What Is A Pagoda?

A pagoda in Xi'an, China.
A pagoda in Xi'an, China.

A pagoda is a monumental structure found in many Asian countries. In Southeast Asia, a pagoda is a cone-shaped structure of great monumental importance as it is built to honor Buddha. The pagodas are placed near Viharas which are dwelling places for monks. In Far-East Asia, a pagoda is a multi-storied tower-like structure made of bricks, stone, or wood. It serves as commemorative monument within the ancient Hindu community. Here the structure is dome-shaped unlike the cone-shaped structure in the Southeast or the multi-storied tower in the Far East. Pagodas are used as places of worship as well as storehouses for sacred relics which included Buddhist scriptures and statues of Buddha.

History of Pagodas

Pagodas originated from popular 3rd century BCE stupas that acted as commemorative monuments. These monuments were used for safe keeping of religious relics. In East Asia, pagodas were inspired by the architecture used to build the Chinese pavilions and towers. Modern pagodas are modifications of stupas which were tomb-like structures used for keeping sacred objects.

The Basic Structure of Pagodas

Pagodas mainly consist of an underground palace, base, body, and steeple. The underground palace was also called the dragon palace or the dragon cave. A stone container which was made up of gold, stone, silver, and jade was one of the most important objects inside the palace. It was used to keep the Buddhist scripture and statues of Buddha. On the other hand, the base of a pagoda was built right above the underground palace. It acted as a support for the whole structure. Most pagodas have had relatively low bases including the Four-Door Pagoda located in the Licheng of the Sui Dynasty. The third part of the pagodas is the body which differs from one pagoda to the other depending on the adopted architecture. The bodies of the pagodas were made of bricks or wood or a combination of both. Lastly, the steeple was the highest part of the pagodas. It was either cone-shaped or ball-shaped and was used to provide stability to the pagodas. Besides, the steeple ensured that no rain leaked into the inside of the pagodas.

Examples of Notable PagodasĀ 

An example of a known pagoda is the Xumi pagoda which is a nine-story structure found within the Hebei province in China. The uppermost part of the pagoda is made of a crowning spire. The building is hollow and lacks a staircase for accessing the topmost floors. Xumi pagoda was constructed in 636 AD under the reign of Emperor Taizong of the Tang Dynasty. The building is 157 feet high. The Mireuksa pagoda is the largest and the oldest known Korean pagoda. This pagoda was constructed in 602 AD King Mu. It is located in modern-day South Korea. Other pagodas include Thien Mu pagoda (Vietnam), Mount Haguro pagoda (Japan) Yingde pagoda (China), Toji pagoda (Japan), and Tsui Sing Lau (Hong Kong) among others.


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