Legend has it that the One Pillar Pagoda was built in 1049 after a dream of King Lý Thái Tông. The historians of the Đại Việt Kingdom wrote: “King Lê Thái Tông dreamed of being led to a lotus lamp by Avalokitesvara. He told his mandarins about this dream and some of them thought it was a bad omen. The King was advised by a monk to build a pagoda with a stone pillar in the middle and a lotus lamp above like in his dream, and to ask the monks to recite the Buddhist sutras. This is why the pagoda was called Diên Hựu.
The pagoda was built in a square, three meters long on each side, and it has a curved roof. It was built on a stone pillar of 1.20m in diameter and 4m high which is actually two overlapping posts skillfully joined as one. The upper storey is a system of several pieces of wood which make up the solid frame supporting the main part to resemble a lotus rising from a small square lake with a brick handrail. Visitors can climb up the beautiful stairs to see the statue of the Avalokitesvara and the words “Liên Hoa Đài” (the Lotus Lamp) to remind them of the king’s dream that inspired the pagoda.
During its long history, the One Pillar Pagoda has experienced a number of changes each time it was repaired, especially in 1249 in the Trần Dynasty when it was almost totally rebuilt. It was also repaired many times in the Lê Dynasty, and its lotus lamp and stone pillar have been made smaller.
In 1426, when the Ming invaders in Đông Quan (an ancient name of Thăng Long) were surrounded, they destroyed the bell along with the bronze parts of the Báo Thiên Tower near Hoàn Kiếm Lake in order to cast bullets. After the French invaders were defeated and driven away in 1954, they set off an explosion to destroy the pagoda. The government has since rebuilt the pagoda following the design from the Nguyễn Dynasty.
The pagoda holds three statues wearing flat hats rather like mortarboards – “Brahmanism, they govern heaven, but today are transformed into kings, one responsible for births, the order for deaths”, explains my friend. Behind the three “kings” and those lining the walls – there are ten Kings of Hell (a hell to fit each crime) – is a busily carved, open work gilt, nine-dragon altar to Sakyanumi as a baby.
“The nine dragons supplied water at his birth, after which he took seven steps, saying, “there is only one Buddha – Buddha is everywhere around us, in heaven and in human beings.”
The temple to the left of the courtyard, holding a large statue of a monk, is dedicated to “resident monk patriots and the cult of the Holy Mothers”, who joined the assemblage of religious personages occupying Vietnamese temples from Taoism.