Craftsmen Rise To Heights
Rise To Heights
A tower built to
withstand the ravages of many centuries can thank young artisans for its
strength and beauty
City's Vinh Nghiem Pagoda boasts of a stone tower that is the tallest in
Vietnam. The 14-meter stone tower, which was inaugurated in late December
2003, is the first stone tower in the South built by craftsmen aged between
20 and 30. The tower sits in a harmonious position amid imposing structures
of Vinh Nghiem Pagoda, whose construction started in 1964.
It is on the left of
the bell tower in good proportion with the beautiful Guan Yin Temple on the
right. The whole tower looks like a pen set upright against the blue sky,
imposing but elegant.
One special feature of the
tower is its small leaning degree, only 0.05% as tested by design and
construction experts from the Ministry of Defense. This means that the
14�meter tower leans only seven millimeters or every meter of its height
deviates just 0.5 millimeter (0.05%) from the center, a leaning degree that
is much lower than the common standard in Vietnam. In particular, the tower
was built completely with stones, which are put together by stone joints and
The seven-story tower has
the same superficies as those of most Buddhist towers in Vietnam. It has a
square shape, with each side measuring five meters, and is surrounded by
square stone parapets of 9.5 meters long each. The tower is on an octagonal
The five steps from the two
main stone columns leading to the tower represent the five senses and the
five forces in Buddhism. On its body is a pair of big dragons and 27 pairs
of small dragons and phoenixes. Countless lotuses, bodhi leaves, waves,
bats, parallel sentences and mantras are inscribed on the six stories. The
word "longevity" is inscribed on the first story in the Ly Dynasty's style.
Other patterns and sculptures follow the typical styles of the Tran Dynasty.
Vinh Nghiem Pagoda takes its
origin from a pagoda of the same name in Duc La Commune, Bac Giang Province,
which was the center of Zen Buddhism during the Tran Dynasty.
The tower, named Vinh Nghiem,
honors the most venerable Thich Thanh Kiem, one of the two superior monks
who founded Vinh Nghiem Pagoda. Upon completion, it was recognized by many
architects and arts researchers as the tower with the highest density of
elaborated carvings among the towers in Vietnam.
"One essential requirement
for the tower is that it must show the manner of the founder of Vinh Nghiem
Pagoda: virtue, wisdom and nobility, and it must be a Vietnamese
architecture," says venerable Thich Thanh Phong, assistant to the most
venerable Thich Thanh Kiem. Thich Thanh Phong is in charge of design and
construction of the tower.
Skilled hands of young
Thich Thanh Phong and many
other monks have traveled to ancient pagodas in the
North to see the drawings and patterns of each pagoda and select the most
suitable design for the tower. In the course of construction, many patterns had
to be carved several times until satisfied.
The stones used for construction
were taken from Thanh Hoa Province. Many were mined from the famous Nhoi
Mountain, whose stones have fine density and pure color. The elegant, bent roofs
of the seven stories, with their stunningly elaborated carvings, are whole stone
masses each weighing between six and 10 tons.
Most young craftsmen come from
the three stone villages of Thuong, He and Xuan Vu of Ninh Van Commune, Hoa Lu
District, Ninh Binh Province. There are several hundred stone craftsmen in Ninh
Van, most of them very young. They are the offspring of craftsmen who built the
stone church of Phat Diem in Ninh Binh more than a century ago.
Tran Cong Kien, a 31-year-old
craftsman, says in their lifetime, a number of stone artisans in the commune
felt proud to have contributed their efforts to the construction of the Ho Chi
Minh Mausoleum. Kien learned stone chiseling as a teenager under the guidance of
his maternal grandfather. At the age of 15, he followed him to border provinces
in the North to chisel stone works.
Another young craftsman is
Nguyen Duc Quyet, 21. Quyet was born and grew up in the stone village. He played
in the yards of ancient stone temples and had a chance to see a large village
temple that was carved into a stone mountain.
Kien is the leader of a team of
tens of stone craftsmen who have worked at four stone structures in Phuc Khanh
Pagoda (Hanoi), Huong Pagoda (Ha Tay Province), Bach Hac Pagoda (Phu Tho
Province) and Vinh Nghiem Pagoda.
"I had many sleepless nights
when my team was chosen to build the Vinh Nghiem Tower because it is the biggest
and tallest stone tower in Vietnam," he said. The uncarved stones weigh a total
of 200 tons. After two years of hard work, his team finally completed the
structure with high accuracy and artistic beauty.
According to Kien, previously
the relief of stone carvings was shallow, only two or three centimeters, because
craftsmen's work was not assisted by machinery. It's different now. Many
carvings in the stone tower have a relief of several centimeters, even up to 10
centimeters. With such deep relief, the tower is believed to be able to
withstand the ravages of time through many centuries.