Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests

Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests

The horizontal inscribed board with Qi Nian Dian, the three big Chinese characters, hangs on top of the building. The top of the board is 4.1 meters. The bottom of the board is 3 meters, and its height is 4.3 meters, weighing 2.5 tons. The board is gilded with gold.

The Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests was renovated four times in 1896, 1935, 1971 and 2006 respectively since it was constructed in 1420.

The Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests (or Hall of Annual Prayers) was first built in 1420 and originally known as Dasidian (Great Sacrificial Hall). During the Jiajing reign (1522-66)of the Ming Dynasty, it was restored and renamed Daxiangdian ( Great Offerings Hall), and Qing emperor Qianlong (1736-95) bestowed its present name. In 1889, it was destroyed by lightning and was restored to its original condition the following year. It here that the emperor prayed in person for good harvests in the first lunar month of every year. This is the main building in the compound. It is a lofty cone-shaped structure with triple eaves, and a gilded ball crowns the top. It is built on a three-tiered circular marble terrace called Altar for Grain Prayers. The terrace is 6 meters high. The base of the structure is a triple-tiered circular stone terrace over 5,900 square meters in area. Each ring is balustrade in carved white marble. It gives the effect of lace when seen from a distance. The roof of the hall is made of blue glazed tiles, following the color of the sky. The Hall with 3, 900 colored dragons was renovated in 2004. This circular wooden hall is popular with photographers, owing to its unique architectural style. But the interior framework is more distinctive. Near the lofty cone-shaped structure is blue in color symbolizing the color of sky, in the middle is yellow standing for the emperor, and the lower part of it is green representing emperor’s subordinates and common people.

The epitome of sacred Chinese architecture

The Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests, the main building in a massive park, is regarded as the epitome of sacred Chinese architecture and has been adopted as a popular symbol of Beijing.Its gleaming marble terraces, its richly painted woodwork and the deep blue of its tiles dazzle the eye.

Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests
Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests

The building is not only splendid in outer appearance, but also unique in inner frame. Without the use of steel, cement and nails, even without the use of big beams and crossbeams, the entire structure—38 meters high and 30 meters in diameter–is supported by 28 massive wooden pillars and a number of bars, laths, joints and rafters, which are interacted unto a reinforced frame to prop up the bulk of the hall. The four central pillars, called the Dragon-Well Pillars, are 19.2 meters high, and so big that each will take two and a half men to encircle it with their arms stretched out. They represent the four seasons. There are two rings of twelve pillars each, the inner ring symbolizing the twelve months and the outer ring the twelve divisions of the day and night. The pillars, 28 in number also represent the 28 constellations in the sky. The inner circle of twelve pillars and outer circle of another twelve symbolize the twelve two-hour periods into which the cycle of day and night taken together stand for the 24 solar periods of each year.

Twenty-four periods in the Chinese calendar

(The solar year in the Chinese calendar was divided into twenty-four periods, named according to the typical weather and agricultural conditions of North China. The solar periods in spring are the beginning of spring {立春}, rain water {雨水}, waking insects {惊蛰}, spring equinox {春分}, pure brightness {清明}, grain rain {谷雨}; the solar periods in summer are the beginning of summer {立夏}, lesser fullness {小满}, grain in beard {芒种}, summer solstice {夏至}, lesser heat {小暑}, greater heat {大暑}; the solar periods in autumn are the beginning of autumn {立秋}, the end of heat {处暑}, white dew {白露},autumn equinox {秋分}, cold dew {寒露}, descent of frost {霜降}, the solar periods in winter are the beginning of winter {立冬}, lesser snow {小雪}, greater snow {大雪}, winter solstice {冬至}, lesser cold {小寒}, and greater cold {大寒}).The timber for making these pillars was shipped all the way from Yunnan Province in southwest China.

The center of the stone-paved floor is a round marble slab with as a natural pattern of dragon (the symbol of the emperor) and phoenix (the Chinese began to worship the phoenix as the guardian spirit of the nature more than 3,000 years ago, even before they began to adore the dragon). In the east there are two sets of screens. Two chairs and a long table,The tablets of the emperor’s ancestors are placed on the table, which is now on display. While in the west the chair was used by the emperor to take a rest after the service.

The day before praying for good harvests, the emperor came to the Hall of Imperial Zenith just behind this hall to present incense and then came here to inspect the tablets. The tablet of the God of Heaven was kept in the shrine while other tablets were placed on the stone platform. He then left by the left side gate for the Storehouse of the Gods to inspect sacrificial articles before he returned to the Hall of Abstinence.

On the day of the prayer, the emperor worshipped the God of Heaven. Fire was built in the oven to usher in the God of Heaven. The emperor presented white silk and three courses of dishes to the God. Finally, the silk and food were taken away, followed by music and dance.During the ceremony, the emperor stood on the dragon-and-phoenix marble, delivered a speech and tasted the offerings. The princes stood outside the hall, with the band, the dancers and officials standing on both sides.

Inside the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests

Inside the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests, the centre of the stone-paved floor is a round marble slab with a natural pattern of dragon and phoenix. It matches the caisson for the inlaid of a pair of dragon and phoenix on top of the ceiling. According to legend, a dragon once resided on the ceiling of the hall, and the phoenix on the floor. They gazed at each other day and night until they finally fell in love and got married. The pair lived on the ceiling happily ever since. Once the dragon and phoenix wanted to go down for a walk where they stopped and started to be courting. When coming to pray in the hall, the Ming emperor Zhengde put his robe on top of the dragon and phoenix and pressed them on a piece of stone. None of them noticed it at the moment. But the dragon and phoenix could no longer fly back to the ceiling, because they melted into the stone and became the Dragon and Phoenix Stone.

The hall has no walls, only a partition of open lattice windows.The ceiling is painted with fine color drawings. It was struck by lightning and burned down. In 1889 and was afterwards rebuilt according to its original design.

Five thousand dragon designs are decorated on the inside and outside of the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests. They are very sumptuous, and colors are natural and harmonious. They are suited to the occasion.

On each wing of the main hall, there are subsidiary halls in which were worshipped the Gods of the Sun, the Moon and the Stars and the Gods of Wind, Rain, Thunder and Lightning, In the Temple of Heaven there are five main buildings such as the Altar for Grain Prayers, the Circular Mound Altar, the Hall of Abstinence, the Conservatory of Sacred Museum ( the Office of Divine Music), and the Sacrificial Chamber.