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From Wikipedia

Wood five-story pagoda of Hōryū-ji in Japan, built in the 7th century, one of the oldest wooden buildings in the world.
The Liuhe Pagoda (Six Harmonies Pagoda) of Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, China, built in 1165 AD during the Song Dynasty
Trấn Quốc Pagoda in Vietnam, built in the 6th century under emperor Lý Nam Đế, made of brick.
Seokgatap of Bulguksa in South Korea, built in the 8th century, made of granite. In 1966, the Mugujeonggwang Great Dharani Sutra, the oldest extant woodblock print and several other treasures were found in the second story of this pagoda.

A pagoda is a tiered tower with multiple eaves common to China, Japan, Korea, Vietnam and other parts of Asia. Most pagodas were built to have a religious function, most often Buddhist but sometimes Taoist, and were often located in or near viharas. The pagoda traces its origins to the stupa of ancient India. [1] [2] [3]

Chinese pagodas ( Chinese: ; pinyin: ) are a traditional part of Chinese architecture. In addition to religious use, since ancient times Chinese pagodas have been praised for the spectacular views they offer, and many famous poems in Chinese history attest to the joy of scaling pagodas. The oldest and tallest were built of wood, but most that survived were built of brick or stone. Some pagodas were solid, and had no interior at all. Others were hollow and held within themselves an altar, with the larger frequently containing a smaller pagoda (pagodas were not inhabited buildings and had no "floors" or "rooms"). The pagoda's interior has a series of staircases that allow the visitor to ascend to the top of the building and to witness the view from an opening on one side at each story. Most have between three and 13 stories (almost always an odd number) and the classic gradual tiered eaves. [4] [5]

In some countries, the term may refer to other religious structures. In Vietnam and Cambodia, due to French translation, the English term pagoda is a more generic term referring to a place of worship, although pagoda is not an accurate word to describe a Buddhist vihara. The architectural structure of the stupa has spread across Asia, taking on many diverse forms as details specific to different regions are incorporated into the overall design. Many Philippine bell towers are highly influenced by pagodas through Chinese workers hired by the Spaniards.


One proposed etymology is from a South Chinese pronunciation of the term for an eight-cornered tower, Chinese: 八角塔, and reinforced by the name of a famous pagoda encountered by many early European visitors to China, the "Pázhōu tǎ" ( Chinese: 琶洲塔), standing just south of Guangzhou at Whampoa Anchorage. [6] Another proposed etymology is Persian butkada, from but, "idol" and kada, "temple, dwelling." [7]

Another etymology, found in many English language dictionaries, is modern English pagoda from Portuguese (via Dravidian), from Sanskrit bhagavati, feminine of bhagavat, "blessed", from bhag, "good fortune".[ citation needed]

Yet another etymology of pagoda is from the Sinhala word dāgaba which is derived from Sanskrit dhātugarbha or Pali dhātugabbha: "relic womb/chamber" or "reliquary shrine", i.e. a stupa, by way of Portuguese. [8]


Kek Lok Si pagoda tiers labelled with their architectural styles

The origin of the pagoda can be traced to the stupa (3rd century BCE). [3] The stupa, a dome shaped monument, was used as a commemorative monument associated with storing sacred relics. [3] In East Asia, the architecture of Chinese towers and Chinese pavilions blended into pagoda architecture, eventually also spreading to Southeast Asia. The pagoda's original purpose was to house relics and sacred writings. [9] This purpose was popularized due to the efforts of Buddhist missionaries, pilgrims, rulers, and ordinary devotees to seek out, distribute, and extol Buddhist relics. [10]

These buildings (pagoda, stupa) became prominent as Buddhist monuments used for enshrining sacred relics. [3] In Japan, there exist a total of 22 five-storied timber pagodas constructed before 1850. [11]


The Lingxiao Pagoda of Zhengding, Hebei, built in 1045 AD during the Song Dynasty, with little change in later renovations.

Earliest base-structure type for Chinese pagodas were square-base and circular-base. By the 5th-10th centuries the Chinese began to build octagonal-base pagoda towers. The highest Chinese pagoda from the pre-modern age is the Liaodi Pagoda of Kaiyuan Monastery, Dingxian, Hebei province, completed in the year 1055 AD under Emperor Renzong of Song and standing at a total height of 84 m (275 ft). Although it no longer stands, the tallest pre-modern pagoda in Chinese history was the 100-metre-tall wooden pagoda (330 ft) of Chang'an, built by Emperor Yang of Sui. [12] The Liaodi Pagoda is the tallest pre-modern pagoda still standing, yet in April 2007 a new wooden pagoda at the Tianning Temple of Changzhou was opened to the public; this pagoda is now the tallest in China, standing at 154 m (505 ft).

Symbolism and geomancy

The Xumi Pagoda, built in 636 AD during the Tang Dynasty.

Chinese iconography is noticeable in Chinese pagoda as well as other East Asian pagoda architectures. Iconography of Han is noticeable in architecture of the Chinese Pagoda. The image of the Shakyamuni Buddha in the abhaya mudra is also noticeable in some Chinese pagodas. Buddhist iconography is also inside of the symbolism in the pagoda. [13] Some believed they would influence the success of young students taking the examinations for a civil service degree. [14] When a pagoda of Yihuang County in Fuzhou collapsed in 1210 during the Song Dynasty, local inhabitants believed that the unfortunate event correlated with the recent failure of many exam candidates in the prefectural examinations for official degrees, the prerequisite for appointment in civil service. [15] The pagoda was rebuilt in 1223 and had a list inscribed on it of the recently successful examination candidates, in hopes that it would reverse the trend and win the county supernatural favor. [15]

The image of Gautama Buddha in the abhaya mudrā is also noticeable in some Pagodas. Buddhist iconography can be observed throughout the pagoda symbolism. [16] In an article on Buddhist elements in Han dynasty art, Wu Hung suggests that in these tombs, Buddhist symbolism was so well-incorporated into native Chinese traditions that a unique system of symbolism had been developed. [17]


Depiction of the floor-support structure in a corner of the Horyuji temple

Pagodas come in many different sizes, [18] with taller ones often attracting lightning strikes. While this has inspired tradition that the finial decorating the top of the structure can seize demons, [19] the historically frequent damage has often motivated the modern addition of conductive wires connecting the finial to the earth, allowing it to function as a true lightning conductor. [20]

Wooden pagodas possess certain characteristics which are thought to help them survive earthquakes. These include the friction damping and sliding effect related to the complex wooden dougong joints, [21] the structural isolation of floors, the effects of deep eaves analogous to a balancing toy, and the Shinbashira phenomenon that the center column is bolted to the rest of the superstructure. [22]

Pagodas traditionally have an odd number of levels, a notable exception being the eighteenth-century pagoda designed by Sir William Chambers at Kew Gardens in London.

The pagodas in Myanmar, Thailand, Laos and Cambodia are very different from Chinese and Japanese pagodas. Pagodas in these countries are derived from Dravidian architecture. [23]

Construction materials


The 40-metre-tall (130 ft) Songyue Pagoda of 523 AD, the oldest existent stone pagoda in China.

During the Southern and Northern Dynasties pagodas were mostly built of wood, as were other ancient Chinese structures. Wooden pagodas are resistant to earthquakes, and no Japanese pagoda has been destroyed by an earthquake. [22] Many have burnt down, and wood is also prone to both natural rot and insect infestation.

Examples of wooden pagodas:

The literature of subsequent eras also provides evidence of the domination of wooden pagoda construction in this period. The famous Tang Dynasty poet, Du Mu, once wrote:

480 Buddhist temples of the Southern Dynasties,
uncountable towers and pagodas stand in the misty rain.

The oldest extant fully wooden pagoda standing in China today is the Pagoda of Fugong Temple in Ying County, Shanxi Province, built in the 11th century during the Song Dynasty/ Liao Dynasty (refer to Architecture section in Song Dynasty).

Transition to brick and stone

The brick-constructed Giant Wild Goose Pagoda, built by 652 and rebuilt in 704, during the Tang Dynasty.

During the Northern Wei and Sui dynasties (386–618) experiments began with the construction of brick and stone pagodas. Even at the end of the Sui, however, wood was still the most common material. For example, Emperor Wen of the Sui Dynasty (reigned 581–604) once issued a decree for all counties and prefectures to build pagodas to a set of standard designs, however since they were all built of wood none have survived. Only the Songyue Pagoda has survived, a circular-based pagoda built out of stone in 523 AD.


The earliest extant brick pagoda is the 40-metre-tall Songyue Pagoda in Dengfeng Country, Henan. [24] This curved, circle-based pagoda was built in 523 during the Northern Wei Dynasty, and has survived for 15 centuries. [24] Much like the later pagodas found during the following Tang Dynasty, this temple featured tiers of eaves encircling its frame, as well as a spire crowning the top. Its walls are 2.5 m thick, with a ground floor diameter of 10.6 m. Another early brick pagoda is the Sui Dynasty Guoqing Pagoda built in 597.


The earliest large-scale stone pagoda is a Four Gates Pagoda at Licheng, Shandong, built in 611 during the Sui Dynasty. Like the Songyue Pagoda, it also features a spire at its top, and is built in the pavilion style.

Brick and stone

One of the earliest brick and stone pagodas was a three-storey construction built in the (first) Jin Dynasty (266–420), by Wang Jun of Xiangyang. However, it is now destroyed.

Brick and stone went on to dominate Tang, Song, Liao and Jin Dynasty pagoda construction. An example is the Giant Wild Goose Pagoda (652 AD), built during the early Tang Dynasty. The Porcelain Pagoda of Nanjing has been one of the most famous brick and stone pagoda in China throughout history. The Zhou dynasty started making the ancient pagodas about 3,500 years ago.

De-emphasis over time

Jade Buddha Temple in Shanghai follows the Song Dynasty multi-courtyard design, and does not feature a pagoda. The main hall is at the center.

Pagodas, in keeping with the tradition of the White Horse Temple, were generally placed in the center of temples until the Sui and Tang dynasties. During the Tang, the importance of the main hall was elevated and the pagoda was moved beside the hall, or out of the temple compound altogether. In the early Tang, Daoxuan wrote a Standard Design for Buddhist Temple Construction in which the main hall replaced the pagoda as the center of the temple.

The design of temples was also influenced by the use of traditional Chinese residences as shrines, after they were philanthropically donated by the wealthy or the pious. In such pre-configured spaces, building a central pagoda might not have been either desirable or possible.

In the Song Dynasty (960–1279), the Chan (Zen) sect developed a new 'seven part structure' for temples. The seven parts—the Buddha hall, dharma hall, monks' quarters, depository, gate, pure land hall and toilet facilities—completely exclude pagodas, and can be seen to represent the final triumph of the traditional Chinese palace/courtyard system over the original central-pagoda tradition established 1000 years earlier by the White Horse Temple in 67. Although they were built outside of the main temple itself, large pagodas in the tradition of the past were still built. This includes the two Ming Dynasty pagodas of Famen Temple and the Chongwen Pagoda in Jingyang of Shaanxi Province.

A prominent, later example of converting a palace to a temple is Beijing's Yonghe Temple, which was the residence of Yongzheng Emperor before he ascended the throne. It was donated for use as a lamasery after his death in 1735.

Styles of eras

Han Dynasty

Examples of Han Dynasty era tower architecture predating Buddhist influence and the full-fledged Chinese pagoda can be seen in the four pictures below. Michael Loewe writes that during the Han Dynasty (202 BC – 220 AD) period, multi-storied towers were erected for religious purposes, as astronomical observatories, as watchtowers, or as ornate buildings that were believed to attract the favor of spirits, deities, and immortals. [25]

Sui and Tang

Pagodas built during the Sui and Tang Dynasty usually had a square base, with a few exceptions such as the Daqin Pagoda:

Dali kingdom

Song, Liao, Jin, Yuan

Pagodas of the Five Dynasties, Northern and Southern Song, Liao, Jin, and Yuan Dynasties incorporated many new styles, with a greater emphasis on hexagonal and octagonal bases for pagodas:

Ming and Qing

Pagodas in the Ming and Qing Dynasties generally inherited the styles of previous eras, although there were some minor variations:

Some notable pagodas

Tiered towers with multiple eaves:

Stupas called "pagodas":

Places called "pagoda" but which are not tiered structures with multiple eaves:

Structures that evoke pagoda architecture:

Structures not generally thought of as pagodas, but which have some pagoda-like characteristics:

See also


  1. ^ "The Origin of Pagodas". 19 September 2002. Retrieved 23 January 2017.
  2. ^ The Evolution of Indian Stupa Architecture in East Asia. Eric Stratton. New Delhi, Vedams, 2002, viii, ISBN  81-7936-006-7
  3. ^ a b c d Pagoda at the Encyclopædia Britannica
  4. ^ Architecture and Building. W.T. Comstock. 1896. p. 245.
  5. ^ Steinhardt, 387.
  6. ^ Chinese Origin of the Term Pagoda: Liang Sicheng's Proposed Etymology Authors: David Robbins Tien Publication: Acta Orientalia, volume 77 (2016),pp 133-144 David Robbins Tien, Gerald Leonard Cohen Publication: Arts, Languages and Philosophy Faculty Research & Creative Works DownloadTien, D. R., & Cohen, G. L. (2017) David Robbins Tien. Comments on Etymology, October 2014, Vol.44, no. 1, pp. 2–6.
  7. ^ Random House Unabridged Dictionary, Second Edition. Random House, New York, 1993.
  8. ^ Hobson-Jobson: The Anglo-Indian Dictionary by Henry Yule & Arthur Coke Burnell, first printed 1896, reprinted by Wordsworth Editions, 1996, p. 291. Online Etymology Dictionary by Douglas Harper, s.v. pagoda, at (Accessed 29 April 2016)
  9. ^ A World History of Architecture. Michael W. Fazio, Marian Moffett, Lawrence Wodehouse. Published 2003. McGraw-Hill Professional. ISBN  0-07-141751-6.
  10. ^ The Impact of Buddhism on Chinese Material Culture. John Kieschnick. Published 2003. Princeton University Press. ISBN  0-691-09676-7.
  11. ^ "Seismic and Wind Performance of Five-Storied Pagoda of Timber Heritage Structure" (PDF). doi: 10.4028/ Cite journal requires |journal= ( help)
  12. ^ Benn, 62.
  13. ^ The Impact of Buddhism on Chinese Material Culture By John Kieschnick. Published 2003. Princeton University Press. ISBN  0-691-09676-7. p. 83
  14. ^ Brook, 7.
  15. ^ a b Hymes, 30.
  16. ^ The Impact of Buddhism on Chinese Material Culture. John Kieschnick. Published 2003. Princeton University Press. ISBN  0-691-09676-7. page 83
  17. ^ The Impact of Buddhism on Chinese Material Culture. John Kieschnick. Published 2003. Princeton University Press. ISBN  0-691-09676-7. page 84
  18. ^ Terry, T. Philip (1914). Terry's Japanese Empire. Houghton Mifflin. p.  257.
  19. ^ Christel, Pascal (2020). Splendour of Buddhism in Burma: A Journey to the Golden Land. Partridge Publishing Singapore.
  20. ^ Spacey, John. Japan Talk Retrieved 7 January 2021. Missing or empty |title= ( help)
  21. ^ Tokmakova, Anastasia (24 July 2017). "2,500-year-old Chinese wood joints that make buildings earthquake-proof". Archinect.
  22. ^ a b Koji NAKAHARA, Toshiharu HISATOKU , Tadashi NAGASE and Yoshinori TAKAHASHI (2000). "EARTHQUAKE RESPONSE OF ANCIENT FIVE-STORY PAGODA STRUCTURE OF HORYU-JI TEMPLE IN JAPAN" (PDF) (1229/11/A). 12th World Conference on Earthquake Engineering.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list ( link)
  23. ^ Chihara, Daigorō (1996). Hindu-Buddhist Architecture in Southeast Asia. BRILL. p. 28. ISBN  90-04-10512-3.
  24. ^ a b Steinhardt, 383.
  25. ^ Loewe (1968), 133.
  26. ^ "Indianapolis 500 Traditions :: Indianapolis 500". 1 May 2008. Archived from the original on 1 May 2008.


  • Benn, Charles (2002). China's Golden Age: Everyday Life in the Tang Dynasty. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN  0-19-517665-0.
  • Brook, Timothy. (1998). The Confusions of Pleasure: Commerce and Culture in Ming China. Berkeley: University of California Press. ISBN  0-520-22154-0
  • Fazio, Michael W., Moffett, Marian and Wodehouse, Lawrence. A World History of Architecture. Published 2003. McGraw-Hill Professional. ISBN  0-07-141751-6.
  • Fu, Xinian. (2002). "The Three Kingdoms, Western and Eastern Jin, and Northern and Southern Dynasties," in Chinese Architecture, 61–90. Edited by Nancy S. Steinhardt. New Haven: Yale University Press. ISBN  0-300-09559-7.
  • Govinda, A. B. Psycho-cosmic symbolism of the Buddhist stupa. 1976, Emeryville, California. Dharma Publications.
  • Hymes, Robert P. (1986). Statesmen and Gentlemen: The Elite of Fu-Chou, Chiang-Hsi, in Northern and Southern Sung. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN  0-521-30631-0.
  • Kieschnick, John. The Impact of Buddhism on Chinese Material Culture. Published 2003. Princeton University Press . ISBN  0-691-09676-7.
  • Loewe, Michael. (1968). Everyday Life in Early Imperial China during the Han Period 202 BC–AD 220. London: B.T. Batsford Ltd.; New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons.
  • Steinhardt, Nancy Shatzman (1997). Liao Architecture. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press.

External links