Am Tien Cave and Pagoda is one of the relics located in Hoa Lu Ancient Citadel, inside the Ngu Phong Son mountain line which is near the King Dinh Tien Hoang and King Le Dai Hanh’s tomb in Ma Yen Mountain, Yen Ha Village, Truong Yen Commune, Hoa Lu District, Ninh Binh Province.
The Buddha is worshipped in the Pagoda. Local residents also worship Zen Buddhist Priest Nguyen Minh Khong inside the Cave. According to the legend, this place is where King Dinh confined tigers to punish the guilty. In Ly dynasty, Priest Nguyen Minh Khong came here to chant prayers to protect resident from devil and renamed it to Am Tien Cave. The stele carved in 1179 (Ly Cao Tong dynasty) regarding Bonze Dai Quang’s turning this prison into pagoda still exist in the cliff.
Am Tien Cave is in haflway up the mountain and looks like a dragon. This relic offers beautiful primitive natural landscape. Visitors must climb over 200 stone steps to get to the cave. Many stalactities shaped grain crops, cash crops, Buddha’s hand, drooping lotus bud. From the Am Tien Pagoda, visitors can see a grandiose landscape with majestic mountains, the clear blue lake and feel the sacred and magnanimous atmosphere.
With all of these values, Am Tien Cave and Pagoda was recognized as national historical-cultural relic by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism in 1998.
The ancient capital Hoa Lu in the northern province of Ninh Binh, the backdrop for the upcoming Hollywood movie Kong: Skull Island, has enchanted visitors with its picturesque landscape, temples and pagodas for years now. Two of its more memorable sites are Am Tien Pagoda and Cave.
A visit to Am Tien Cave,about 100km from Hanoi, is like a journey back through Vietnam’s history. This was the location where King Dinh Tien Hoang (who reigned from 968 to 979) raised tigers and built execution grounds. It wasalso where the dowager empress Duong Van Nga (reign 979-980) led a religious life in her old age.
King Dinh Tien Hoang was known for his dedication to his subjects but also for his strictness toward criminals. One day, after discovering a neglected cave located in the centre of a mountain, he asked his warriors to turn it into a tiger breeding place where the most dangerous criminals would be locked up with the beasts. However, those who managed to escape from the beasts and this cruel punishment would have their crimes absolved.
At the same time, the King assigned martial arts master Truong Ma Ni and his son, Truong Ma Son, to transform the cave into execution grounds.
On the foot of the mountain on which Am Tien Cave is situated, there is a pond where the King used to raise turtles, “ro” fish, and planted lotus…. The water is crystal clear, allowing visitors to see to the bottom with lots of water plants that give it its unique green colour. The image of a pagoda roof reflected on the green transparent water paints a peaceful picture.
The area around the cave seems isolated, enveloped as it is by high mountains. The surrounding scenery is both imposing and poetic, seeming to bear a mysterious and sorrowful aura of the past.
In the past, visitors had to walk past a small gate located halfway up the mountain, then follow a small path along the Giai Pond in order to reach Am Tien Cave. However, the local authorities recently opened a tunnel running through the mountain into the valley and upgraded the path so visitors can now drive cars or motorbikes to the foot of the mountain where the cave is located.
From afar, the cave has the shape of a dragon’s mouth, so it is also called Dragon Cave. Visitors continue their trip from the foot of the mountain, walking up 205 stone steps carved into the mountainside.
The entrance of the cave is about 20mwide and 30m deep. Despite the effects of time, the pagoda bell and the three ancient stone stele on which are engraved the names of those who helped build the pagoda are still well-preserved at its entrance.
To the right of Am Tien Cave is a pagoda dating back more than 1,000 years. Dowager Empress Duong Van Nga chose the pagoda as a place to lead a religious life after she had helped the Dinh and Le kings fight against Chinese invaders and became enlightened.
The pagoda maintains its unique religious structure. In front are two imposing statues of two Buddhist Gods guarding the gate, as well as a word-of-mouth poem that partially summarises dowager Empress Duong Van Nga’s life and career engraved on a stone cliff.
According to nun Thich Dam An, Am Tien Pagoda worships Buddhas, renowned figures of the Dinh Dynasty and the dowager empress.
Despite the years that have passed and the humid condition of the cave, the statues have miraculously suffered no damage – a mystery perhaps best explained by the sacred Buddhas themselves.
After burning incense to pay tribute to the historic figures, visitors can take a leisurely walk around the pagoda to contemplate its unique structure, or take a break in front of the cave to enjoy the stunning view of the valley below. Those interested to stories about the mysteries or historical myths associated with this sacred location can talk to the locals or nuns.
With its mysterious and wild landscape, Am Tiên Cave is one of the slices of heaven on earth with which Ninh Bình Province has been endowed. Many have visited the cave not only to immerse themselves in nature and to worship Buddha, but more importantly to seek peace of mind.
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