108 Pagodas at Qingtongxia

Last updated by drwi at 2014/11/3

Twenty kilometers south of the city of Qingtongxia on the western bank of Qingtong Gorge, through which the Yellow River runs on its way across Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, and about 76 kilometers south-southwest of the city of Yinchuan, stands an odd collection of stupas, or Tibetan Buddhist pagodas (aka dagobas), arranged in triangular formation on an incline, such that from a distance they seem to be stacked atop one another, forming a pyramid (they have also been likened to bowling pins, though in reverse-triangle order, seen from below). These are the Baiba ("One hundred and eight") Pagodas, whose origin is something of a mystery, but from their solid form, they are believed to stem from the Yuan (CE 1279-1368) Dynasty period, though they were referred to as "ancient dagobas" in local historical accounts stemming from the Ming (CE 1368-1644) Dynasty, and under the base of one of the pagodas was once unearthed a book, copied on silk, with writing on it that corresponds to the script in use during the Xia ( BCE 2000-1500) Dynasty.

The 108 Dagobas, arranged in twelve tapering rows of odd numbers – from 19 dagobas in the base row to 1 dagoba at the top "row" – form a large, equilateral triangle. The 108 dagobas range in height from 3½ meters to 2½ meters. Another peculiar aspect of the 108 dagobas is that they are each fashioned in one of three different shapes: that of a pyrimad, that of a gourd, or that of a vase. Each dagoba is erected on an octagonal-shaped, raised base that is convex, though solid, symbolizing Sumeru, or the Buddhist variant of the Hindu concept of "world mountain".

Though no one has yet arrived at a plausible explanation for the unusual shapes (pyramidal, etc.) of these dagobas, it is believed that the explanation for their number – precisely 108 – is that it most likely is a reference to the 108 dharma bodies mentioned in the Vajrashekhara Sutra.* The number has been accepted as particularly important by Buddhists in general, who hold that there 108 different kinds of worries in a person's life, though these worries can be eliminated through prayer. Therefore Buddhists have a special rosary with 108 beads, which a devout Buddhist uses to say his prayers 108 times each day. Furthermore, it is said that counting a dagoba removes a worry, while counting all 108 dagobas in a single breath gets rid of all of one's worries, which prompts some tourists to take very long and deep breaths before the Baiba Pagodas :).


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* The Vajrashekhara Sutra belongs to the Vajrayana school of Buddhism. The sutra also belongs to the Yoga tantra class of Buddhist texts which offer a short-cut path to enlightenment, as it were, via estoeric practices that unlock power through ritual acts of body movement, speech and mind-over-matter meditation, often carried out at particularly auspicious moments such as during a full moon or even at certain hours of the day.

 

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