Three Pagodas

The three elegant pagodas arise on the Cangshan Mountain slope overlooking the Erhai Lake, known as Chonhsheng Santa, the Three Pagodas of Saintly Worship. The outstanding Landmarks of the region, they were once part of the greatest temple complex on the Dali plain.In recent times the Three Pagodas site has become extremely popular with tourists, the inevitable result being that it is overrun with stalls selling marble wares.

The tallest of the three, Qianxun Pagoda, has 16 tiers that reach a height of 69.13 meters ( 230 feet). Its structure, similar to the Small Wild Goose Pagoda in Xi'an, capital of Shaanxi Province, is in an architectural style typical of the Tang Dynasty (618-907). The two smaller pagodas to its west and north, each 42.19 meters ( 135 feet) high with ten tiers, have a luxurious appearance with their exquisite carvings. They were built in the Five Dynasties (907-960). More than 600 rare relics of the states of Nanzhao and Dali were discovered in the three pagodas during the 1978 reconstruction, making them even more famous.

Pagodas are among the most ubiquitous structures throughout the Buddhist world. Their Sanskrit name is stupa, originally a mound or round dome or cylinder on a square base with a shaft emerging upward.

Stupas probably evolved in India from prehistoric times as burial mounds for local rulers and heroes. Legend says that in the fifth century BC Shakyamuni, the historical Buddha, asked to have his ashes interred in a stupa. Since that time stupas have become symbols of the Buddha, reminders of his earthly existence, cult objects and places of devotion.

As Buddhism spread through Asia the shape of stupas adapted itself to local architecture, giving rise to the huge variety of styles. Generally speaking there are three types of stupas, or pagodas, in China.

The Storied style: This results from traditional Chinese storied architecture and is marked by panoramic views form large windows and outer railings at each level.

The Pavilion style: This is also known as the 'single-layered stupa', with one story only.

The Close-eaved or ( Miyi) style,, or multi-eaved style: These pagodas are characterized by a spacious first story, low subsequent stories and all eaves spaced closely to one another. Windows are small or nonexistent and the interior space is cramped and dark. Colse-eaved pagodas are an early style whose popularity rested on the extreme simplicity and gracefulness of form. They are best viewed from a distance where their lines can be seen in relief against a mountain or the far horizon.The Chongsheng Santa are clearly of the third type.

The pagodas were founded for two main reasons. First, they were holy structures that invoked the Buddha's protection against the frequent disasters of floods and earthquakes. A carved marble inscription in front of Qianxunta bears the four Chinese characters yong zhen shan chuan, subdue Forever the Mountains and the Rivers. Secondly, the pagodas were reliquaries for the ashes and bones of saints and a storehouse for scriptures and precious objects.

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