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The Legend of Clay Pagoda and the Eternal Candles

Buu Son Tu Pagoda or Clay Pagoda is a one-of-a-kind temple in Vietnam because of its interesting origin as well as its candles which are known to burn for a century long.

Clay Pagoda is named as such because of its Buddha statues and columns which are all made of clay. There are 1,991 of them, big and small, all made of clay and done by hand by a single person. It was built by Ngo Kim Tay and renovated many times. The last renovation was in 1906 in which the temple was made with 24 columns and built among mangrove trees and thatch.

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According to local legend, there was a man in 1909 named Ngo Kim Dinh who had a son named Ngo Kim Tong who was so sick that he almost died when he was 20. He was brought to the pagoda by his family and after doing some yoga and taking medicine, he miraculously got better. He was so grateful for his renewed health that he became a monk at Clay Pagoda to show his gratitude. He became the fourth abbott of the temple. He didn’t have a formal education or skill in sculpting but through sheer meditation and experience, he was able to create extraordinary clay sculptures. For 42 years from 1928 to 1970, he made clay structures by mixing incense powder and O Duc glue. He painted them and finished with a varnish. His work was so beautiful and extraordinary that they became significant not only in religion but in Vietnam history in general.

Clay Pagoda is set on a 400-metre square area with two floors and a unique design. The whole area is protected by a triple gate for maximum security. The roof is made of tiles and supported by 24 pillars, the latter still made of clay and decorated with a winding dragon and other sophisticated designs. At the entrance of the temple is the front hall which has several statues representing Ngo Kim Tong: Adida; Quan Yin; Shakyamuni; Maha Kassapa; Confucius; Lao-Tzu; and Dieu Tri Kim Mau. They are set on two floors with two pyramid columns carved with an embossed dragon as support.

The main hall is constructed with two columns that are carved with an intricate design of a winding embossed dragon. The rest of the hall is built with wooden columns and tile roof. There are more than one thousand Buddha statues here including that of a fairy, saint, god and sacred animals, all solely built by Tong.

The temple is also famous for its candles that are said to burn continuously for one hundred years. There are four big pairs which were moulded in 1940. The three pairs are 2.6 metres high, 1 metre in width, all made with 200 kgs. of wax. The other pair is a bit smaller made with 100 kgs. of wax. Tong made them by using pure wax which he cut into tiny pieces, cooked in liquid in a frying pan, and poured into moulds using the tile rolls available in his surroundings. The candles took a month to finish after which he removed them from the mould and designed with delicate but truly amazing patterns. To this day, two small candles still burn from the time Ngo Kim Tong passed away in July 18, 1970.

Other interesting things that could be found at the pagoda are: the statue of Bao Toa Thinh Phat Tru The Truyen Phap Luan. It has 1,000 lotus petals, each which is said to have a god residing in it. Under the lotus can be found the Bat Quai Thien Tien; the Da Bao Tower can also be seen at the temple, a 3.5-metre high, 13-floor structure which has an impressive 208 doors for the gods. At the foot of the tower are 126 dragons standing as guards; three incenses which have not been lighted yet, 1.5 metres tall and weighing 50 kgs.

Clay Pagoda is located at Ton Duc Thang Street, Hamlet 1, Ward 5 – Soc Trang City, Soc Trang Province. It was honoured as a “cultural and historical monument of nation” by the Ministry of Culture and Information.



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