In a lesser-known temple, age-old wood carvings are bound to wow visitors

Thursday, 2020-01-02 11:01:40
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The front courtyard of Thai Lac Temple
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NDO - For many tourists, Thai Lac Temple in Vietnam’s northern province of Hung Yen might not be a widely known Buddhist temple, but this centuries-old temple houses a large treasure trove of exquisite wooden carvings that could dazzle any arts lover.

Also known as Phap Van, Thai Lac Temple is dedicated to the goddess of cloud, one of the four goddesses supervising the four forces of nature, namely cloud, rain, thunder and lightning, in popular folk beliefs in northern Vietnam. The front part of the temple is dedicated to the cloud goddess while the rear is devoted to the Buddha.

The front courtyard of Thai Lac Temple

The temple was built in the Tran Dynasty (13th-14th centuries) on a hillock that local residents call the back of a turtle, and is flanked by two small water streams like two dragons attending to the mother dragon.

Thai Lac Temple has undergone several major renovations under the Mac and Later Le Dynasties (17th and 18th centuries) but its main wooden structures and decorations bearing the Tran Dynasty’s style have remained largely original.

Thai Lac’s three-door entrance gate seen from the inside

The statue of the cloud goddess is said to have been carved from white mulberry wood taken from the Dau Temple in Bac Ninh, which is also dedicated to the goddess of cloud. The worship of the forces of nature is a form of primitive belief from when agricultural life was entirely dependent on nature.

A carving of four holy beasts

The supporting structures of the Upper Hall have remained relatively intact, along with large sections of decorations.

The most unique feature of Thai Lac Temple is a collection of 20 wooden carvings depicting fairies engaging in various activities such as playing musical instruments, offering peaches and riding phoenixes.

But today only 16 pieces still survive largely unscathed. Some pieces depict human-headed bird fairies offering flowers while some illustrate a group of three fairies playing different instruments. The carvings are well-crafted as if they are pictures drawn by brushes.

Fairies playing musical instruments

These centuries-old wooden carvings are unique in that similar works are not to be found anywhere else. The 16 pieces are arranged from the outside to the inside at positions that can receive natural light or light from the burning candles inside the temple, causing them to glisten even more. Unfortunately, several pieces have been damaged by termites and are in need of protection.

A partly damaged wooden carving

The temple was listed as a national historical and architectural site in 1964.

More photos of Thai Lac Temple's wooden carvings:

The wooden carving of a manservant

Two attending dragons

Fairies offering flowers

Human-headed birds

A carving damaged by termites