8;General information and Complex of Altar of Praying for Grain of the Temple of Heaven
Ladies and gentlemen:
It is pleasure for me to be your guide. I would like to give you some general information about the Temple of Heaven. It is situated in the southern part of Beijing , covering an area of 273 hectares. After the Ming Emperor Yongle moved the catpital to Beijing, the Alter of Earth and Heaven were built in 1420. Heaven and earth were worshipped there. The main structure was a square Hall of Dasi. The traditional rites changed in the year of Ming Emperor Jiajing; it was decreed that people must worship heaven and earth separately. After 1530, the Altar of Earth was built at the northern suburb. The original alter in the southern suburb was reconstructed and expanded, it was renamed the Temple of Heaven. To the south of the Temple, the Circular Mound Altar was added for worshipping heaven at Winter Solstice. To the north of the Temple, the Hall of Dasi was modified into the Hall of Daxiang for praying for a good harvest. In the years of Emperor Jiajing, the Hall of Daxiang was a round building with three tier eaves and multi-colored roofs. The topmost tiles were blue, in accordance with the color of the sky; the middle ones were yellow, representing the emperor; while the green lower ones stood for the officials and subjects. In Qing Emperor Qianlong’s period, the temple was changed and enriched. The Hall of
Daxiang was turned in to the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest, which was only used to pray for good harvest, and three tiers of roof tiles were changed into blue. Thus, the temple of heaven became the largest royal alter.
The Temple of Heaven was the place where the emperors of the Ming and Qing Dynasties came to worship to the God of Heaven and pray for
thgood harvest. Every year, they went there on the 8 day of the first lunar
month to pray for good harvest. They came here on Summer Solstice to pray for rainfall. At Winter Solstice the emperors worshipped heaven in the temple. The architecture of the Temple of Heaven is distinctive; the 6-meter-high wall surrounding the temple takes a square shape in the south and semi-circular shape in the north. The pattern represents an ancient Chinese belief that the heaven was round and the earth was square. The three main buildings in the Temple of Heaven are the Circular Mound Altar, the imperial vault of Heaven and the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest.
The Red Stairway Bridge, also called Haiman Boulevard connected the Altar of Praying for Grain in the north and the Circular Mound Altar in the south. It is360 meters long. The surface of the bridge is divided into three passages. The one in the middle is the King’s way. There are two
reasons of why it is called the Red Stairway Bridge. One is that the path is high in the north and low in the south. Goes up all the way from south to
north step by step, implying a connection with heaven, so it is called a bridge. The other reason is that the bridge is an intersection where there is a tunnel for cattle to go through beneath the bridge; therefore, it is called a bridge.
First, let’s pay a visit to the Altar of Praying for Grain, which is located on the north part of the axis of the Temple of Heaven. The platform of the Altar for Praying for Grain has three terraces in round shape, and on each terrace there is a flight of steps. In the middle of the south and north sections, there is a flight of steps with marble carvings of auspicious dragons and phoenixes. There are protective plates on the three level of terraces encircled the terraces, altogether 324 pieces. The gargoyles are for draining rain water.
The Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest was where the Ming and Qing emperors went to pray for grain. It is a lofty cone-shaped structure with triple eaves, and a gilded ball crown the top. The roof is covered by blue glazed titles, symbolizing heaven. The hall has 28 massive wooden pillars, forming inner, middle , outer concentric rings autumn and winter from east to north clockwise. The concentric rings of pillars are divided into two rings of twelve pillars. The inner ring symbolized the twelve months and outer ring symbolized the twelve divisions of the day and night. The two rings stood for the 24 solar terms. In the north of the hall lays a round stone platform, it’s the place for putting the tablet of the God of
Heaven during the ceremony. The eight short stone platforms on both sides were for placing the tablets of eight generations of Qing Emperors.
The grand ceremony of praying for grain was like this: The official in charge of religious affairs worked out a program of sacrificial ceremony and put it on the tablet in the Hall of Supreme Harmony for approval by the emperor. Then the prayers were taken to the Hall of Complete Harmony for the emperor to practice. Before the ceremony, the emperor had fast in the Hall of Abstinence. One day before the ceremony, the emperor would enter the Temple of Heaven though the Gate of the Altar for Praying for Grain, and left his sedan chair, then went to burn incense sticks at the Hall if Imperial Zenith. After that he went to inspect the altar, and then went back to the Hall of Abstinence. On the day of ceremony, the emperor came out of the Hall of Abstinence to the Dressing Platform(east of the Red Stairway Bridge)to change his clothes and wash his face and hands. When the emperor left the Hall of Abstinence, the bell started striking until he arrived at the altar. Ovens were lit and the sacrificial ox was roasted. The emperor then mounted on the altar with the military and civil officials and offered sacrifices. The ceremonial process was divided into three stages, nine items. The music and dance for the ceremony was also in nine chapters. At the end of the ceremony, the emperor looked up to the Heaven to see the God off, the music and dance followed. After the ceremony, the emperor went back to the Hall
The Hall of Imperial Zenith is located to the north of the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest. It was used for storing the tablets of God and was known as the bedchamber of the Alter of Praying for Grain.
Located outside the wall of the courtyard of the Altar of Praying for Grain is 72 sections corridor. It connects the Divine Kitchen and the Divine Warehouse. The Seven star stones are in the southeast of the Corridor. There are two sayings of why they put here. The first is that they represent the Big Dipper. Another saying goes that they represent the seven peaks of Mount Tai.
Well, that is all for this tour. Thank you for your attention. I’m looking
forward to your next visit. Good luck and see you.