The Buddha-at-the-front, Deity-at-the-back Pagoda: A Unique Religious Structure in Vietnam

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Pham Thi Thu Huong


Unlike China and other countries in Southeast Asia, where Buddhist pagodas house only Buddha images, in Vietnam only Theravada pagodas follow this principle. Mahayana pagodas, besides housing Buddha images, also house images of gods not related to Buddhism or unique to Vietnamese Buddhism. These figures are generically called deities whose legends or biographies are the result of multiple interweaving layers of culture. In some pagodas, there are separate spaces or large-scale structures for the non-Buddhist gods. These separate spaces have made an important contribution to the creation of a form of pagoda which is totally different from traditional Buddhist pagodas. This form of pagoda is called Buddha-at-the-front, Deity-at-the-back. In Vietnam, there are about 25 pagodas of this form. Based on an empirical study of Keo pagoda (in Thai Binh province) and Tram Gian pagoda (in Hanoi city), this article presents the main features of the Buddha-at-the-front, Deity-at-the-back pagodas in Vietnam. Special attention is given to the origins of the pagodas, their architecture and organization, ways in which images are worshipped, religious practices and festivals. The article demonstrates that the Buddha-at-the-front, Deity-at-the-back pagoda is a unique form of pagoda which exists only in Vietnam.

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How to Cite
Huong, P. T. T. (2017). The Buddha-at-the-front, Deity-at-the-back Pagoda: A Unique Religious Structure in Vietnam. Journal of Mekong Societies, 13(2), 1–21. Retrieved from