Saturday, July 08, 2017

The Temple of the Jade Mountain, Hanoi

Last year, I visited the Temple of the Jade Mountain located on Jade Island near the northern shore of the Lake of the Returned Sword (Ho Hoan Kiem) in Hanoi. Image below shows the island with the temple lit up at night. The lake has this epic name that come from a legend. I am not going to repeat Wikipedia here, but it’s basically a Vietnamese version of the Excalibur story and the bottom line is “If you have been given a magic sword, one day you need to give it back”. Just like in real life good things don’t last and that is what makes them “magic”. In the legend, the sword is returned to the Golden Turtle God which is shown in the image below left. The belief in this deity was inspired by the presence of a large species of soft-shell turtle (Rafetus swinhoei) in the lake. It is believed to be locally extinct and the last known individual was found dead just four months before my visit.

The temple dates back to the 18th century and is dedicated to several historical figures. Among them a couple of scholars, but my favorite is general Tran Hung Dao who repelled three Mongol invasions during Kublai Khan’s rule in the 13th-century.

The temple has several architectural landmarks. The image below left shows the gate with a large ink-slab placed on top of it (Dai Nghien). The center image shows the Welcoming Morning Sunlight Bridge (Cau The Huc) connecting Jade Island with the mainland. The image below right shows the Moon Contemplation Pavilion (Dac Nguyet).

I understand that it’s a Taoist and Confucian temple. The main temple building shown in the images below was antique and quaint as opposed to freshly painted buildings in the images above. 

Some of the temple furniture was impressive. The door panels were beautifully carved (images below). Statues of the temple deities looked interesting too. There was also something different about the main incense burner, probably the handles featuring horned qilin heads and the feet featuring lion heads (centre image below).

My visit to Vietnam had nothing to do with my interest in bonsai, but bonsai was there for me to find it. Buildings, hedges and parapets in the temple grounds form many secluded areas decorated with many cay canh trees. Typically, they were large size, styled trees grown in decorated concrete containers.

Examples of such courtyards with cay canh trees are shown in the images above and below.

The temple’s three most impressive cay canh trees are shown in the images below.

They are located on a platform housing the Pavilion Against Waves (Dinh Tran Ba). This pavilion can be seen in the very first set of images of this post. Below are more images showing the platform with the trees arranged on it.

Other cay canh trees in the temple were not as refined and images below show some examples.

Finally, one cannot talk about the Temple of the Jade Mountain and the Lake of the Returned Sword without mentioning the Turtle Tower (Thap Rua) located in the middle of the lake. Images below show this scenic landmark.

I don’t have to recommend a visit to the Lake of the Returned Sword here, because almost any tourist visiting Hanoi would end up somewhere around it. The Temple of the Jade Mountain is charming and worth having a look if you are already there.