Dau Pagoda is located in Thanh Khuong village, Thuan Thanh district, Bac Ninh Province, about 30km from Hanoi. Being a center of the ancient Luy Lau Citadel that dates back to the second century A.D, this pagoda is considered the most ancient religious structure and an initial source of Buddhism in Vietnam.
Through nearly two thousand years of ups and downs, the present-day Dau Pagoda is quite different from its origin. In the old days, a path led to the pagoda’s huge three-door gate and a spacious flat field lying amid two ponds on which there is the reflection of a roofed bridge with 9 spans. This type of bridge is also seen in the ancient town of Hoi An (Faifo) in Central Vietnam and in some other places.
Like many other pagodas in Vietnam , Dau Pagoda was built with a traditional Oriental architecture. There are four rows of houses that are connected to one another and stand in the shape of a rectangular. They surround three main halls: the front hall, the middle hall and the upper hall. The old back hall is no more in existence, but visitors still see vestiges of the 40 small apartments divided into two rows.
In the large front yard stands the Hoa Phong tower built with large bricks. The bricks were baked at a high temperature that turned them into glazed terra-cotta. Six layers on top of the tower were damaged, but the other 3 layers from its base are still standing firmly. The pagoda’s most ancient artefact was defined to exist under the Tran Dynasty (1225-1400), and the first restoration was made in 1313 under the reign of King Tran Anh Tong.
The history of Dau Pagoda is recalled with a local legend. A 12-year-old girl named Man Nuong came to Linh Quang Pagoda (in present-day Tien Du District) to become a nun. One day, when she was sleeping, a monk named Khau Da La from Tay Truc (India) unintentionally stepped over her. Man Nuong became pregnant and after 14 months she gave birth to a baby. Before returning to Tay Truc, Khau Da La gave Man Nuong a monk’s staff, together with some advice, i.e. when there was a drought she would plant this staff in the soil and it would save everyone. He also said some magic words for Man Nuong’s daughter and put her in a cavity of a mulberry tree standing by the bank of the Thien Duc River.
After Khau Da La left, a drought took place and lasted for three years. Man Nuong planted the monk’s staff into the soil which helped bring in rain. The mulberry plant fell down and it was carried by the water flow toward the Luy Lau Citadel and finally reached to the embankment where Man Nuong retrieved it. She ordered her assistants to carve four statues as Buddhist guards from the tree and named them after Phap Van (the Cloud Guard), Phap Vu (the Rain Guard), Phap Loi (the Thunder Guard) and Phap Dien (the Lightning Guard). When the carvers split open the tree, they found a stone and threw it into the river. At night, the river bed was brilliantly lit. It turned out that the stone was Man Nuong’s daughter. Man Nuong took the stone from the river and placed it on the alter for worship and called it Thach Quang (the Shining Stone). Later, Man Nuong was called by the locals the Great Mother and she led a religious life at the main pagoda (called Man xa), while the four Buddhist statues were worshipped in four pagodas in the area.
According to monk Thich Dam Tuy, a 4th generation verger , Dau Pagoda has several names, including Dien Ung Pagoda, Phap Van Pagoda, Thien Dinh Pagoda and Co Chau Pagoda. It came into existence with the legend about Man Nuong which helps researchers understand the ancient culture of the Kinh Bac region. The area is considered the confluence of two Buddhist cultures that came from India and from the North.
There are 500 monks graduating from Dau Pagoda; 15 sets of Buddhist prayers are translated, and dozens of towers built with contributions made by the monks and nuns of the Dau Pagoda. Many eminent bonzes, such as Mau Bat, Ti Ni Da Luu Chi, Khang Tang Hoi and Phap Hien, came to Dau Pagoda and over time each became the master bonze. Kings in older times often came to Dau Pagoda to escort the procession bringing the Cloud Guard statue to Bao Thien Pagoda, now in Hanoi , for a rain and wind praying ceremony.
Visitors to Dau Pagoda are much impressed with the statues for worship, especially the statue of Ngoc Nu. It was made in the shape of a young woman of this rural area famous for its duet-singing songs, with a charming body, a simple but lovely kerchief on her head, and a colourful four-panel dress with a long and soft silk waist band. At Dau Pagoda, visitors witness the confluence of the original Buddhism as an imported culture, its development as well as its spiritual values that became well adapted to the Vietnamese life.
Dau Pagoda is located in a complex of many historic and cultural sites of ancient values, such as Luy Lau Citadel by the Thien Duc River, But Thap Tower having the Qan Yin statue (Buddha with one thousand eyes and one thousand arms), Dong Ho Village with its long-standing traditional craft of folk paintings, and the Duong River where so many historical events have taken place. Due to its historical and cultural values, Dau Pagoda has been restored and preserved by the Vietnamese Government as well as the Vietnam Buddhist Shangha.