Despite being situated in a crowded residential area, Giac Lam Pagoda is an oasis of tranquility.
It also retains the majesty of an ancient
pagoda thanks to its large, tree-filled precinct and monks’ efforts to preserve
its traditional look.
Formerly called the Son Can or Cam Dem, this national historical and cultural
relic – as recognised by the Government in 1988 – was built in the mid-18th
It is situated in Tan Binh District’s Lac
Long Quan Street in the Phu Tho Hoa area, which used to be Cam Dem or Son Can
Hill. It was built by Ly Thuy Long, a lay-Buddhist of Chinese origin who
collected gifts from various donors to construct a thatched-roof wooden pagoda
in the Giap Ty Year (1744) when the area was ruled by Lord Nguyen Phuc
In the Gia Dinh Province Records
maintained by Governor Trinh Hoai Duc of the Gia Dinh Citadel, the area is
described as "a 3ha lot covered with tall trees and wild flowers".
Many trees remain, some of them very old
and tall. The pagoda is rather modest-sized and with the typical architectural
features of ancient southern pagodas.
Many historians say the pagoda has
important historical, cultural, architectural, and religious sculptural
Take a tour
The large compound is enclosed by walls
that separate it from the crowded streets outside. A two-tier gate, a prominent
feature of the garden-pagoda architectural style, leads into the lane leading to
the yard. Inside are western decorations like square pillars and lions, lotuses
and Nagar snakes inspired by Indian and Khmer cultures.
The strongest symbol of Vietnamese culture
is a terracotta vase made in Song Be and placed at the topmost point in the
The pagoda is also surrounded by five
ancient towers with ingenious sculptural lines. Its yard is paved with red
square tiles. Both sides of the path are covered in precious ornamental flowers
In front of the pagoda is a giant bodhi
tree, a gift from the Venerable Elder Narada, who came from Sri Lanka in 1953.
Under it is the statue of Guan Yin Bodhisattva. On one side of the pagoda is a
100-year-old white-flower ochna tree.
The main pagoda’s structure is in the
traditional rectangular pattern. It is 65m long and 22m wide, and consists of
three main buildings – the central hall, the preaching hall, and the
There are 98 wooden columns in all, many
of which are so thick that adults cannot get their hands fully around them. On
the columns are 86 "parallel sentences" inscribed in gilded Chinese calligraphy
and bordered with elaborately wrought frames. All the rafter ends are shaped
like the heads of dragons.
The main hall is adorned with solid altars
made of valuable wood and three netlike panels. Among the 118 statues in the
pagoda, 113 are made of bronze and gilded jackfruit wood. The Buddha Sakyamuni’s
idol on the Lotus throne is 0.65m high. Enshrined in the preaching hall is the
oldest Sakyamuni statue dating back to the 18th century. The nine-dragon statue
cast in bronze, which illustrates the story of the Buddha’s birth, is also
enshrined in the main hall.
On the two sides of the walls are two sets
of idols of Thap Bat La Han (The 18 Arhats) and a set of Thap Dien Diem Vuong
(King of Hell).
A minor set of 18 statuettes of Arhats,
each 0.57m high, was carved in the early 19th century. The major set of 18
statutes, each 0.95m high, was created in the early 20th century.
All the statues, netlike panels,
furniture, stupas, and tombs in the pagoda are exquisitely created.
The pagoda also has a seven-storey stupa
which was completed in 1993. The 32-hexagon tower, with eaves and openings each
enshrining the Buddha’s Telic from the Long Van Pagoda in Binh Thanh District.
It is one of the most spectacular towers in the city.
Giac Lam has had nine chief monks in its
230-year history – Vien Quang, Hai Tinh, Minh Vi, Minh Khiem, Nhu Loi, Nhu
Phong, Hong Hung, Nhut Dan and Le Sanh, who is now in power.
In 1772, the Most Venerable Vien Quang,
who belonged to the Linh Chi Sect, was appointed abbot and he renamed the pagoda
Giac Lam. The pagoda has been restored three times. The Most Venerable Vien
Quang had it rebuilt for the first time in 1799-1804. A century later, in 1906
to 1910, the Most Venerable Hong Hung played the lead role in restoring it with
the help of the Most Venerable Nhu Phong. In 1999 Giac Lam was restored for the
third time with the municipal People’s Committee providing VND293mil.
The city has put pagodas built before 1900
in a list of ancient pagodas. Those built subsequently, even if they are in the
traditional wood pattern, do not make that list.
Giac Lam not only tops that list but also
retains the oldest architectural and decorative motifs seen in any pagoda in the
(Source: Viet nam
Tag: Pagoda, Giac Lam Pagoda, Oasis
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