Sunday, May 2, 2010

雍和宫 (Yonghegong)

This is a big holiday weekend in the People's Republic: May Day. While the socialist workers of the world unite in protest in places like the Philippines and Thailand, China's citizens have gone on holiday. My school has a three-day weekend, but many Chinese workers will take up to a week off. It's a time when people travel to see their families, and many people seem to have traveled to Beijing to ride 地铁 (the subway).

Today I rode that crowded subway to see the Lama Temple at Yonghegong - the largest Lama Buddhist temple outside of Tibet. Yonghegong - which means 'harmony and peace' - was built in 1694 as a temporary palace for a prince, and it was turned into a Lama Temple in 1744. The official placard at the entrance points out that 'the temple has survived the ten turbulent years of the Cultural Revolution from 1966-1976, thanks to Premier Zhou Enlai.'

The temple complex is as impressive as it is historic. Photography is not allowed inside any of the five halls, but exterior pictures are allowed. I've attached a few photos to show what the buildings look like. Inside the halls, there were extraordinary statues of the Buddha and centuries-old Lama relics.

The Lama temple still functions as a place of worship, which made the entire 'tourist experience' a little surreal for me. Throughout the temple complex, devout Buddhists performed religious rituals, prayed and lay prostrate in front of their holy shrines. All the while, tourists stepped over them, bumped them, and let their screaming children interfere with their prayers. It was quite a strange thing to witness. (I did take the opportunity to spin a few Dharma Wheels - only when there were no worshipers in sight!)


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