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Temple Roof Bronze Roof Ornaments

On the very top of the pagodas, towers and gates are special bronze roof ornaments in the typical Tang Dynasty style. These traditional structures were specially designed and commissioned with Masuoka from Nara, Japan. This company specializes in producing and restoring such traditional temple roof ornaments for the historical temples in Japan.
Bronze Roof Ornaments in BTRTM
There is a large gilt bronze roof spire atop the Ten Thousand Buddhas’ Pagoda and 4 roof pearls at each corner of the roof garden. There are pairs of roof dragons placed atop the mountain gate, bell tower, drum tower and tea pavilion. They add strength and stability to these important roof structures.
About Roof Spire
This gilt bronze roof spire is a very traditional Buddhist roof adornment. There is the only one at BTRTS and sits atop the highest point i.e. the Ten Thousand Buddhas Pagoda on the roof level. It will be anchored by 4 gilt chains, which will carry a number of musical gilt bells, ringing melodiously in the breeze.
Roof Spire or finial (Chinese: 相輪; Japanese: sōrin lit. alternate rings) originated from India and mainly used to house the relics. Since roof spire was transmitted to China, they have gone through some modifications. What we see this day is the Tang Dynasty version. Roof spire is usually installed at the highest point of the temple or the pagoda roof, and it usually fabricated by using the copper sheet and bronze. This time we use the bronze alloy (copper, zinc, tin), the pearl is from crystal, the rest of the material is bronze alloy, plated with gold leaf.

This is made up of the following components:

  • The Jewel or gem (宝珠 hōju or hōshu), a spherical or tear-shaped object, shapes sacred to Buddhism. Believed to repel evil and fulfill wishes, it can be also found on top of pyramidal temple roofs, of stone lanterns or of tall poles. It can have flames, in which case it is called kaen hōju (火炎宝珠, flaming gem).
  • The dragon vehicle (竜車 ryūsha), the piece immediately below the hōju
  • The water flame (水煙 suien, lit. “water smoke”), consisting of four decorative sheets of metal set at 90° to each other and installed over the top of the main pillar of a pagoda.
  • The fūtaku (風鐸, lit. “wind bell”), small bells attached to the edges of a sōrin’s rings or of the suien.
  • The nine rings (九輪 kurin), the largest component of the sōrin. In spite of their name, there can sometimes be only eight or even seven of them.
  • The ukebana (受花?請花, lit. “receiving flower”), a circle of upturned lotus petals, usually eight in number. There can also be another circle of petals facing down.
  • The inverted bowl (伏鉢 fukubachi), which sits between the ukebana and the rōban.
  • The base or dew basin (露盤 roban, lit. “external bow”l), on which rests the entire finial. Because it covers the top of the roof in order to prevent leaks, it normally has as many sides as the roof itself (four, six or eight).
About Roof Pearls
These elaborate gilt bronze roof pearls are to be placed atop the four Pavilions for the Buddhas of the Cardinal Points. There will be a large crystal ball which will reflect light in many directions and glow brightly in the night.

The roof pearl is a smaller version of the roof ornaments. The exposed plate of the roof pearl is used to prevent rainwater from collecting at the roof ridge.

The roof pearl consists of few sections, including the exposed plate, reverse plate and the pearl, etc. The reverse plate is normally used to house the relics and other precious items, and it is made of bronze. The exposed plate will be coated with gold leaf, while the pearls on top are made of crystal.
About Roof Dragons
Chiwen (Chinese: 螭吻; pinyin: chīwěn; Wade–Giles: ch’ih-wen; literally “hornless-dragon mouth”) is one of the Nine Young Dragons in Imperial roof decorations and an ornamental motif in traditional Chinese architecture and art.
This Chinese dragon name chiwen 螭吻 compounds chi 螭 “hornless dragon; young dragon” and wen 吻 “(animal’s) mouth; lips; kiss”. The chishou 螭首 and chitou 螭頭 (both literally meaning “hornless-dragon head”) are related architectural ornaments or waterspouts, comparable with Western gargoyles.
From Tang Dynasty, the dragon shape had been modified to look like a mythical fish, but is unable to trace the source of the shape. Some literature reported that it was used to pray for rain; and some said it is originated from a certain animal in India; and there are also other legends.

Chinese palaces, temples and mansions have on their roofs a special kind of ornaments called Wenshou or zoomorphic ornaments, some on the main ridges and some on the sloping and branch ridges.

The monstrous thing at either end of the main ridge, called Chiwen, appears roughly like the tail of a fish. Fierce and formidable, it looks as if it were ready to devour the whole ridge; so it is also known as Tunjishou or the ridge-devouring beast. It is, according to Chinese mythology, one of the sons of the Dragon King who rules the seas. It is said to be able to stir up waves and change them into rains.

So in ancient times, a Chiwen was put at either end of the main ridge to conjure up downpour to put out any fire that might break out. But for fear that it might gobble up the ridges, ancient Chinese transfixed it on the roof with a sword.

Development of BTRTM Bronze Roof Ornaments
In March 2006, Ven. Fazhao led a group to Nara, Japan for the blessing ceremony of making the golden roof spire. Ven Shi Fa Zhao, together with devotees, conducted a gold casting ceremony on 3 March 2006 at Masuoka’s foundry in Nara, Japan. This marked the commencement of production of the beautiful and intricate gold-leafed bronze roof ornaments.
These arrived progressively from July 2006 for installation.
BTRTM Bronze Roof Ornaments Consecration Ceremony
These bronze ornaments were consecrated in a ceremony on 26 November 2006, after which they were lifted onto the top of the roof for installation. Mr Masuoka came to supervise the installation, the first time he has been outside Japan. These bronze ornaments have since caught the attention of numerous photographers, who have captured them in different settings.
Bibliography:

  1. Hirotaro Ota, Japanese Architecture and Gardens, Kokusai Bunka Shinkokai, 1966, pages 88 – 90

Websites:

  1. Steeple (architecture) – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
  2. Spire – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
  3. Sōrin – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
  4. Shibi (roof tile) – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
  5. Chiwen – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
  6. Imperial roof decoration – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
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