Xa Loi Pagoda is one of the most famous pagodas in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) Vietnam. The pagoda is designed according to modern architectural style but it still has characteristics of Vietnamese traditional architecture. It has the second tallest bell towers amongst Vietnamese pagodas and some treasures including a Buddha relics and the over 1,000-year-old prayer book in Pali language. This place witnessed some historical events struggling against Ngo Dinh Diem regime’s policy suppressing Buddhism in South Vietnam.
Location: 89 Ba Huyen Thanh Quan Street, Ward 7, District 3, Ho Chi Minh City. CLICK HERE to see the location of the pagoda on Google Maps. Xa Loi Pagoda is located at the corner of Su Thien Chieu Street and Ba Huyen Thanh Quan Street. It is only 2.5 km from Ben Thanh Market so visitors can reach it easily from central districts of the city.
Opening hours of Main Hall: Moring: 7:00 – 11:00 | Afternoon: 14:00 – 17:00 | Evening: 18:00 – 19:00 | On special occasions: 7:00 – 21:00
Main hall rules and regulations: Please take your shoes off and put them on the shelf before entering the Main Hall.
Phone: +84 28 39.300.114 or +84 28 66.561.059
Receiving Buddha’s Relics
In 1953, Narada Maha Thera – the Superior of Vajiraramaya in Colombo and a popular figure in his native country, Sri Lanka, and beyond brought three Buddha Śarīra and tree Bodhi trees in tree condensed milk cans to Vietnam. Mai Tho Truyen – the head of Buddhist Sangha of Vietnam (Giáo Hội Phật Giáo Việt Nam) received on Buddha’s relics and one Bodhi tree from Narada. In 1956, Buddhist Sangha of Vietnam would like to find a place to worship the relics of Buddha and a place for Buddhists to pray and do other activities.
Construction, restoration and bell tower
The construction of pagoda was started on August 5th1956 on a 2,500 m2 land, purchased from Indochina Club at the cost of only VND 1. The purpose of the pagoda was for worshipping Buddha’s Sarira and being the headquarters of Nam Viet Buddhist Association. The temple was completed on May 2nd 1958. The pagoda had been restored from 1999 to 2001. Everything still remains until today. The seven-story bell tower was completed in 1961.
Headquarters of Nam Viet Buddhist Association and Buddhist Association of Vietnam
It was used as the base of Nam Viet Buddhist Association until 1981. From 1964 to 1966, the pagoda was also the teaching base of the Van Hanh University. From 1981 to May 1993, the temple was the headquarters of the Buddhist Association of Vietnam (second office).
Witness of the fights against Ngo Dinh Diem regime
Besides architectural value and religion value, Xa Loi Pagoda has historical value. This place is the historical witness of the fights against Ngo Dinh Diem regime in South Vietnam. The struggles resisting the policy suppressing the Buddhism of Ngo Dinh Diem regime were organized here. This pagoda houses many documentaries and remains of the struggles, including the self-immolation of Thich Quang Duc Bodhisattva.
Constructions of Ksitigarbha Hall and basement
In 2015, the Ksitigarbha Hall was completed. In 2018, the construction of the basement and the statue of Guanyin at the corner of Ba Huyen Thanh Quan and Su Thien Chieu was placed.
The pagoda was built according to the design of two architects Tran Van Duong and Do Ba Vinh. This is Vietnam’s first pagoda that has modern architecture although it has many characteristics of ancient architecture. The main hall was designed to be spacious, comfortably cool and get more natural light. It is perhaps Vietnam’s first pagoda has a lecture hall on the ground floor, main hall on the first floor and traditional roof with ceramic clay tiles and curved upward edges.
The complex of Xa Loi Pagoda consists of two three-entrance gates, a seven-story bell tower, main hall, lecture hall, library, management office, reception room, monk rooms, dining room, publishing room, Kṣitigarbha hall. Generally, the pagoda is enough spaces for religious activities. The garden has lots of green trees, plants, grass and flowers, especially statues of Guanyin and Mai Tho Truyen. The detailed architecture will be described later.
The pagoda has 2 gates: the main gate is on Ba Huyen Thanh Quan Street and the side gate faces Su Thien Chieu Street. Two gates of the pagodas are built according to Vietnamese traditional style used in many temples in Vietnam. Each gate has three entrances and bent roofs with red tiles, neater green dragon decorations. The main gate has four pillars, the roof of the side gate is supported by 6 pillars. On top of each gate was placed a dharma wheel representing Buddhism in the same way that a cross represents Christianity. The gates are made from iron, with patterns with shapes of lotus flowers and leaves around dharma wheels.
On the main gate are written “Giáo Hội Phật Giáo Việt Nam – Chùa Xá Lợi” (Buddhist Sangha of Vietnam – Xa Loi Pagoda). On the side gate are written “Pháp luân thường chuyển” (Falun Gong – a turning of the dharma wheel or a new fundamentalism).
Xa Loi Pagoda was built on a 2,500m2 land. The pagoda yard has many green trees, bonsais, plants and flowers making the pagoda one of the most beautiful ancient landscapes in this developing city. There are three places that attract visitors and Buddhists in the garden: the areas where the statues of Guanyin were placed and the area with Mai Tho Truyen bust.
Guanyin at the corner of Ba Huyen Thanh Quan and Su Thien Chieu
At the corner, there is a big statue of Guanyin standing on a lotus flower. Visitors usually come here to burn incenses and pray. The 6 m high statue carved in monolithic stone was placed in the garden in 24th January 2018.
Guanyin in front of Dia Tang Duong
In front of Dia Tang Duong Hall, on the left of the Main Hall there is a Bodhi tree brought from Colombo by Mr. Tran Van Hau. At this place was a Bodhi tree presented by Mr. Narada in 1953. The statue of Guanyin has been worshipped under the shade of the green Bodhi tree since 12th February 1958.
Mai Tho Truyen Monk Memorial
In front of the library is a small corner where they arrange lots of bonsai trees, flowers, green grass and vines, some stones and statues, especially the bust of Buddhist monk Mai Tho Truyen. The bust is placed on a black granite pedestal on which written “Chánh Trí Mai Thọ Truyền – Hội Trưởng Hội Phật Giáo Việt Nam” – name and his title.
The seven-story bell tower next to the main gate is the highlight of Xa Loi Pagoda, it attracts the attention of all visitors when they have just arrived. The construction of the tower was started on 5th December 1960 and finished in on 23rd December 1961. It has a height of 32 m and is the highest amongst all the bell towers of pagodas in Ho Chi Minh City. It was the second tallest bell tower in Vietnam until the 21st century.
On the top floor of the tower is hung a big bell with a weight of 2 tons, a diameter of 1.2 m, a height of 1.6m. The bell tower was cast twice, the first bell casting on 1st March 1961 was a failure, the second bell was cast perfectly on 15th April 1961 in Phuong Duc Hue Ward, Hue City. The bell is similar to the one at Thien Mu Pagoda – the iconic sight of Hue. On 17th October 1961, they hung the bell in the bell tower.
On top of the tower is placed a smaller ancient bronze tower, found underground in India in the 18th century. Mr. S. Gupta – Ambassador of India to Vietnam on behalf of the organizer of Buddha Jayanti presented this bronze tower to the head of Nam Viet Buddhist Association on 25th August 1957.
Each of the seven roofs has an octagonal shape, a sharp and curving corner with green decorations. Each floor has four wide main sides and four narrow sides, forming an irregular octagon. On each side, there are many white lotus squares.
Behind the yard is the Main Temple (or Main Hall) with a width of 15.2m and a length of 31.2m. The Main Temple is built according to modern architectural style. Looking generally, it has a cube shape and two floors, representing the modern Western architecture. But it still has curving roofs covered tiles and decorated with dragon items that are popular in ancient architecture of Vietnam and China. On the top of the roof is placed a swastika – ancient religious icon, the triangle is decorated with green lotus decor items.
The main temple has 2 floors: the first floor used as the Lecture Hall and the second floor used as the Main Hall. Two charming and wide zigzag staircases lead to the main hall.
What is in the Main Hall?
Buddha statue, Guanyin and Maitreya statues
At the back of the Main Hall is a big Buddha statue covered with gold. In front of the Buddha statue is placed a small statue of Buddha Maitreya and a statue of Guanyin. This neat and simple worship way makes people focus more on Buddha. In fact, most of the pagodas in Ho Chi Minh City has lots of statues. Xa Loi Pagoda has only one Buddha statue in the main hall, the arrangement is similar to worship way in Theravada pagodas of Khmer people in South Vietnam.
Buddhist monk Mai Tho Truyen placed an order for a Buddha statue with sculptor – painter Le Va Mau at Bien Hoa Fine Art University. The mold was made on 10th February 1957 and the statue was completed on 24th December 1958. The statue was made of pink granite, it cost VND 180,000. The height of the statue is 6.5 m, the pedestal is 0.4 m high, the lotus has a height of 1.36 m, the Buddha is 3.62 m high. The lotus has diameters of 3.62 m and 2.64 m. A ceremony of placing the statue in the Main Hall occurred on 12th February 1958. In 1968, they applied gold leaf on the Buddha statue.
Above the statue of Buddha, there is a green bodhi leaf-shaped stupa containing Śarīra. Śarīra means Xá Lợi in Vietnamese so that the pagoda was named Chùa Xá Lợi (Xa Loi Pagoda).
Set of 14 pictures
On the top of two lines of pillars was two walls with a set of 14 pictures telling about Buddha’s life from he was born to the time when he entered the nirvana tree. These are the artworks of professor Nguyen Van Long at Gia Dinh University.
Flags and “Lương Hoàng Sám” prayer-books
Flags in five colors, each of which represents the colors of the afterglow sent out from Buddha when he entered the nirvana tree, are hung on square pillars. Blue color represents love, peace, charity; yellow represents. Red color represents practice – success, intellect, virtue, fate, dignity. White color represents the spirit of Buddha – escape the constraints of space and time; orange represents the instructions of Buddha – intellect.
Yellow fabric lanterns are hung on the ceiling. Small tables are arranged in lines on the floor so that Buddhists and monks read “Lương Hoàng Sám” prayer-books. The temple has many large and high windows and doors that make the hall comfortably cool.
Drum, bell and painting of Guanyin
Chanh Tri Buddhist Lecture Hall
At the entrance of the Lecture Hall on the ground floor was hung an ancient lacquered wood panel on which written four Chinese characters which means Đông thùy pháp vũ in Vietnamese by Empress Dowager Cixi. Mr. Bui Van Thuong – the ambassador of The Republic of Vietnam in Tokyo bought the panel in Japan in order to present it to Xa Loi Pagoda in March 1963. The panel was replaced by a board on which written “Giảng đường Chánh Trí” (Chanh Tri Lecture Hall) in order to memorize Chanh Tri – the former head of Buddhist Sangha of Vietnam in 1st July 1973.
The hall is spacious, has a capacity for 400 people. It was the place where a large number of famous Buddhist monks preached. Chanh Tri Lecture Hall is the center of activities of the Buddhist Sangha of Vietnam as well as the heart of Xa Loi Pagoda. So that it was designed to face the main gate.
On the pillars were hung photos related to Thich Quang Duc’s self-immolation and activities at the pagoda. A large picture representing Buddha stepped on seven lotus flowers after he was born and the logo of Vietnamese Buddhist Sangha are notable items in the hall.
Opening hours: 8:00 – 11:00 | 14:00 – 16:00 from Tuesday to Sunday; closed on Monday and holiday.
The library houses 7,000 books, including valuable ancient books and old books in Vietnamese, Chinese, Japanese, French, English. Besides Buddhist books, the library has many books about culture, science, society, philosophy, zen, literature, religion magazines. The most valuable books are the Đại Chính Tân Tu Đại Tạng Kinh and Tân Tu Tục Tạng set.
One of the treasures in the library is the prayer-book in Pali language – a Middle Indo-Aryan liturgical language native to the Indian subcontinent. The book was written on Corypha lecomtei leaves more than 1,000 years ago. It is 45 cm long and 6 cm wide. The antique red and gold lacquered wood cover with delicate patterns is wrapped in five-color silk cloth. In the book was written Buddha’s speech before he moved the dharma wheel. The pagoda has stored this treasure since 16th June 1957.
Buddhist monks, Buddhists, students usually come to the spacious and quiet library to read books and study.
Vietnam Buddhist Study Center
Ksitigarbha Hall (Địa Tạng Đường)
Opening hours: Morning: 7:00 – 11:00 | Afternoon: 14:00 – 19:00; On 30th, 1st, 14th, 15th of every month in the lunar calendar, Sunday: open more.
On 11th September 2015 and also the Ksitigarbha Festival Day, Xa Loi Pagoda announced the grand opening of Ksitigarbha Hall and the placement of Ksitigarbha statue in this hall. Ksitigarbha Hall functions as the place of worship dead Buddhists and their families.
Spaces for other activities
The publishing room publishes Buddhist books including prayer-books, literature, philosophy, culture, travel books, paintings, statues, bracelets, tocsin, buddhist meditation tools, etc. The room is located on Su Thien Chieu Street, on the right of the side gate.
Xa Loi Pagoda is not a place of worship, a beautiful architectural work and landscape but also an educational, cultural, entertainment center of the city. The pagoda opens calligraphy classes for Buddhists and non-Buddhist every Monday, Tuesday and Sunday. Buddhist monks preach every Sunday morning. Xa Loi Pagoda also organizes wedding ceremonies for Buddhist couples. As mentioned above, the library with thousands of Buddhist books open for publish.
Many Buddhist festivals and special days are celebrated solemnly at Xa Loi Pagoda. The special days include Vesak, 15th January of the lunar calendar, Tet festival (Vietnamese New Year), especially the death anniversary of Mai Tho Truyen Buddhist monk on 15th March and Medicine Buddha in January of the lunar calendar.
What are around Xa Loi Pagoda?
Ba Huyen Thanh Quan Street and Su Thien Chieu Street have many old and big trees which makes the area cool. On Ba Huyen Thanh Quan Street, there is Nguyen Thi Minh Khai School. Before 1975, this school had had the name as Gia Long Schoolgirl School. The young girl used to come to Xa Loi pagoda to see the sight, relax or study lesson. They had many memories here. On the street, there are restaurants serving mudskipper hot pot – a folk dish in South Vietnam. Visitors can also buy Japanese cemarics at the shop in the opposite of the publishing room.
Coming to Xa Loi Pagoda, we have an opportunity to watch a beautiful pagoda having a modern architectural style, watch a place that used to witness a hurtful historical stage of Vietnamese and especially, burn an incense stick to pray to Buddha for peace of the world. Traveling to Ho Chi Minh City, you will not regret visiting the mysterious and beautiful Xa Loi Pagoda.
The above photos have just been taken by Tracy Do at the end of 2019. The following photos were taken in 2010 by Tracy Do:
To be explored more about this pagoda, you can join this Pagoda & Vegetarian Food Tour by Motorbike
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