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Big Wild Goose Pagoda

Big Wild Goose Pagoda

Brief Introduction

Situated in the Da Ci’en Temple in the southern suburb of Xi’an, the Giant Wild Goose Pagoda is one of the most famous Buddhist pagodas in China. The pagoda was  a real skyscraper in Chang’an city  for over a millennium since it was first constructed in the 7th century AD. It was a place where  people could have a bird’s-eye view of the whole city from the top. The story behind it  is related to the well known story of the Monkey King which has made it pretty famous all over the country.

The Da Ci’en temple was originally built in 589 AD in the Sui Dynasty, and then was repaired and enlarged in about 648 AD in the Tang Dynasty. The temple once consisted of 1,879 magnificent rooms. However, it went into gradual decay after the downfall of the grand Tang Dynasty.

The pagoda was first built in 652 AD. Xuanzang, one of the most famous Buddhist masters and the Abbot of this temple at the time, Da Ci En Templeproposed to the imperial court that a pagoda should be built to store the scriptures and statues he brought back from India. The Emperor readily agreed with him. The pagoda was finished in the same year with only five stories. During the following dynasties, the pagoda withstood wars and weather, but was still destroyed to a certain level. It was repaired, renovated and added to many times. Now it is 64 meters high with seven stories. It is a wood-and-brick structure without the use of any cement. The Dougong (bracket) in traditional Chinese architecture features in the construction of the pagoda. The seams between each layer of bricks and the so-called ‘prisms’ on each side can be seen clearly. It is really an architectural marvel.

In the Tang dynasty, every successful candidate of  the State Imperial Examination would climb up the pagoda to write poems and inscriptions on the doors and the framework, symbolizing a soaring career in the future. Today we can still find some inscriptions inside the pagoda.

Background Knowledge

Who was Xuanzang?

There is a bronze statue in the center of the South Square in front of the temple. It is of Master Xuanzang, the head of this temple in the Tang Dynasty. He was a great translator and traveler as well. Born in a poor family, he became a monk at the age of 11. Statue of Xuan ZangBy the time he was 26, he found there were so many mistakes in the translation of Buddhist works that he made up his mind to travel to India to discover the original Buddhist Sanskrit. At the age of 28 in 627, he journeyed to India to study the Buddhist scriptures. After 17 years of research on Buddhism, he  returned to Chang’an, the ancient Xi’an and the Tang Dynasty’s capital, with 657 volumes of Buddhist scriptures. Xuanzang was warmly welcomed by the Imperial court because of his unique knowledge of India and central Asia, and his deep knowledge of the Buddhist doctrines. The Emperor permitted him to  stay in the Da Ci’en Temple to translate the Buddhist scriptures he brought back from India. Xuanzang stayed in this temple for 12 years and translated 1,335 volumes of Buddhist scriptures. Xuanzang finally moved to Yuhua Palace in the present Tongchuan city, and achieved  nirvana there at the age of 64 in 664 AD.

Xuanzang’s travels were recorded as a ‘fairy story’ entitled ‘Traveling to the Western Regions’ by a famous novelist Wu Cheng’en in the Ming Dynasty. The novel has become one of the most famous ones in Chinese history, and has been adapted to TV play series, films and cartoons that are specially loved by children. The hero in the novel the Monkey King is also well known and very popular both at home and abroad.

How did the pagoda get its name?

Some may be confused as to why it is called the Big Wild Goose Pagoda. It is said that when Xuanzang studied Buddhism in India, he once stayed in a Mahayana temple, Body of the Big Wild Goose Pagodanear to where there was a Hinayana temple. Do you know the difference between the Mahayana and Hinayana Buddhism? There are two sects in Buddhism; the Mahayana believers are vegetarians while the Hinayana believers are non-vegetarians. One day, a monk in the Hinayana temple was worried about the shortage of meat. It happened to be the General Alms Day of the Buddha, so the monk looked up at the sky and said: ‘Our beloved Buddha, the great and merciful, would not forget what day  it is today!’ At these words, a flock of wild geese flew over and the lead goose  dropped dead on the ground. The monks in the temple then realized that this was what the Buddha gave them for meat. From then on, the Hinayana believers became vegetarians and the monks in the temple built a pagoda on the site where the goose dropped and gave it the name of ‘Wild Goose Pagoda’ to commemorate the dead goose.

This pagoda was actually built according to the prototype in India, and it was given the same name in praise of Xuanzang. Later on, another pagoda was built in the Jianfu Temple. It is smaller than  this one and called the ‘Small Wild Goose Pagoda’ while this one is called the ‘Big Wild Goose Pagoda’.

Bell Tower and Drum Tower

The two buildings on each side of the road are respectively a Bell Tower and a Drum Tower. The east Bell Tower houses a bell while the west Drum Tower houses a drum. Big Wild Goose PagodaThe bell and drum were used to strike time for monks in the temple in ancient times. The bell was made in the Ming dynasty and weighs about 15 tons.

The Great Hall of the Buddha

The Great Hall of the Buddha is the most important building in the temple for it is dedicated to the founder of  Buddhism, Sakyamuni. Inside the hall is a sculpture of Sakyamuni. The figure beside Buddha on the east side is Jia Ye, one of the great disciples of Sakyamuni, and the one on the west  side is Ahnan, Sakyamuni’s cousin and his faithful disciple as well. Further on both sides are the eighteen Arhats, also Sakyamuni’s disciples.

Mural Engraving about the Story of Sakyamuni

In the Divine Presence Hall on the left side of the Great Hall of the Buddha, there are reliefs on the wall showing how Sakyamuni became the founder of the Buddhism. Sakyamuni was a contemporary of Confucius in China who lived about 2500 years ago. He was once a prince of the Kingdom of Dapila in India. His mother was sleeping, when she dreamed a white elephant fell down from the sky to her belly. She then became pregnant as soon as she was aware. After 10 months, she went back to her  mother’s home to give birth to the prince according to  local custom. On her way home, the prince was born under a tree. North Square of the Big Wild Goose PagodaThe boy could speak and walk upon the delivery. With bright light around him, he walked seven steps, each with a beautiful lotus flower. His one hand pointed to the sky and the other pointed to the ground. He was then named Sakyamuni meaning a saint of the country.

His mother died seven days later. He grew up under the care of his aunt. Then he got married and fathered a son. By witnessing so much  happiness and bitterness in the Imperial palace, he decided to leave  to seek a release. At the age of 29, forsaking his wife and son, he left the palace forever to become a wandering ascetic. He cut his hair and started to meditate about the truth of life by facing  a wall.

During his  six years of ascetic life, he only relied on the fruit and milk provided by two shepherdesses. Later, a fiend ordered three hags to disturb Sakyamuni, but this  didn’t distract him  at all. The fiend flew into a fury and  kept sending his demons to kill Sakyamuni. All of the demons were defeated. Then at the age of 35, Sakyamuni reached enlightenment under a banyan tree and became a Buddha.

In the following 40 years, Sakyamuni traveled over India to preach Buddhism. At the age of 80, he achieved  nirvana in a serene sleeping state. On  hearing the news, his disciples all cried and they came  from all over India to pay homage to him. They burnt  his body and divided his bones into eight parts, storing them in clean pots and sending them to different countries to be sacrificed in dagobas. In the Shaanxi Famen Temple in Fufeng County, the dagoba holds the finger bones of Sakyamuni.

The Great Tang Sanzang CourtyardBig Wild Goose Pagoda during the Chinese New Year

This is a newly built hall with three rooms which display the doctrines Xuanzang translated and the mural paintings of the story of Xuanzang.


Location: Yanta Road, Southern Xi’an, four kilometers (20 minutes) away from the center of the city

Opening Time: Dec-Feb: 8:00 to 18:00

Mar-Nov: 8:00 to 18:30

Ticket Price of Da Ci’en Temple Mar-Nov: RMB50yuan per person (not including climbing up the pagoda)

Dec-Feb: RMB 30yuan per person (not including climbing up the pagoda)

Ticket of Climbing up the Pagoda Mar-Nov: RMB 30yuan per person

Dec-Feb: RMB 20 yuan per person

Visiting Time: 40 minutes

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