Tianning Pagoda – A Marvel of Changzhou’s Spiritual Landscape

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Tianning Pagoda (天宁宝塔) stands as an iconic symbol within the rich spiritual history of Changzhou, situated in the Tianning Temple, which boasts a legacy of over thirteen and a half centuries. Although the pagoda itself was initiated in 2002, its construction marked a significant milestone, designed by Professor Lu Bingjie.

Covering a total area of 27,000 square meters, this 13-story pagoda reaches a height of 153.79 meters, claiming the title of the tallest among over 4,000 pagodas in China. From the underground palace at its base to the bell tower crowning its summit, Tianning Pagoda intricately weaves the tapestry of Buddhist culture, employing various traditional crafts like Dongyang woodcarving, Yangzhou lacquerware, Changzhou random stitch embroidery, and Huian stone carving to eloquently convey the tenets of Mahayana Buddhism.

In terms of its architectural form, Tianning Pagoda draws inspiration from the architectural legacy of Tang and Song dynasties. With its octagonal flying eaves, dignified posture, and magnificent presence, the pagoda exudes an air of solemnity. The pagoda’s foundation adopts the architectural style of the Indonesian Borobudur Buddhist monument, surrounded by 998 small pagodas crafted from white marble, forming an imposing forest. The spaces between the pagodas are adorned with over 1,000 inscribed steles containing Buddhist scriptures handwritten by 500 abbots from temples across the nation. Beneath the pagoda’s base lies the first group of underground palaces, featuring 8 illuminated and 8 dark chambers, preserving rare treasures such as relics, Buddhist scriptures, Buddha’s footprints, thangkas, and stone Buddhas from the Tang Dynasty.

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The primary structural elements of Tianning Pagoda, including large columns, beams, eaves, ceilings, railings, and thresholds, are crafted from precious golden nanmu wood sourced from the deep forests of Myanmar and Papua New Guinea. This wood, even after exposure to the elements, remains resilient for centuries, providing a solid foundation for Tianning Pagoda. Among the 1,000 tons of copper decorations it bears, the most dazzling is the diamond-shaped spire at the top, molded from 75 tons of brass and embellished with several kilograms of gold leaf. When illuminated by sunlight, the spire radiates a brilliant glow, showcasing the exquisite craftsmanship that harmonizes the entire pagoda.

Moreover, the first-floor main hall, named the “Hall of the Great Buddha,” derives its name from the presence of four towering Buddha statues. These statues, standing at 10.5 meters, grace a hall covering an area of 1,600 square meters and reaching a height of 13 meters, presenting a magnificent spectacle. The hall’s ceiling features a 3-meter high, 72-meter long cloisonné mural depicting the thirty-two manifestations of Guanyin, making it the largest cloisonné artwork in the country.

On the thirteenth floor, Tianning Pagoda unfolds the grand scene of Buddha Shakyamuni preaching and teaching, with various Buddhas and celestial beings converging on Ling Mountain for a divine assembly. Five Buddhas are enshrined in the east, west, south, north, and center, with the central Buddha being a natural crystal Buddha considered the treasure of the pagoda. This crystal Buddha, an ancient artifact from 16th-century India, found its way to Europe in the last century before being brought back to China in 2003 by Gao Peizhi, who generously donated it to Tianning Pagoda. The remaining four jade Buddhas are intricately carved from Xinjiang Hotan jade, presenting a harmonious palette of white, ink, blue, and red jade. The five Buddhas depict the preaching scene, while the four sides of the pagoda illustrate the grandeur of myriad Buddhas embarking on a pilgrimage.

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Crowning the top of the 13th floor at a height of 118 meters, the Fanyin Pavilion houses a massive bell weighing 15 tons and measuring 3.2 meters in height. The resonant tones of this bell, audible from afar, resonate during festivals and grand ceremonies, symbolizing the awakening of wisdom, the accumulation of blessings, and the celebration of a prosperous and peaceful era.

Tianning Pagoda stands not just as an architectural marvel but as a testament to Changzhou’s spiritual and cultural legacy, offering visitors a glimpse into the rich tapestry of Mahayana Buddhism and traditional craftsmanship.

Vlog about TIanning Pagoda

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