Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Temple of Heaven -David Wedeking

Temple of Heaven
(The blogspot website was not accessible while theWind Ensemble was in China from the 28th of April to the 6th of May, but the group had a successful, educational and eye-opening tour of China and have now safely arrived in Tokyo Japan. The blog posts from their time in China are currently being uploaded since access to the website has been restored and the blog will be completely up to date in the next 48 hours. Thank you!           

Located in central Beijing and completed in 1420, the Temple of Heaven was visited by past Emperors for annual ceremonies in which they would pray to Heaven for a good harvest.  This was known as “Heaven worship,” though the temple is now regarded as Taoist.  The temple itself took 14 years to build, occurring during the reign of the Yongle Emperor, the same Emperor who is known for building the Forbidden City (also in Beijing).  It has since been expanded and three other temples also exist on the grounds: the Temple of Sun, the Temple of Earth, and the Temple of Moon.  More recently, in 1914, the President of the Republic of China performed a ceremony at the temple, hoping it would help him in being declared the Emperor of China.  Four years later, in 1918, the temple was turned into a park and was, for the first time, open to the public.  In 1998, the temple was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its spectacular architecture and ancient importance in what is a very prominent country.
            The temple itself is filled with symbolism with many representations of the connection between Earth and Heaven, Earth being represented by a square and Heaven a circle.  The complex that the temple is located in is surrounded by two sections of wall: the taller, semi-circular northern end represents Heaven and the shorter rectangular southern end represents Earth.  The number nine is also very prevalent in the complex as it represents the Emperor.  For example, the Circular Mound Altar located in the grounds is a single round place with 9 plates around it, which is then surrounded by 18 plates.  This pattern continues for 9 rings with the outermost ring containing 81 plates.  The Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests which is also located on the grounds along with the Circular Mound Altar are circular in nature and stand on a square yard—another connection between Heaven and Earth.
The Temple of Heaven was a great experience.  Upon first walking into the complex, many of us noted a Geisha who I believe was having a photo shoot.  We were told before the trip that seeing one is very rare, so it was exciting.  I was unable to get a picture of her as we were on our way to the temple itself.  Once we entered the area housing the temple, the symbolism I had noted in my research became very apparent.  The number nine was referenced many times throughout the temple grounds symbolizing the emperor, and the design of a circle and square (representing heaven and earth, respectively) was also very present.  The main structure, where the emperor would come to pray for a good harvest, was extremely large and can be seen in this picture. 
Interestingly, it was built without the use of nails!  This was done to reduce the weight of the structure as well as to prevent the eventual rusting of them which would be detrimental to the strength of the building.  The building is held up by the specific placement of wooden beams.  There are three other temples on the premises, each with their own purpose.
                Outside the complex, it was also interesting to see the community life taking place.  It was just as crowded in the walkways leading to the temple as it was on the temple grounds.  Many people could be seen playing cards – some more animated than others!  There was also a couple playing hacky sack as we walked by, and they were very skillful!  What also struck me about the walkway was how intricate the designs were.  I was not surprised to find this level of detail in the temple, but the attention to it even outside the holy area was impressive.
- David Wedeking

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