Amidst the new modern buildings and houses of Soc Trang City quietly nestles a small pagoda called “Buu Son Tu” (Buu Son Pagoda), which is only more than a hundred years old. Small and new as it might seem, Buu Son Pagoda, also called “Dat Set” Pagoda (the Clay Pagoda) is a hub for not only Buddhist followers but also travelers when paying a Mekong Delta tour. The pagoda has gained its reputation for its special clay sculptures and giant candles that have burnt continuously for more than 50 years.
Despite officially named “Buu Son Tu”, the pagoda is better known as “Chua Dat Set” – the clay pagoda, because of all 1991 small to big statues, 02 towers, 04 mythological animals, 04 giant candles and 03 super tall incenses, are made from clay.
According to the descendants of the Ngo Family, in the early 20th century, the pagoda was just a small temple used as a private practicing place for a man named Ngo Kim Tay. His son – Ngo Kim Dinh had a son called Ngo Kim Tong, who had a really bad health condition. When he turned 20, his family supposed he could not recover from a serious sickness so they took him to this family temple to pray and practice Buddhism teachings. Miraculously, he became healthier. Hence, Ngo Kim Tong decided to follow Buddhism and became the abbot of this pagoda.
In 1928, when he was restoring the pagoda, he dreamed that the Buddha showed him to the west to get the clay to build statues. In spite of not having undergone any sculpture or architecture classes, he has created valuable sculpture works of significant religious values.
Aside from its sacred religious atmosphere, it’s the architecture that makes the pagoda a must-see for a Mekong Delta tour. The Clay Pagoda is situated in a 400-square-meter, looking nothing much different from other resident houses of the locals. The building is not big, with a metal roof, wooden frames, and wall. The back side of the pagoda faces the street. The roof has 02 layers with the spire architecture on the top and a lower roof spreading like wings.
The pagoda consists of several small sections including the entrance gate, the outside altars, and the palaces to worship the Buddha, Buddhist deities, and the Jade. There are also small temples 9to worship the mythological animals, the ancestors of Ngo Family, the Earth God, etc.
Taking a Mekong Delta culture tour to the pagoda, travelers would not help themselves from claiming when seeing the exquisite clay works here. Ngo Kim Tong contributed his 42 years to make 1901 small to big Buddha statues, more than 200 animal sculptures, and several towers and censers. The most outstanding works among them are the 13-floor Da Bao Tower with 208 clay Buddha statues and 156 dragons, Bao Toa Tower with 1000 statues on 1000 clay lotus petals, and Luc Long Dang – the 6-dragon light. Those complicatedly designed clay products demonstrate the delicate care of the sculptor. It is the results of not only the skillful hand of the maker but also the pure mind of a loyal Buddhist follower.
The candles that have burnt for tens of years
Admiring the over-lighting candles in the Clay Pagoda is one of the top things to do in Mekong Delta. In the very last years of his life, Sir Ngo Kim Tong stopped making sculptures and turned to cast candles. He bought the pure wax without impurities from Saigon and melted it out to make candles. As the sizes of the candles are too big to fit any molds, he used the steel (for metal roofing) to shape giant molds of 2.6 meters high to pour the melted wax to make candles. It took 2 days to finish 1 candle and 1 month for it to become completely dry. Ngo Kim Tong also carves words and dragons along the candles to make them more appealing.
Having continuously done this work for months, he cast 06 huge wax candles, each of which weighs 200 kg and is expected to light in 70 years, and 02 smaller candles weighing 100 kg. The small pair of candles were lighted in 1970 when Ngo Kim Tong passed away. It has been 48 years since then but they are expected to light for 4-5 years more till it burns out.
Furthermore, there are also 3 super-tall incenses in the pagoda. Each of them is 1.5 meters high and weighs 50 kg. It is believed that once it is lighted, it would take years to burn out.
The Clay Pagoda does not have either excellent exterior architecture or a large size, yet it is still a unique pagoda that can hardly be found anywhere else. It is a one-of-a-kind spiritual destination for Mekong Delta private tour, where visitors can immerse yourselves in the quiet and sacred space and blow away the stress and fatigue of life.