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Pagoda in Linji Monastery of Zhengding

A pagoda is a striking, multi-storey, tower-like structure, the individual floors of which are usually separated from each other by protruding cornices or eaves . Buildings of this type can be found in Vietnam, China, Nepal, Burma, Cambodia, Japan and Korea. The origin of the word pagoda is not clear. Corresponding buildings were called स्तूप ( stūpa ) in Sanskrit in ancient India , in Pali they are called thupa . The Chinese name Ta ( Chinese , Pinyin ) originally comes from Pali ( thap in the ancient Chinese pronunciation).  

Originally, pagodas were used to store the remains of enlightened Buddhist monks . With the spread of Buddhism to East Asia, the pagodas also came to the east and developed into a typical East Asian traditional architecture. Even before the introduction of the pagodas from India, there were swinging roofs and overlapping roofs as building structures in China. These architectural styles were associated with pagodas. Combined with local architectural styles, a variety of different pagoda types have developed over the centuries. The originally square cross-section often changed to hexagons, octagons and even round cross-sections. The construction technology was also continuously developed. Originally, pagodas were built from rammed earth and wood. Over time, bricks , ceramics, majolica and even metal were added as building materials. After the 14th century, pagodas began to be used more profanely. Since then, a distinction has been made between Buddhist pagodas and Fengshui pagodas ( 文峰塔 ).

The architectural occupation with pagodas requires knowledge of materials science, structural engineering, geography, geology and many other sciences. As a special feature of East Asian culture, pagodas have had and still have an impact on history, religion, aesthetics, philosophy and many other cultural areas. They are an important element in understanding East Asian culture.

History and Development


Buddhist pagoda of the Cishou Temple in the outskirts of Beijing

The pagoda has two main origins: the Indian stupa and the traditional Chinese residential building.

The stupa was originally a Buddhist building in which the sarira , i.e. the remains of Siddhartha Gautama , that were left over from the cremation of his body , were kept. Stupa meant grave. Later stupas were also built as memorials for the Buddha at the place of his birth and death. With the spread of Buddhism, stupas were set up elsewhere to store Sarira . Even later, the sarira of the deceased and venerated monks were kept in stupas. Indian stupas are hemispherical mounds of earth.

The traditional Chinese residential buildings with double roofs already existed before the time of the Qin Dynasty . However, there are no longer any original buildings of this type that were built before the Han Dynasty . In addition to contemporary documents, wall paintings and grave goods from the graves of the Han period enable the reconstruction of the earlier construction. Many of the grave goods are wooden buildings that have two to three floors. These grave goods burnt in clay are made with great attention to detail. They have the typical Chinese construction with Dougong ( 斗拱 ) and protruding roofs. Even doors and windows are reproduced in detail. Most of these buildings have a square floor plan. The stylistic similarity between the funerary objects of the Han period and the wooden pagodas that appeared during the Wei Dynasty and the Jin Dynasty is obvious.

The first pagodas

Buddhism came to China during the Eastern Han Dynasty . The architectural style of the Buddhist buildings quickly blended with the traditional Chinese architectural style. This resulted in the floor pagodas ( 楼阁 式 塔 ). These buildings were made of wood, easily flammable and difficult to maintain; therefore later the sealed roof pagodas ( 密檐式 塔 ), which were built from bricks, developed from it.

Originally, the name of the new type of building was inconsistent in China. Some referred to it directly as a stupa, others as Buddha or Thupo. There were also translations as square grave ( 方 坟 ) or round grave ( 圆 冢 ). It was not until the Sui Dynasty and the Tang Dynasty that the name Ta came up and is still used today. During the incorporation of the pagodas into the Chinese culture (Sinization process), pagodas were also adopted into Daoism , whereby the architectural style also changed. At the same time, the building type was used more and more in a non-religious context. The pagodas were mainly used as a lookout point, for Feng Shui and other purposes.

The first Buddhist pagodas in China were built in the time of the Eastern Han Dynasty in the style of the floor pagoda. The first pagoda south of the Yangtze River was built during the Three Kingdoms in what is now Nanjing .

Around the same time or shortly afterwards pagodas were also built on the Korean peninsula. At that time the peninsula was divided into three states . The pagodas, which are mostly made of stone and rarely made of wood, are stylistically differentiated according to the respective countries.

None of the pagodas from this period have survived the ages. Pagodas can be seen on some paintings from the Han period. The shape of the stupa can still be seen clearly.

There is a heavily weathered pagoda near Kashgar . Since the city lies on the Silk Road and was a Buddhist center already at the turn of the times, it is assumed that the pagoda could already date from the Han period. The majority of historians, however, attribute it to the Tang period.

Southern and Northern Dynasties

During the Southern and Northern Dynasties , Buddhism spread across China. Many grottos , temples and pagodas were created. In the Yungang Grottoes and in Dunhuang there are many pictures of the pagodas of that time. The oldest surviving pagoda dates from 466 from the time of the Northern Wei Dynasty . She was entirely of stone and was located on the site of a temple in Shuozhou in the province of Shanxi . During the Second World War , the top of the pagoda was hidden, while the rest was removed by the Japanese occupiers. After the war, the pagoda was returned to China. Today the lace is still in the temple in Shanxi, while the rest is kept in the National Palace Museum in Taipei. The Songyue Temple pagoda on Song Shan Mountain in Henan Province, dating from the Northern Wei Dynasty, is believed to be the oldest brick pagoda still standing. The main building materials of this time were stone, wood and bricks.

Sui and Tang dynasties

The Sui dynasty was short lived, but Buddhism was the state religion. To celebrate his mother's birthday, Emperor Sui Wendi had over a hundred pagodas built across the country. All of these pagodas were made of wood; therefore none has survived to this day. The only remaining pagoda from the Sui period is the Simen Pagoda in Shandong Province , but it was built of stone.

Later the shapes of the pagodas became more diverse. The Tang Dynasty represents the heyday of the Chinese Empire. It had a great influence on the surrounding cultures, but conversely also absorbed many of their elements. This was also reflected in the development of the pagodas. Over a hundred pagodas have been preserved from this period. At the beginning of the Tang period, the pagodas were often made of brick, but their style mimicked the wooden pagodas. They usually have a square floor plan and are hollow on the inside. Unlike later pagodas, the Tang pagodas do not have a plinth, and there are no large paintings or decorations on the buildings themselves.

At that time, pagodas came to Japan from China and Korea with Buddhism. Because of the frequent earthquakes, Japanese pagodas are mostly made of wood. To this day, the square floor plans dominate in Japan, as in the Tang period. Also for geological reasons, Japanese pagodas usually have a low substructure, a relatively small area and only a low height. Another characteristic style element of the Japanese pagodas are their cantilevered roofs. Inside, too, Japanese wooden pagodas have retained the Tang design with a particularly stable central wooden pillar.

At the same time, pagodas also spread south. In Nanzhao in particular , many pagodas were built at this time, as Buddhism was the state religion there. Today only a few of these pagodas in Kunming and Dali are preserved. The pagodas in Nanzhao are very similar to those of the Tang period. At that time, the pagodas in Balhae also followed the Chinese style.

During the time of the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms , the country was marked by unrest. At that time there were only a few new monasteries and new pagodas. However, an important stylistic innovation occurred at this time: the square, hexagonal and octagonal floor plans were added. The interior design of the pagodas also changed: spiral staircases and stairwells were installed, and there were outdoor platforms on the floors.

Liao, Song and Jin dynasties

During the Liao , Song and Jin dynasties , China was politically divided. The architectural styles, including that of the pagodas, also differed.

In the south, in the Song area, many pagodas were built due to the prosperous economy. The Song pagodas are distinguished from the more common floor pagodas by their diversity. They usually have a hexagonal or octagonal floor plan; square floor plans are rare.

The Song Pagodas are richly decorated on the outside. Each floor has a platform, railings and receding roofs. Even a pagoda as large and high as the Six Harmonies Pagoda in Hangzhou appears curved and light.

There were also many changes in the structure of the temple during the Song period. In the Tang period, the pagoda was mostly located in the forecourt of the temple, so it enjoyed a prominent position. In the Song era this position was taken over by the main hall, the pagoda was moved to the back yard or to the side.

In contrast, the pagodas of the northern Liao were much more stocky and compact. The Liao pagodas have a sealed roof construction, and more durable materials such as bricks and house stones are used as building materials. For windows and doors in the Liao pagodas, the statically more favorable arch shape was preferred instead of the straight lintels of the Song pagodas. Most of the Liao pagodas are octagonal in shape. A characteristic of the Liao pagodas is their very elaborate design. Bricks and house stones were used as building material, but the structure was designed as if it were made of wood. The wooden structures such as beams and ribs were elaborately worked out, as were the windows and doors. Sutras were often engraved on the surface , the facades decorated with statues of Buddha, Vajra, Rikishi, Bodhisatva or richly designed miniatures of towers, buildings and pagodas. The Beijing Tianning Temple pagoda is a prime example of the Liao Temple. Here the artists went to great lengths: even the roofs of the temples were worked on as if they were made entirely of wood, every structural detail was worked out. Most of the Liao Pagodas, however, are not as sumptuously designed. Usually only the first two floors have roofs, above which the relatively simple consoles are used. Many Liao pagodas have a high aesthetic value and exerted a great influence on later pagodas.

The subsequent Jin dynasty brought few innovations. Most of the pagodas were imitations of Tang and Liao pagodas. A major exception is a pagoda in a temple in Zhengding in Hebei Province , which is the first Vajrasitz pagoda.

Yuan Dynasty

The Chinese Yuan Dynasty was relatively short. But the ruling Mongol emperors were all devout Buddhists; above all they have revived the Indian stupa construction in China. As many Mizong followers were represented in the Mongolian upper class , many Vajrasitz pagodas were built.

Ming and Qing dynasties

Fengshui pagodas have appeared since the Ming and Qing dynasties . These are pagodas that were set up in certain important places to improve the local Fengshui. Each district built pagodas at fixed times to correct alleged deficits in their own Fengshui. The Fengshui pagodas were also used to banish evil spirits. Most of the Ming and Qing Period pagodas were Fengshui pagodas.

The architectural style experienced little innovation during the Ming and Qing dynasties. Since many pagodas have survived from this period, they represent all forms and styles. The floor pagodas predominate. The most common building materials were brick, stone , and rarely wood. Most of these pagodas are spacious. The buildings built with brick imitate wooden structures down to the smallest detail. The floor plan is usually hexagonal or octagonal or square. The shapes of the pagodas were more diverse than ever: from narrow pen-like to wide and tower-like, there are all variations. The pagodas of the Ming and Qing periods also took on the elaborate decorations of the Liao pagodas. However, a profanation could also be observed here. Not only Buddhist motifs adorn the facades of the pagodas, but also folklore and iconographies taken from legends and stories.

The pagoda in Japan

The term "pagoda"

Today it is not finally clear where the term “pagoda” comes from. Since no connection or derivation to words from the Buddhist vocabulary can be established, it is possibly a Portuguese neologism , but it may also come from the Sanskrit word “Bhagavatī” (“bhagavat”: blessed ; in Dravidian dialects : Pogŏdi ) or from Persian "But Kedah" ( idol shrine ).

In Vietnam , pagoda (English: pagoda ) is the translation of the Vietnamese word Chùa, which is the generic term for the entire temple complex.

In Southeast Asia , “pagoda” is often confused with “stupa”, the further development of which is called “ chedi ” in Thailand .


Pagodas rise up and have curved roofs. In contrast to the Indian stupa, the Chinese pagoda is accessible. It usually contains the main portrait of Buddha on the ground floor and groups of figures or a continuous column in the middle of the other floors, in which relics are walled. You can walk around this column on the gallery on each floor. There are often other sculptures inside.

One of the largest pagodas in Europe is that of the Vietnamese Buddhist monastery " Viên Giác " in Hanover .

Most of the pagodas are located in monasteries, but some also outside. The Chinese proverb refers to this: “Where there is a pagoda, there is also a monastery.” However, many monasteries were destroyed over time, while the pagodas were often preserved. That is why you can see Buddhist pagodas without monasteries today.

Building material

Rammed earth

There are very few pagodas made of rammed earth ( Chinese  夯土 , pinyin hāngtǔ ). The reason for this is the high, graceful shape of the pagodas, for the construction of which rammed earth is not suitable as a building material for structural reasons. Rammed earth structures are very difficult to maintain, especially in damp areas. The few rammed earth pagodas preserved in China are therefore also in the dry northwest of the country with predominantly loamy soils. Most of the pagodas made of rammed earth are also built in the style of the relatively short and compact bell construction.

The most famous rammed earth pagodas that have survived to this day are those at the imperial tombs of the Tangut Empire . Originally they were lavishly decorated with majolica. After the Mongols conquered the Tangut Empire , the decorations on the pagodas were removed. However, the massive clay cores could not be harmed, and so they have been preserved to this day.


The wooden pagoda of Fogong Monastery in Shanxi

Wood is the preferred building material in China. The earliest Chinese pagodas are also made of wood. A strange construction has been handed down from the time of the Three Kingdoms: The lower floors were built in the manner of traditional Chinese residential buildings made of wood and a stupa-like stone roof was placed on top of them. Because of their precarious statics and time, these buildings have not been preserved. The architecture of the wooden pagodas is based on the contemporary palace buildings. Both the load-bearing elements such as dougong, beams, girders and columns, as well as the non-load-bearing elements such as doors, windows and railings, repeatedly resemble those of contemporary palaces.

The early wooden pagodas all had a core made of rammed earth or brick. The wooden structure was built around this core. Later the earth's cores were replaced by a large wooden column. This gives the building a larger interior space. Using a center column also limits the height of the pagodas, as it is not so easy to find a very tall and straight tree trunk for it. The pagodas cannot be built higher than the central column. The oldest surviving wooden pagoda, the pagoda of Fugong Monastery, is in Shanxi Province and dates from the Liao period. This pagoda introduced a technical innovation: instead of a central wooden column in the middle, there is a circle of columns on each floor; This enabled it to overcome the height restriction and is also much more stable statically.


Brick structure that mimics wood structures

The vast majority of the surviving pagodas are made of bricks. The bricks used were fired from clay , are more durable and stable than wood and rammed earth and are also easier to work with. Furthermore, bricks in different shapes can be produced on site and provided with sculptures, so they are particularly suitable for building pagodas. In the Ming and Qing times, almost all tall pagodas were built of brick , other building materials were almost completely displaced.

The elaborate imitation of the wood structure also has disadvantages. This construction gives the pagodas their characteristic East Asian effect and is beautiful to look at, but is not particularly suitable for the use of bricks. Since the pagodas taper from bottom to top, the bricks cannot be arranged regularly. In the masonry they are completely irregular and layered together. Only in this way can the gentle curve of the pagodas be realized. In order to preserve the external aesthetics, only the outermost layer of the bricks is neatly joined together.

In a brick building, the mortar is just as important as the stone. The loess mortar used during the Tang period had poor adhesion. In the Song and Liao period, therefore, people began to add lime and chaff to the loess mortar . In the Ming period, however, only lime mortar was used. This innovation led to greater stability in subsequent pagodas.

Another problem with brick pagodas is the many small cracks that can accommodate all types of plants, from grass to whole trees. The roots can seriously damage the structures and cause the pagodas to collapse. Furthermore, bricks are relatively easy to remove from the structures. The famous Thunder Peak Pagoda (Leifeng Pagoda) in Hangzhou collapsed as a result.

House stone

House stone was not a preferred building material in East Asia, but it works well for slim structures; therefore there are relatively many stone pagodas. Most of them are relatively small, there are only a few tall stone pagodas. Building high stone pagodas required great skill in stone processing and experience that was lacking in East Asia. In addition to large stone slabs and columns, smaller stones such as bricks were also used in many pagodas. Here, too, attempts were made to imitate wooden structures. The different properties of the building material were simply neglected, which had a negative effect on the entire building.


Majolica Pagoda in Xiangshan Park, Beijing

Strictly speaking, majolica pagodas are brick pagodas. The majolica are only used to decorate the facade; inside the brick pagodas are built using traditional methods. The use of majolica was subject to strict restrictions in ancient China, and they could only be used with official permission. As a result, there are very few majolica pagodas, and most of them were built with the express permission of the emperor.

With its water-repellent surface, majolica offers particularly good protection against erosion. Since marojika is a rare and expensive material, there are very few pagodas completely clad with it. Most of them only had majolica on the corners and roofs, or only use this material as decorative figures.


Copper Alloy Pagoda in Wanshou Monastery in Beijing

There are only a few metal pagodas, they are usually relatively small. Most of these metal pagodas are decorative handicrafts. Common metals are iron , copper , silver and gold . Most of these smaller pagodas are cast as a whole. There are few large metal pagodas that are assembled from parts. Since metals have a higher coefficient of expansion than stones and the problem of corrosion could not be solved at least earlier, metals are not well suited as pagoda building material or have hardly been used.

Metal pagodas have been around since the Five Dynasties; due to the great financial and technical effort (see above) only in small numbers. Some metal pagodas have been preserved from the Song and Ming dynasties. Miniature pagodas made of metal, however, are quite numerous. Most of them were made of precious metal and worked in a very elaborate and detailed manner. They represent masterpieces of ancient Chinese handicrafts.

Incense stick flour

Miniature pagodas made from incense stick powder were discovered in Zhenjue Monastery, Beijing

There are miniature pagodas made of incense stick flour in monasteries and temples . These pagodas are not buildings, but part of the Lamaist ceremony. Most of these pagodas mimic the bell pagodas, have a foundation and a bell-shaped tower above it. Some also have a roof over it. For certain ceremonies, a certain number of these small pagodas are made and placed in front of a Buddha statue or in a real pagoda (usually on the top or in the earth palace). Many of these pagodas are kept in the pagoda of the Zhenjue Monastery in Beijing and in the Great Lama Pagoda in Gansu , Shandan .

Components of the pagoda

Earth Palace

Originally, stupas were used to house the sarira. This use was also combined in China with traditional Chinese burial, resulting in the so-called “ Earth Palace ” ( 地宫 ) of the pagoda. The Earth Palace is often also called the "Dragon Palace " ( 龙宫 ). Just like cellar vaults, the earth palaces must be excavated before the pagodas can be built. There are square, hexagonal, octagonal and round earth palaces. Stone chests and smaller stone pagodas were set up in the Earth Palace to store the sarira, and sutras, statues of Buddha and other objects were also buried.

Examples of famous earth palaces can be found in Famen Si , Shaanxi Province , and the Tiankai Pagoda in Beijing.


Sumerus plinth of a small stone pagoda

There is usually a base above the Earth Palace. The base forms the base of the pagoda. There are several different designs of pagoda plinths, the most common being the Sumerus plinth, which symbolizes the center of the Buddhist world, Mount Sumeru . On each side of the base there are often ogival niches in which statues of Buddha or other figures are placed.


Above the base is the pagoda body, the main and most famous part of a pagoda. The body is also mainly used to distinguish the different architectural styles.


The top of a pagoda

The top of a pagoda is said to symbolize the Buddha's kingdom of heaven. That is why every pagoda must have a top, regardless of the architectural style in which it was built. Most pagoda spiers are themselves miniature pagodas, mostly in the style of a bell pagoda, which in turn has a base, body and top. This is the remnant of the Indian stupa, which after a long development in East Asia has found the most important position on the pagodas.

to form

The most common pagoda shapes are listed below with image examples:

In addition to the pagoda shapes shown above, there are other, less common designs.



All pagodas are decorated with carvings in varying numbers. The purpose of the engravings was initially to spread the Buddhist faith, whereby the carvings were of course also a decoration. The first written evidence of sculptures on the surface of the pagodas comes from the time of the Northern Wei Dynasty . Earlier engravings were quite simple, but since the Song and Liao period they became larger and more detailed. Most of the carvings are on the plinth, at eye level with the beholder. The motifs of the engravings are varied; they are animals (for example lions and dragons), plants (especially lotus flowers ), Buddhist personalities (Buddhas) and buildings. Carvings on the later Fengshui pagodas no longer have anything to do with Buddhism in terms of content, but mostly represent good luck charms.

Buddha statue

Buddha statues are an important element of Buddhist art. Buddha statues can be placed inside or outside the pagoda. The Buddha most commonly depicted in pagodas is Siddhartha Gautama . Which Buddha it is can often only be deduced from the context and the Buddhist school to which the monastery belonged.


Niches emerged during the Liao period and have seen great developments since then. Buddha statues are placed in the niches. The shapes of niches are varied. They are a popular decorative element on the pagodas, even some windows and doors are designed in the form of a niche.

Small pagodas

Miniature pagodas are attached to many Buddhist buildings as decorations. For example, such small pagodas are placed on the roof of the central hall of many Buddhist temples. According to Buddhist understanding, these pagodas correspond to Buddha himself.


The preferred colors of pagoda plaster are white, cyan, yellow and a few others. The choice of colors depends on the local cultural traditions, the soil and the respective Buddhist schools. In the south, white and red are preferred (because of the red soil there), in the north gray-green. Wooden pagodas usually keep their natural wood color. The inside of the pagodas is not plastered or plastered white with lime. Before the Song era, most of the pagodas were plastered on the outside. The reason for this is that the technology at that time did not yet allow the masonry with the bricks to be really clean and tidy. Plastering in a light color covers the unevenness. Bell pagodas are all plastered with lime, which is why they are also called white pagodas. The colors of the pagodas in the monasteries of Tibetan Buddhism are based on the different schools to which the monasteries belong.


Writings in the pagodas are particularly valuable documents in relation to the exploration of the respective structure. Most of the pagodas have a plaque with the name of the pagoda at the entrance, as well as banners and duilians with auspicious or praising sayings (here Buddhist and Fengshui pagodas can have significant differences). A stone tablet is often set up in front of the pagoda, on which the construction of the pagoda is described. Inside the pagodas, artisans sometimes engraved names and dates on the bricks. There are also extra plaques on the walls of some pagodas that contain the name of the donor and the reason for the building.


The bells made of copper or iron are hung on the corners under the roofs of the pagodas. They serve to scare away birds and thus to protect the structures. Such bells were first documented in the Northern Wei period. Earlier bells were built very simply, later bells in the form of multi-petalled flowers were added. Most of the bells, however, are cylindrical.

Lamp niches

Lamps are important ceremonial implements in Buddhism. It is therefore not surprising that in most pagodas small lamp niches are attached to the outside wall or inside. For the Buddha's birthday or other important ceremonies, oil lamps are lit there to create a festive atmosphere.

Destruction and protection


Earthquakes are one of the greatest threats to ancient pagodas. Many pagodas have been destroyed and rebuilt several times by earthquakes, such as the already mentioned Famen-Si Pagoda. Others still bear traces of this destruction today; for example the small wild goose pagoda . Evaluations of historical documents show that most of the pagodas were destroyed by earthquakes. The slim design makes a pagoda particularly susceptible to the vibrations. The pagodas often fall off due to the forces involved; the “Earth Palace” can also collapse. The square windows and doors preferred in East Asia are structurally less favorable than arched windows and doors.

Although efforts have been made in recent years to stabilize the old building fabric or to add stabilizing supports, earthquakes remain a major threat to pagodas.


Effect of the weather
The strength of the weather is strongly influenced by the wind direction

The vast majority of pagodas are built of bricks and are at risk of erosion.

Particularly in northwest China, where arid climates and strong winds combined with desertification and sand migration prevail, erosion can cause considerable destruction. Not only the reliefs and the protruding areas can be destroyed as a result; some of the pagodas are already so heavily sanded that they look like a pile of bricks.

Lately, measures against erosion have started to be tested, for example chemical protective substances have been sprayed over the surface of the pagodas. The effectiveness is still difficult to assess because of the short time of their use.

lightning strike

There are many historical accounts of pagodas destroyed by lightning . As the pagodas were often the tallest buildings in the area, they were often struck by lightning. In addition, the tips of the pagodas were often made of metal, so that they acted like a lightning rod without grounding. Especially wooden pagodas are at great risk because of the easily combustible building material.

In the meantime, lightning rods have been attached to almost all pagodas to protect against lightning .


Fire is one of the greatest threats to pagodas. In the past, it was particularly difficult to transport the fire-fighting water upwards, especially because of the height of the pagodas. In addition, a chimney effect can arise in the long pipe of brick pagodas: the fire is also fanned. Fire is not only a catastrophe for wooden pagodas, it can also have a destructive effect on brick. Because of the effect of temperature, bricks can crack and lose their power-bearing effect.

Despite modern technology, pagodas continue to present a technical fire extinguishing challenge. That is why people are particularly concerned with fire protection today.


In areas with frequent rainfall , such as southern China, vegetation threatens the pagodas. Some old pagodas are heavily overgrown with grasses , trees and creepers (so-called "tree pagodas"). The roots of the plants can penetrate deep into the pagoda and destroy its structure.

For some time pagodas are with pesticides to a prevalence to prevent the plant cover treated.


Rising groundwater can especially penetrate the "earth palace" of a pagoda and shake the structure.

To protect from flooding lately is reinforced ground water level monitored.

Human destruction

There have been several anti-Buddhist movements in the history of the various East Asian countries . As core elements of the monasteries, pagodas have always been subject to destruction. The stones were also removed as building material. The famous Leifeng Pagoda, for example, was brought down in this way.


As part of and as a result of the chinoiserie fashions, numerous imitation pagodas were built in Europe from the 18th century. These buildings, which had no religious significance, were often part of a landscape park based on the English model . A well-known example is the Chinese Tower in the English Garden in Munich .


Originally the pagoda was an exclusively Buddhist building, with pagodas being used in different ways in the monasteries. After the profanation, pagodas also found practical applications such as Feng Shui or as landmarks.


Originally stupas were tombs. Despite its external changes in East Asia, this function remains. Many monasteries (for example the Shaolin monastery) have created a pagoda forest as a cemetery for renowned monks. Most of the pagodas used as tombs are relatively small; large pagodas are rarely used as tombs.


Before the Song Dynasty, the pagoda was the central structure of a monastery. The sarira or the Buddha statue are kept there. After the Song era, the central position of the pagodas was replaced by the main hall, but remains an important building in the monastery.

Pagodas, which are used as objects of worship, are mostly very large and magnificent.

Storage of treasures

Many pagodas have "earth palaces" that are used to store treasures. An example of this is the spectacular find when four finger bones of the Buddha were found in the earth palace of the pagoda of Famen Si .

Banish evil spirits

In popular belief, pagodas can banish or drive away evil spirits. For example, in East Asia the deity Bishamon is often depicted with a pagoda in hand.

Receiving happiness

In ancient times it was customary to build a pagoda after passing a Chinese official examination in order to maintain happiness in this place. Later, the lucky star and the protective deity for the scholar Wenchangdijun (文昌 帝君) were worshiped in the pagodas .

Navigation point

In ancient times there were no dedicated lighthouses in East Asia, but the coastal pagodas were often used as navigation points. Since the pagodas clearly towered over the surrounding structures at that time, they were also often used for orientation in the country.

Viewing platform

There are reports of Buddhist pagodas being abused for military purposes as early as the Northern Song Dynasty . During the Taiping Uprising , the porcelain pagoda of Dabaoensi Monastery in Nanjing was destroyed by the insurgents, fearing that enemy troops might use the pagoda to spy out the city during the siege.


Pagodas have the greatest cultural significance in connection with Buddhism. The pagoda was originally a purely Buddhist building. Many Buddhist teachings are integrated in the building. The later secular form and use of the pagodas is a purely East Asian invention. There are even a few Taoist pagodas. Nevertheless, these pagodas also have a more or less religious or superstitious meaning.

The pagoda in Famen Si


Originally stupas were buildings to keep the sarira (bones) of Siddhartha Gautama so that the believers could worship the Buddha there. In Buddhism, visual elements play an important role in spreading religious teaching. Stupas and later also pagodas, in which the relics of the Buddha were kept, were an important element of Buddhism in this sense, since such a pagoda symbolized the Buddha. The remains of important monks were later kept in pagodas. Before the Song Dynasty, pagodas were therefore the central structure of a monastery.

However, Buddhism, which is shaped by Chinese culture, differs considerably from the original Indian Buddhism in that it has incorporated many elements customary in the country. For example, in India the number of floors in a pagoda was always even, while in China the number of floors is always odd. This is because Chinese Buddhism adopted the five-element teaching and odd numbers are considered lucky numbers.

Feng Shui

According to different teachings and for different purposes, there are very different Fengshui pagodas. They can be used to get good luck, to worship ancestors, as a cemetery, as a collection of Yin-Qi to share water, but generally speaking in Feng Shui, pagodas are where there are no mountains Replace mountain or enhance its effect.

Fengshui pagodas are often found southeast of a settlement, or on the mountain tops around a settlement or next to a river, but this is by no means always the case. A well-known different example is the Fengshui Pagoda in Pingyang County in Zhejiang Province . It is built in a valley to the sea and is supposed to prevent the happiness qi from escaping into the sea through this opening.

The Fengshui pagodas do not have to pay attention to Buddhist teachings and often have very unique or peculiar construction methods. The decorations are often folk.



According to some Buddhist documents , after converting to Buddhism , Ashoka built 48,000 pagodas. None of them have survived.

During the period of the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms, the last Wuyue king Qian Chu imitated the example of Ashoka and also had 48,000 pagodas built. Most of them were more like miniature pagodas and inscribed with Buddhist texts on the inside and outside. The pagodas were distributed and buried at the monasteries. Many of those found later were smuggled abroad.

Goose pagodas

The term "goose pagoda" came into fashion during the Tang Dynasty, it is just another name for a Buddhist pagoda. The name comes from a story in a Buddhist sutra that one day a group of geese flew in the sky. One of them suddenly fell down and died in front of a monk. The monk took pity on the goose and built a pagoda to bury it. The story is meant to express the compassion of Buddhism for all living beings.

Famous pagodas







Derived meanings

As "Pagoda", the series vehicles are colloquially W113 of Mercedes-Benz refers, which was produced from 1963 to 1971 because it is a concave curved hardtop have that reminds viewed from the rear to the lines of a pagoda roof.


  • Jean Boisselier et al .: Handbook of Form and Style: Asia . Fourier Verlag GmbH, Wiesbaden 1988, ISBN 3-925037-21-7
  • Christina Kallieris: From Nanjing to London - the pagoda of Da Bao'en Si (“Monastery of Gratitude”) and its successors in an architectural-theoretical context . In: INSITU. Zeitschrift für Architekturgeschichte 3 (1/2011), pp. 73–86.
  • Martin H. Petrich: Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos , "Dumont Art Travel Guide". DuMont Reiseverlag, Ostfildern, 2nd edition 2006. ISBN 978-3-7701-4398-6
  • Adrian Snodgrass: The Symbolism Of The Stupa . Motilal Banarsidass Publishers (Cornell Southeast Asia Program), Delhi, 1992, ISBN 81-208-0781-2
  • Ulrich Wiesner: Nepal , "Dumont Art Travel Guide". DuMont Buchverlag, Cologne, 1997. ISBN 978-3-7701-3945-3

Individual evidence

  1.  ( page no longer available , search in web archivesInfo: The link was automatically marked as defective. Please check the link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. The pagoda is about 35km northeast of Kashgar (Chinese)@1@ 2Template: Dead Link /  
  2. The Congfu Temple (Chinese) ( Memento of the original from December 1, 2008 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was automatically inserted and not yet checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  3. ^ Snodgrass: The Symbolism Of The Stupa, p. 221
  4. Official page ( Memento of the original from July 19, 2014 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link has been inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. (Chinese) @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  5. Hou Hanshu , chapter on Tao Qian: 笮 融 大 起 浮图 祠 , 上 累 金 盘, 下 为 重 楼 , 又 堂 阁 周 回 , 可 容 三千 许 人

Web links

Commons : Pagoda  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Pagoda  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

See also