At the height of its glory during the Tang and Ming dynasties, Xi'an is said to have had more than 1000 temples for its immense and diverse population of Buddhists, Muslims, Zoroastrians, Manicheans, and Nestorian Christians. Previous blog entries have described the former Confucian academy (now the Forest of Stelae Museum), the Great Mosque in the Muslim Quarter, and the former Daoist shrine that has been converted into a mosque. Here are a few images from some other current and former places of worship, remembrance, and meditation.
One of the most famous is the Great Goose Pagoda, a Tang Dynasty structure dating from the mid-seventh century CE. It was built to house the sacred Buddhist scriptures (sutras) brought from India by the pilgrim monk Xuangzang whose mythical adventures are recounted in the comic epic Journey to the West, featuring his sidekick the Monkey King (still a popular figure on Chinese television). It stands at the center of a huge complex of temples and gardens. http://picasaweb.google.com/SteveDC505/GreatGoose#
On one of my walks, I came across a small Daoist temple that I later learned was dedicated to Han Xiangzi, one of the Eight Immortals. He is thought to have gained eteral life when he accidentally fell from a sacred peach tree, and he is most often depicted playing a flute. Like most temples, this one consists of an archway entrance, a beautiful courtyard filled with natural objects for contemplation (stone, water, plants) and a main hall for devotees who wish to light incense and offer gifts (e.g., money, fruit, flowers) and prayers. An attendant strikes a chiming bowl every time a worshiper kneels in prayer.
On the edge of the Muslim Quarter, I also stumbled into a large temple complex that is now quite run-down. It is currently undergoing restoration by the government, but the process seems to be slow, underfunded, unplanned, and totally haphazard. Nevertheless, the sunny courtyard was filled with activity: workmen, worshipers, tourists, food vendors, craftsmen, grandparents and grandchildren, and entertainers.
Finally, Xi'an is also home to the Temple of the Eight Immortals, a thriving religious community of Daoist monks and nuns just outside the ancient East Gate. The complex includes numerous shines, temples, walkways, gardens, offices, and housing for the residents. Famous visitors include the Eight Immortals themselves, a team of saints with various superhero powers who are said to have appeared on this site sometime during the Song Dynasty, and the Dowager Empress Cixi and the Emperor Guangxu, who took refuge here in 1900 during the Boxer Rebellion.