THE SMALL WILD GOOSE PAGODA IS A CULTURAL HERITAGE FROM THE TANG DYNASTY:
Pagodas are a traditional part of Chinese architecture and landscape and in Xi’an, we pay a fleeting visit to the Small Wild Goose Pagoda, one of two significant pagodas in the city. The Small Wild Goose Pagoda is an important cultural relic from the Tang Dynasty as it was built in 707 AD during the period when Chang’an (present-day Xi’an) was the capital.
A Jianfu Temple Pagoda
The Small Wild Goose Pagoda stands in the ancient Jianfu Temple and in the past one of its many functions was to hold sutras and figurines of the Buddha that pilgrims brought to the temple from India. The Jianfu Temple was one of three Buddhist Sutra Translation venues in Chang’an City and pilgrims travelling the Silk Road used to bring Buddhist texts here for translation.
Almost Earthquake Proof
Xi’an is located in an earthquake region and the construction of the Small Wild Goose Pagoda is said to be a wonder. The original pagoda had fifteen stories and even after over seventy earthquakes, only the top two floors were damaged. The pagoda stands on a round base made from packed earth and it is believed that in the event of an earthquake, the tremor is evenly distributed by the base, hence its survival.
Today the pagoda has thirteen stories and is 43.38 metres high. Inside the pagoda a narrow wooden staircase winds its way to the top of the pagoda. I believe it’s possible for visitors to climb to the top of the pagoda, but today the entrance gate is padlocked.
The best spot to take pictures of the pagoda is from the rose garden at the rear and as we head for the garden we walk past ancient temple steles and a 1,300 year old pagoda tree. Bent over and twisted, the ancient tree is really showing its age.
The Legend of the Wild Goose?
Standing in front of this beautiful pagoda, one can’t help wondering about its unusual name. We ask our local guide and she enlightens us by telling about a legend linking to this curious name. According to this ancient legend, there were two sects of Buddhism, one of which refrained from eating meat and the other for which eating meat was not taboo. One day, the meat-eating monks couldn’t find meat to buy. Upon seeing a flock of big wild geese flying by, a monk said to himself: “Today we have no meat. I hope the merciful Bodhisattva will give us some.” At that very moment, the wings of the leading wild goose broke and it fell to the ground. The monks were startled and believed that this was an omen from the Bodhisattva condemning their attachment to meat and to remind them to be more pious. The monks built a pagoda where the wild goose fell and stopped eating meat.
This tale probably relates to the Big Wild Goose Pagoda and the newer and more dainty Small Wild Goose Pagoda was so named to distinguish it from its bigger brother.
Morning Chimes Bell
In the grounds of the Small Wild Goose Pagoda is a giant 10-tonne iron bell. Known as the Morning Bell Chimes of the Pagoda, it is considered one of the eight major cultural sites of Shaanxi Province. The chime of the bell can be heard as far as five kilometers away and it is said that if you miss your loved ones, you can strike the bell and your feelings will be conveyed. Others may choose to express their sentiments by pinning red packets to the board, with messages attached.
For a small fee of five Yuan you can have a go at striking the bell three times. According to the sign, striking the bell “can stop calamities” and bring happiness and good luck. Tony obliges so that we can all hear the morning bell chimes.
Another interesting area is the Traditional Culture Exchange, a small courtyard with a beautiful fountain and other features.
The pagoda is a part of the Small Wild Goose Pagoda Scenic Area which includes the Jianfu Temple, some halls and pavilions, an artificial lake and the Xi’an Museum. This leisure park, about two kilometres to the south of the Xi’an City Wall is worth visiting to explore some of Xi’an’s cultural heritage in a peaceful environment.
Map of Xi’an