Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Temple of Heaven [天坛] - The Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests (祈年殿) @ Beijing, China


I am aware that the Temple of Heaven rests on a big piece of land but never did i expect it to be 1,700 meters from East to West and 1,600 meters from North to South; an area that is bigger than the Forbidden City

Should i be travelling free and easy, i would be scratching my head just like the man in front of the temple map. There is a difference though; i am good with maps and it wouldn't take me long to figure out the navigation! 

We entered via the West Gate where we were greeted with a big vase of nicely arranged flowers. Mom just could not resist taking a few pictures (psst, i think it is a generation thing).

This iconic structure at the horizon, although hazy, still succeeded in staking its absolute authority in the skyline. 

The temple ground was in reality a huge park and the main pathways were filled with locals doing all kinds of leisure activities at 10am! At least i got the feeling that this was definitely much more realistic than the wayang show staged for Prince William and Kate Middleton in Singapore. 

There were people belting out songs in such melodious voices that i wanted so much to stop just to hear them! This didn't happen as i am supposed to keep up with the pace of my guide.

And there was an elderly man showing off his Chinese calligraphy skills using a custom made brush and the bare floor! Darn, i could barely write Chinese characters illegibly, even with a simple ballpoint pen! 

Walking across the West Heavenly Gate.

More locals doing morning exercises; this man was trying his best to keep the feather duster like stick off the ground. This is similar to the 扯鈴 in Singapore where eye-hand coordination is very important. 

This was both interesting and funny as i could not help comparing it to the game for dogs; fetch the tennis balls! A person would throw a hoop and the other person must catch it using his/her head! 

A clearer picture of the main temple structure known as The Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests (祈年殿).

Entrance to the Hall - do note that many such places in China adopt a multiple tickets system where you pay entrance fee for only a specific section. In the case of the Temple of Heaven, there are admission fees for three different sections! If time permits, you can also opt for the cheaper combination fee where you would be granted entry for all sections. 

Remember this? Known as jiaotu, it is not a lion like many believe it to be! 

Finally - 祈年殿! This building was the place where emperors from the Ming and Qing dynasties prayed to heaven for a good harvest in the coming year. 

China is traditionally an agricultural country and a bad harvest usually resulted in unrest among its massive peasant population. Hence, Emperors in the past treated the ceremony really seriously; even a slight mistake can be read as a bad omen.

Mum attempting to pick up the temple. Failed attempt - look to her fingers for more details. 

At 38 meters tall and 36 meters wide, the cone-shaped exterior was imposing and the architecture was made in such a way to make it seems like it is reaching towards heaven. 

Interior of the hall; there was a throne although this time, it was reserved for the Emperor of Heaven (according to that tablet with both Chinese and Manchurian inscriptions).

One of twelve outer pillars supporting the first level of the blue tiled roof. In addition to these pillars, there are twelve inner and four center pillars. 

No nail was used in the construction of this hall and it was entirely made of wood! A lightning in 1889 almost destroyed the building and what we see now was built a few years after the incident. 

Known as the West Annex Hall, i have no idea what it was originally used for. However, it is now designated as a museum that showcases the tradition of praying to heaven in China and the history of this temple. 

Again, it was too crowded and the descriptions were in Chinese which means i would take a longer time to read, provided i can even recognise the more difficult characters in the text!

The weather was getting warm and i happily hopped over to the building that had a shop selling ice cream! My blissful face must have shown that i really enjoyed it as a Caucasian man walked to me and asked where i got it.

Besides the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests, there are numerous attractions located within the compound like The Imperial Vault of Heaven, The Circular Mound Altar, Three Echo Stones and Seven Star Rocks; all of which were not covered due to... you got it right, lack of time! 

A final look.

These big urns were supposedly used for animal sacrifices but i noticed them too late as we were quickly ushered out of the place towards our next destination. 

The long corridor which was honestly not very long as far as China's standard is concerned. Having said that, there were loads to see! 

A boy competing in a chess-like game with his father (my assumption). 

Two friends (my assumption again) playing a game of Chinese chess. 

Scrabble using mahjong tiles laid out in mahjong style!

Such activities do exist in Singapore even though they are limited to areas that have a higher ratio of elderly persons. Another reason impeding the popularity is the bloody weather in Singapore! 

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Visitors' map and the comparatively short route (in red) that we took.

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