After the Terracotta Warriors and the City Wall, the Big Wild Goose Pagoda is Xian’s next must see tourist attraction. The Pagoda is a symbol of modern Xi’an, has over 1300 years of history, amazing architecture and a compelling story,
The Big Wild Goose Pagoda was originally built 652 during the Tang Dynasty by crown prince Li Zhi in memory of his mother. The initial pagoda was constructed with rammed earth covered by a stone façade exterior (brick veneer) with 5 stories and was 60 meters in height.
The earth core construction was not resilient and the pagoda collapsed 50 decades later and was rebuilt in 704 with 10 stories. After the decline and demise of the Tang Dynasty, the Big Wild Goose Pagoda gradually fell into decline and it was heavily damaged in 1556 by a massive earthquake that hit ancient China and was reduced to 3 stories.
The pagoda underwent heavy renovation in the late Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) and was completed with a height of 64 meters and seven floors. The pagoda was renovated in 1964 (just before Mao embarked on his Cultural Revolution) and remains with seven floors and a height of 64 meters.
The function of the Big Wild Goose Pagoda was to hold Buddhist sutras and Buddhist figurines brought back from India by the famous monk explorer Xuan Zuang. The pagoda later held volumes containing the translations of the sutras. The story of Xuan Zuang’s journey is fascinating and the fictional account of his trip was made into the Chinese classic “Journey to the West” that features the monkey King
Xuan Zuang’s Road Trip – Xuan Zuang was a scholar and translator of Buddhist scriptures and was deeply concerned about the incomplete and misinterpreted scriptures that had so far made their way to China. Zuang set out from Xi’an which was Chang’an (capital of China under the early Tang Dynasty) and travelled along the Silk Road to India. The trip took 17 years and crossed 100 countries. He returned with 657 Buddhist scriptures and several relics that were stored in the temple.
The Translation – On return to China, Zuang was made the first Abbot of the Da Ci’en temple by the emperor and given the job of translating the sutras. The translation took 19 years with the help of 50 monks and resulted in 1,335 volumes in Chinese.
The Big Wild Goose Pagoda is housed in the Buddhist Da Ci’en temple complex. At the time of the pagoda’s construction during the Tang Dynasty, the temple had 13 courtyards and 1879 rooms. The current temple has an area of over 32,000 square meters which is just a seventh of its’ original size.
When you visit the pagoda, you will be see the Da Ci’en temple and the large North Square.
The Name Big Wild Goose Pagoda
The monks at the temple are from the meat eating branch of Buddhism. One day when there was no meat, a monk saw a group of wild geese flying across the sky and prayed to Bodhisattva for help. The lead goose immediately fell from the sky with broken wings and crashed to the ground in the temple. The monks believing the goose was an expression of Bodhisattva’s will, declared that they would no longer eat meat and erected the Pagoda on the exact spot the goose fell on. Since then, the pagoda has been known as the Big Wild Goose Pagoda.
Tips for Visiting the Big Wild Goose Pagoda
Climb The Pagoda – the pagoda has a hollow inner core with spiral stairs that you can climb. The 360 degree views of Xi’an’s skyline from the top are well worth the climb. The layers of bricks used in the temple are not held together with cement. A traditional Chinese bracket style brick construction is used instead. You can see the seams between the layers of brick when you climb the pagoda.
Tour Groups – Every tour group to Xi’an has the pagoda on their hit list so it can get very crowded. Most tours get there in the afternoon so try and see the pagoda in the morning and do the city wall in the afternoon.
Bus – The Big Wild Goose Pagoda is around 4 kilometers south of Xi’an’s city center and easily accessible by bus. There are almost 20 buses that go to the Pagoda so find the nearest bus to your hostel that goes there. For example you can catch 609 from the city wall’s south gate. Make sure the bus stops at the Big Wild Goose Pagoda stop or 大雁塔站 in Chinese