Hanshan Temple, literally “Cold Mountain Temple“, is located at the town of Fengqiao (Maple Bridge), about 5 kilometres west of the old city of Suzhou. It is a Buddhist temple in Suzhou and in history it was one of the 10 most famous temples in China. Hanshan Temple owes its eminence to a poem entitled “A Night Mooring by Maple Bridge” and the ringing of the bell at the temple on Chinese New Years’ eve.
The ancient Hanshan Temple was first constructed during the Liang Dynasty (502-527), known as Miaolipuming Pagoda Temple. Legend has it that in the Tang Dynasty, eminent monks Hanshan and Shide came to live here and take charge of all the affairs of the temple, hence it was later renamed Hanshan Temple.
Sitting on the bank of the Grand Canal between Maple Bridge and River Village Bridge, the Hanshan Temple can be viewed very clearly with its grey roof tiles and yellow walls among the surrounding pine and cypress trees. The temple compound is a scene of luxuriant green creating a secluded atmosphere. Neatly laid out, the buildings in the temple are in an unadorned and natural style and most of the buildings were reconstructed in the Qing Dynasty. The main sites of the temple include the Mahavira Hall, Sutra-Collection Pavilion, Bell Tower, Tablets Corridor, and the Fengjiang Pavilion.
In the center of the compound stands Mahavira Hall, which houses the statue of the Buddhist patriarch Sakyamuni. Along both sides of the walls in the hall sit 18 gilded iron statues of arhats cast in the Ming Dynasty, each having its distinctive facial expression.
Behind the Mahavira Hall is the two-storey Bell Tower, with the shape of hexagon. The bell tower houses a large Tang-style bronze bell, which was first enshrined and worshipped in the tower in 1906 during the Qing Dynasty.
In 1995, the construction of the five-story and four-side Puming Pagoda modeled on the Buddhist pagodas of the Tang Dynasty was completed. Over 42 meters high, the pagoda has now become a symbolic structure.
The Hanshan Temple contains many historical sites, such as a stone tablet inscribed with the poem “A Night Mooring by Maple Bridge”; the stone statues of monks Hanshan and Shide; and the broken tablets with the inscriptions by a famous painter of the Ming Dynasty.
The poem “A Night Mooring by Maple Bridge”, written by Zhang Ji (a famous poet of the Tang Dynasty), describes the melancholy scene of a dejected traveller moored at night at Maple Bridge, hearing the bells of Hanshan Temple. This poem has been so often-quoted and widely loved for hundreds of years, making the Hanshan Temple even more famous nationwide. People naturally remind themselves of this classic poem when hearing this temple. This poem is still popularly read in China, Japan and Korea. And it is part of the primary school curriculum in both China and Japan.
The tradition of striking the bell at Hanshan Temple for good luck is quite famous. Each year on Lunar New Year’s Eve, the monks may strike the bell for 108 times. Why 108 times? It has two meanings. One is connected with Chinese traditional calendar – a year is comprised of 12 months, and 24 solar terms as well as 72 hou (a time term, generally five days equate a hou), and the total numbers added together are 108. Striking 108-time bell symbolizes the end of the old year and prays for a better new year. The other is from the legend of Buddhism – the common people have 108 vexations, striking 108-time bell can extinguish these worries.
When visiting the Hanshan Temple, you can also experience the ordinary life of the people living in the surrounding area, and have a look at the famous Grand Canal (also known as the Beijing-Hangzhou Grand Canal), which is the longest ancient man-made canal in the world.