body. The oldest touhoutou style is the Ishiyama temple pagoda.
As it can been seen, pagodas have experienced a great number of evolution both in China and Japan according to their different geographical surroundings, nation’s trend and so on. Different functions have been developed to fulfill people’ need. A diversity of pagodas structural types have arose so that enriched the both the architecture and the aesthetic history greatly. Being the load and media of Buddhism, pagodas successfully preserved the sacred relics and spreaded the spirit.
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