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Yonghe Lama Temple, in the northeast corner of downtown Beijing, has over 300 years of rich imperial and Buddhist history. It contains the largest wooden Buddha in the world.
Yonghe Lama Temple was originally used as the official residence for court eunuchs of the Ming dynasty. It was converted to the royal court of Prince Yongzheng during the Qing dynasty, in the 33rd year (1693) of Emperor Kangxi's reign. In the 3rd year of Yongzheng's reign (1725), it was elevated to an imperial palace for short stays away from the capital, and its name was changed to Palace of Eternal Peace (Yonghegong). During the 9th year of Emperor Qianlong's reign (1744), it was dedicated for use as a Lama Temple. See all ancient Chinese Temples.
The dimensions of the temple are magnificent. It has five courtyards in a row. The front structural layout of the temple is bright and spacious. It is dotted with screen walls with carved murals, statues and decorated archways. The interior pavement leads to the main halls. The evergreen pine and cypress trees make for a peaceful and secluded environment. The back structural layout is composed of a cluster of buildings, halls and pavilions intermingled with each other. Upturned eaves and ridges are beautifully interwoven, forming a picturesque architecture.
The main structures in the Yonghe Temple complex are: Palace of the Heavenly King, Palace of Eternal Peace (Yonghegong), Eternal Blessing Hall, the Hall of the Wheel of the Law and Hall of Boundless Happiness. The Hall of the Wheel of the Law is extremely imposing; the overall arrangement of its plan view forms a cross, and the ceiling is decorated with small lama pagodas.
The Hall of Boundless Happiness is the biggest building in the Lama Temple. It is flanked by the Hall of Everlasting Health and the Hall of Peace. In the Hall of Boundless Happiness, stands a huge and famous statue of Buddha, 26 meters high, carved out of a whole piece of sandalwood. It is the biggest wood-carving Buddha in the world.
Many visitors to the temple burn joss sticks to worship the Buddha idol. It is wise to buy the joss sticks outside. If there are too many pilgrims, you will not have the chance to burn your joss sticks, and the lama will ask you to leave them on the sacrifice table.
Dayuan Invocation Dharma Assembly is one of the important festivals of Tibetan Buddhism. It was originally celebrated in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) in Jokhang Monastry, aiming to commemorate Sakyamuni, the founder of Buddhism. In the Qing Dynasty (1636-1644), this festivals spreaded to Beijing, and won the support from the imperial court. Since then, this festivals was from 23th of the first lunar month to the 1st of the second lunar month every year.
During the Dharma Assembly, some monks will chant scriptures to pray for a peaceful new year. On the seventh day of the first lunar month, the monks will perform the famous dance — "Heavenly Guardians Exorcising demons Dance". This dance originates from the Tibetan country-dance and absorbs a great deal of the Tibetan traditional culture and Indian yoga and mask dance. It belongs to one of the religious dances in Tibetan Buddhism.
After visiting the Lama Temple, one can also go to the Confucius Temple, which is in the neighborhood and of high cultural and historical value.
Longer Beijing tours offered by China Highlights usually include a visit to Yonghe Lama Temple.