ARNICO’S ARCHITECTURAL LEGACY :by Hai Lan
Seven centuries ago, a 17 year old Nepalese artisan named Arnico climbed over the Himalayas, crossed the Yellow River and came to Beijing , then called Dadu (Great Capital). He went to work for the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368) court and died in China .
Today’s Beijing would be unrecognizeable to Arnico; but he would see at least one familiar sight the White Dagoba he designed in the city’s western district. One of the oldest standing structures in the city, it remains a striking feature or Beijing ‘s skyline despite 700 years of erosion by wind and rain.
Yuan Dynasty records describe Arnico as an accomplished architect, painter, sculptor mad mechanical engineer. He is among the few foreigners whose biography can be found in Chinese imperial history books. The white was Dagoba was built under his supervision from 1271 to 1279 Renovated in 1980, it is now open to tourists.
In sharp contract to the traditional Chinese buildings with upturned saves which surround Arnico’s creation, and the modern high-rises in the neighborhood the 51.3 metre-high dagoba has the simple and lyrical lines of South Asian architecture.
Located inside the Miaoying Monastery, the dagoba is comprised of three parts: a nine metre-high foundation, a body the shape of an inverted bowl bound with seven iron hopes, and a towering golden pinnacle. Below the – gilded tip is a canopy hung with 36 bronze bells which jingle in the breeze.
Arnico undertook the project for Emperor Kublai Khan, founder of the Yuan Dynasty. Expanding the bounds of the empire of his grandfather, Genghis Khan, Kublai had moved southward from the Mongolian plateau to conquer the Southern Song Dynasty. He built the new capital of Dadu on a stretch of wilderness in north China .
Eclectic in his religious views, Kublai venerated Lamaism, a branch of Buddhism, believing it would help consolidate his rule. He ordered Phagaspa, the governor of Tibet , to build a golden dagoba in Tibet . Phagaspa turned to the king of Nepal for skilled craftsmen.
Yuan Dynasty chronicles record that the king chose 80 artisans and asked them to nominate a leader. None dared assume the position until 17- year-old Arnico stepped forward: The king said he was too young, and Arnico responded, “I am young, but I am aspiring.’ So he got he job.
Under Arnico’s leadership, the golden dagoba in Tibet went up within two years. Phagaspa was so impressed by the oung n talents that he brought Arnico to Dadu to ca on kublai Khan. First, Phagaspa personally – shaved Arnico’s head and accepted him as a disciple of Lamaism.
The chronicles record that when Arnico was brought before the emperor, Kubali asked, “Are you not afraid to come to the great empire?”
Arnico answered, “A sage takes people everywhere as his own children. Now that am before my father, there is no reason to be afraid.”
To test Arnico, Kublai asked him to repair a damaged bronze figure used for acupuncture. The task took Arnico four years. When the emperor saw the mended joints, arteries and veins of the figure, he was delighted. From then on, he entrusted Arnico with building temples and pagodas and making Buddhist statues.
By 1271, Dadu was prospering, and life there was relatively peaceful after years of war. Pleased with his achievements, and feeling he owned them in part to Lamaism, he asked Arnico to build a dagoba in the capital. So construction of the White Dagoba and the monastery around it began.
Arnico was appointed chief artisan of the Yuan court two years later, and by the time the dagoba was done he had been promoted to minister in charge of imperial construction. His Nepalese wife was brought to China , and emperor granted his the granddaughter of a song prince as his second wife.
The white Dagoba was the tallest structure in the Yuan capital. An inscription written for Arnico’s tombstone say that when it was completed, “Mysterious and auspicious light from the dagoba rose to the sky. The emperor went to see it and was overjoyed.”
In addition to the dagobas in Tibet and Dadu, Arnico designed an even larger one on Wutai Mountain in Shaxi Proovince, a holy Buddhist site. He also designed instruments for astronomy, painted pictures for the royal family, and modeled Buddhist images, one with a thousand eyes and a thousand hands.
Arnico married 10 Chinese women in all, and left behind 14 children. His two eldest sons also became architects and sculptors. In 1307, he died at the age of 63. He was buried on Fragrant Hill in the northwest suburb of Dadu. His grave commanded a view of the city where he had spent most of his life.
Although the tomb itself has yet to be discovered, in a collection of classical essays by Chen Jufu, “Snow Building Writing‚ “His major achievements include three dagobas, nine monasteries, two ancestral temples and one palace, it says, “as well as innumerable sculptures, statues, paintings and utensils used in the imperial court.”