Tian Tan, or the Temple of Heaven in English, is one of the major temples in Beijing, China. It is located in the southern part of Beijing while its counterpart temples, the Temple of Earth, Sun, and Moon are respectively in the northern, eastern, and western parts of the city. Together, the temples form the Buddhist structure of life. Tian Tan’s importance is obvious as the temple has been home to some of the biggest ceremonies in China and many emperors in Chinese history specifically visited the temple to worship and join the ceremonies. Moreover, the color red in the temple exterior represents the authority of the Chinese empire and its emperors.
Although many historical buildings in Beijing are almost always on the central axis of the city, Tian Tan is on the east side of the axis. This was because the Buddhists believed that the place that had the supreme sun power was on the east of the central axis.
Tian Tan is full of numerical Buddhist symbolism, especially numbers 9 and 12. The circular mound altar has 9 stone slabs in its first lap which multiplies twice in each lap. This is due to the Chinese belief that the number 9 represents the limitlessness of the sky.
In addition, there are 24 pillars in the Hall of Prayer, 12 inner and 12 outer pillars. The inner pillars represent the months of the year while the outer pillars represent the 12 two-hour periods of the day. When the 4 dragon temples are added to the number, the total becomes 28 pillars. The total number of the pillars together represents the 28 mansions of the moon.
While building the temple and even after its construction the Chinese emperors took advice from the Buddhist monks. One monk suggested to the Jiajing Emperor that Heaven and Earth should be separate and the prayers to them should be separate as well. Therefore, the Emperor built both round and square places inside Tian Tan as Buddhists believed that heaven was round while the earth was square.
Today, Tian Tan is still believed to be one of the most impressive examples of imperial Chinese architecture. In its history spanning more than 600 years, it has stood as the central piece of Chinese spirituality.