Also called Buu Son Tu (Precious Mountain Temple), Dat Set (Clay) Pagoda was founded by a Chinese family more than 200 years ago. With walls of clay, Dat Set?s claim to fame is its collection of colorful clay statues, many of which are life-sized.
Ngo Kim Gian, 86, the current head of the pagoda, says that most of the statues were created by his brother Ngo Kim Tong from 1928 at the age of 20 until his death at 62 more than three decades ago.
Gian revealed that Tong, who was quite poor but a gifted sculptor, used clay as his sculpting material as opposed to expensive materials such as bronze or gold.
Tong dug up the clay, dried it, and ground it to a powder before mixing it with another type of powder he ground from nham o duoc (a variety of plant) to create the mixture he used to make the pagoda and statues with.
Among his works are statues of Chinese mythical figures such as Goddess Dieu Tri, Ngoc Hoang Thuong De (The Jade Emperor), and various types of Buddha statues like Sakyamuni, Amitaba and Bodhisattva Kwan Yin.
Also on display are animal statues including legendary ones such as kylins and dragons. The most impressive animal is a huge six-tusked elephant at the entrance.
The left side of the entrance hall houses a 3.5-meter-high altar called Thap Da Bao that includes 13 levels with 208 cubbyholes, each containing a Buddha figurine made of clay, along with 126 sculptured dragons backing the altar.
Behind Thap Da Bao is Thap Bao Toa with a gargantuan lotus statue as Buddha?s throne. The lotus has numerous petals that each has a deity statue sitting on it.
Inside Dat Set Pagoda there are eight 200 kg candles, each having a height of 2.6 meters. These candles were made by the Ngo family in 1940. Two of the candles have been burning non-stop since Tong died in July of 1970.
When their light does finally die in the coming years, three pairs of even bigger candles are will be waiting to take over. The new candles are expected to burn for 70 years or more.
Dat Set Pagoda is located at 163 Luong Dinh Cua Street in the Soc Trang municipality.
It is easy to find and well within walking distance of the town center. Dat Set Pagoda is typically one of the venues selected for tours stopping in Soc Trang.
Reported by Gia Phuc