Vinh Nghiem Pagoda is located at 339 Nam Ky Khoi Nghia Road, District 3, Ho Chi Minh City. It 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 14meter 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 glue.
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 pedestal.
Vinh Nghiem Pagoda - Ho Chi Minh City
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.
Vinh Nghiem Pagoda - Ho Chi Minh City
Skilled hands of young craftsmen
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 (Hanoi), 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.
Paying a visit to Ho Chi Minh City, you should visit Vinh Nghiem Pagoda- A tower built to withstand the ravages of many centuries can thank young artisans for its strength and beauty.