The Big Wild Goose Pagoda, also known as “Ci’en Temple Pagoda”, is a landmark in Xi’an. It was built by the famous Master Xuanzang and is the earliest and largest surviving brick pagoda of the Tang Dynasty in the four-sided pavilion style. However, did you know that more than 1300 years ago, Master Xuanzang personally presided over the construction of the Big Wild Goose Pagoda, which was not what it is today, and was remodeled five times? What is the hidden story in between?
How Tall is the Big Wild Goose Pagoda?
The Big Wild Goose Pagoda was built according to the temple. In 648 A.D., Prince Li Zhi built the Ci’en Temple in memory of his birth mother, Empress Changsun and invited the monk Xuanzang to be the top priest.
In 652 A.D., Venerable Xuanzang personally presided over the construction of the Big Wild Goose Pagoda in the West Pagoda Courtyard of Ci’en Temple to enshrine the Buddha statues, relics and Sanskrit classics brought back from Tianzhu. The Big Wild Goose Pagoda was originally an ancient Indian-style pagoda with five floors and 60 meters high, modeled after the most famous and the only ceremonial pagoda in India, the “Buddha Gaya”.
After two years, the Big Wild Goose Pagoda was finally completed. The original Big Wild Goose Pagoda was modeled after the Western rustling system, with a brick surface and an earthen heart that could not be climbed, and each layer held relics. In addition to preserving the Bedouro leaf Sanskrit scriptures retrieved from the Tianzhu, the Big Wild Goose Pagoda also contains more than ten thousand relics. The top of the tower is a platform, with a taller mantle tower in the center and a smaller mantle tower at each corner, forming a composition that resembles the “Vajra Throne”. The tower is called the Wild Goose Pagoda, because later a smaller Wild Goose Pagoda was built in Chang’an Jianfu temple, so the Ci”en Temple Tower is also known as the Big Wild Goose Pagoda, Jianfu temple tower called the Small Wild Goose Pagoda.
Later, Li Zhi, Emperor Gaozong of the Tang Dynasty, felt that this Indian-style Big Wild Goose Pagoda did not match well with the general architectural style of Chang’an City. So the reconstruction was carried out and the Big Wild Goose Pagoda was raised to 9 stories and transformed into Chinese style.
In 704 A.D., more than 50 years after the construction of the Big Wild Goose Pagoda, the pagoda was cracked, so the third large-scale construction of the Pagoda was carried out. The empress Wu Zetian broke the custom of the pagoda industry of the Tang Dynasty, which had odd number of layers, and increased the height of the Big Wild Goose Pagoda to an even number of 10 layers. And reinforced the whole body, wrapped a layer of bricks in the outer wall of the tower from bottom to top, changing the appearance. After the destruction of the An Shi Rebellion, only seven layers were left in the late Tang Dynasty. In 931 A.D., the fourth reconstruction of the Big Wild Goose Pagoda was carried out, and the Pagoda was restored to seven stories again.
The Big Wild Goose Pagoda was already in ruins by the Ming Dynasty due to its old age and disrepair. In 1604 AD, the Big Wild Goose Pagoda was built for the fifth time, which was a major repair and reinforcement project. On the basis of maintaining the basic shape of the pagoda in the Tang Dynasty, a 60 cm thick cladding was put on the exterior of the pagoda, which is 64.5 meters high, 25 meters long at the base of the pagoda, and covers an area of 2061 square meters.
Underground Palace of Big Wild Goose Pagoda
According to the history books, Xuanzang brought back many Buddha statues and relics when he returned to Chang’an, all of which were collected in the Big Wild Goose Pagoda, but the treasures were not found during the restoration of successive generations. According to the excavation of the underground palace of Famen Temple and the study of the tower in Tang Dynasty, archaeologists believe that there should be an underground palace under the Big Wild Goose Pagoda, and the Buddha statues and relics are placed in the underground palace. In recent years, when archaeologists measured the Big Wild Goose Pagoda with a detector, they found that there was really an underground palace under the pagoda. Perhaps, the underground palace really hides the Buddhist treasures brought back by Xuanzang.
The Mystery of the Tilting of the Big Wild Goose Pagoda
If watch closely, you will find that the Big Wild Goose Pagoda is tilted. The actual measurement shows that the tower is 1006.4 mm off to the west. Why is this?
According to historical records, as early as 1719 the Big Wild Goose Pagoda was found to have tilted, and in 1985 it had reached 998mm, and now it has reached more than 1000mm.
After more than ten years of research by the cultural relics department and geological department, it is said that: Xi’an area located in the Loess Plateau, there are four funnel-type sinking structures, and the Big Wild Goose Pagoda is located just at the edge of one of the sinking structures, plus the surrounding masses drilling wells, digging, and since the 1960s Xi’an area over-extraction of groundwater, so that the pressurized water level dropped significantly, thus causing the uneven sinking of the foundation of the Big Wild Goose Pagoda, accelerating the tilt and sinking of the ancient tower.
With the improvement of the groundwater level in Xi’an, and the strengthening of heritage protection in recent years, the uneven sinking of the Big Wild Goose Pagoda has slowed down significantly, and it has rebounded and recovered.