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Temple Of Literature

Name of a Confucian temple in Hanoi, in northern Vietnam, which was first built in the beginning of the 11th century AD, but was later reconstructed various times, and is dedicated to early scholars and to Confucius (fig.), i.e. the Chinese philosopher and religious reformer, who lived from 551 to 478BC. The main entrance gate to the Temple of Literature is reminiscent of the Chinese paifang, i.e. a traditional Chinese-style architectural edifice in the form of a decorated archway, and is adorned with numerous figures and symbols from Chinese mythology, such as bats, which are a Chinese symbol for good luck and the Four Holy Animals (fig.), i.e. four different animals deemed auspicious and worshipped in Vietnam, and each representing a cardinal direction, namely the dragon for the East, the kilen (qilin) for the West, the turtle for the North, and the phoenix for the South. Past the gate is a water basin with some fish and turtles, lotuses which are traditionally a Buddhist metaphor for Enlightenment, and water lilies (fig.). Past it is Khue Van Cac (fig.), a two-storey pavilion and gateway (fig.) located between the second and third courtyard, is a landmark edifice within the temple and is the official  symbol of Hanoi, and is also depicted on the green banknotes with a value of 100,000 Dong. On its roof is a chintamani or flaming pearl, depicted in the form of a circle wreathed in flames rather than a ball (fig.), whish is often found on traditional Chinese-style temples and palace buildings, usually on the roof, but sometimes on the gable. Here, it stands in the middle of the roof and on either side of the flaming pearl is a dragon, seemingly either chasing or protecting it (fig.), which may symbolize the pursue of wisdom or Imperial protection of it. The structure just underneath he roof, consists of four wooden walls with circular windows, each inside a square frame, in which according to Chinese iconography the square shape represents the earth and the circle heaven, while the spokes that attach the circle to the frame are reminiscent of the Buddhist Wheel of Law as represented in Tibetan Buddhism (fig.). In the back of the complex is a belfry and a drum tower, the drum is situated in the east where the sun rises, as it is beaten in the morning to call the monks together for prayer, whereas the belfry is situated in west, a set up typical in most Taoist temples. In back are also several halls, with one that houses a statue of Khong Tu, i.e. Confucius, portrayed with a long beard and holding one hand on top of the other (fig.), a hand position that symbolizes the balance of yin and yang (fig.). These halls also house statues of important historical rulers and flanking an altar are two bronze statues of cranes, each standing on a tortoise (fig.), a combination that in Vietnamese culture represents enduring power and longevity. Since the name of this Confucian temple draws from the fact that the compound also housed the Imperial Academy, the national central institute of learning during the time of the Chinese dynasties,  there is also an exhibition dedicated to this early academic world, displaying some historic objects, such as tools for learning, academic gowns (fig.)and mu tien si ‘doctoral hats’ (fig.), that in the past were worn by doctoral laureates upon passing the Imperial Examinations (fig.). Most buildings within the complex have a Chinese-style roof with typically upward curved corners (fig.), a feature related to feng shui, in which it is believed that curved lines ward off evil spirits, whilst straight lines are said to attract evil. The Chinese character of this temple is also found in the presence of Bi Xi Turtle Steles (fig.), with the names of those successful at the Imperial Examinations. The temple and its garden are a popular spot for youngsters to come and make pictures, especially in traditional dress (fig.), and due to its academic character and historical role as Imperial Academy and Vietnam's first university, many university students come here to make pictures upon their graduation, boys usually in dressed in academic gowns and girls sometimes wearing the ao dai, i.e. the female traditional dress (fig.), which consists of a log-sleeved, tight-fitting tunic, that is ankle-long and split open on both sides from the waist down. See also TRAVEL PHOTOS (1), (2), (3), (4), (5) and (6).