Thursday, January 29, 2009

A holy place

I dropped into a run-of-the-mill Chinese take-out restaurant today, in the shabby strip mall near my house, to order dinner. My attention was immediately captured by a huge picture on the wall, in a stainless steel frame, of the place that you see above. I looked at it for several minutes while the pseudo-Chinese food I had ordered was being prepared. I wondered about the characters on the brilliant blue background at the top of the building -- what they meant. But most of all, I wondered what this building was.

If you already know, then congratulations, you are smarter or at least more geographically knowledgeable than the average bear.

I imprinted its distinctive design in my mind, then chafed for several hours until I could get home and open up one of my literary treasures: The World's Greatest Architecture.

And there it was: The Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests, in the Temple of Heaven, Beijing, China. According to my book, it is "probably the most familiar building in China."

According to a website about the place:

"Construction of the Temple of Heaven began during the reign of Emperor Yongle and was completed in 1420. It was used by all subsequent Emperors of the Ming and Qing Dynasties.

The Chinese Emperor ruled "All Under Heaven" by divine authority. The Temple of Heaven was central to his authority as he prayed for blessings for his people.

In imperial China, the emperor was regarded as the Son of Heaven, the intermediary between Earth and Heaven. To be seen to be showing respect to the source of his authority, in the form of sacrifices to heaven, was extremely important. The Temple of Heaven was built for these ceremonies.

The most important ceremony of the year took place on the winter solstice, when the emperor prayed for good harvests. After three days of fasting, the emperor and his entourage, wearing splendid robes, would make their way to the park on the day before the solstice. It was forbidden for the commoners to catch a glimpse of the great annual procession; they had to bolt their windows and remain in silence indoors throughout the event.

Upon arrival at Tian Tan, the emperor meditated in the Imperial Vault, ritually conversing with the gods on the details of government. He then spent the night in the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests."


Janice Thomson said...

What a gorgeous building/temple. I really like oriental architecture. Thanks for the info on this ECD.
It's always a treat to visit here - you have such interesting posts.

Eastcoastdweller said...

Thank You, Janice. I feel the same about Your wonderful website.

If there is anything interesting here, it is simply because I find all of life interesting -- nature and humanity and the world of the mind and I am insufferably curious about it all.