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Shichidō garan

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Part of Tōshōdai-ji's garan (left to right, the kondō, the kōdō, and the korō)

Shichidō garan (七堂伽藍 seven hall temple?), often shortened in just garan, is the name in Japanese of the group of seven buildings that are supposed to form the heart of an ideal Buddhist temple. A garan's composition can vary considerably according to the sect it belongs to and to the era of its construction, and the word may be even used meaning just a large temple complex.

Etymology and history of the term

Garan (伽藍?)[1] in Japanese is an abbreviated form of the expression sōgya ranma (僧伽欄摩?), itself a transliteration of the Sanskrit saMghaaraama (सँघाराम), literally meaning "garden for monks"[2]. A Japanese garan was originally just a park where monks gathered together with their teacher, but the term later came to mean "Buddist temple". When the temple's compound consisted of various buildings, it was called a shichidō garan (七堂伽藍 seven hall temple?)[2].

The word appears for the first time in documents of the sixth century but, because of the hostility of supporters of local kami beliefs towards Buddhism, no monastery of the era survives, so we don't know what they were like[2]. Thanks to the Nihon Shoki, we do know that an architect, six Buddhists and an image maker from the Korean kingdom of Paekche came to Japan in 577 specifically to teach the Japanese the arrangement of monasteries and temples[2]. The Korean provenience of this new knowledge is also attested by the fact that the layout of Ōsaka's Shitennō-ji is a copy of that of Chongyimsa temple in Puyo, capital of Paekche from 538 to 663[2].

Composition of a shichidō garan

Shichidō garan is a double compound term literally meaning "seven halls" (shichidō) and "temple" (garan). What is counted in the group of seven buildings, or shichidō, however, can vary greatly from temple to temple and from sect to sect. In practice, shichidō garan can mean simply a large temple complex.

In theory, the composition of a shichidō garan is the following[3]

Nanto Rokushū[4] and later non-Zen schools:
The shichidō garan in this case includes a kondō (main hall), a (pagoda), a kōdō (lecture hall), a shōrō (bellfry), a jikidō (refectory), a sōbō (monks' living quarters), and a kyōzō (scriptures deposit, library).

Zen schools:
Zen schools (Sōtō (曹洞), Rinzai (臨済), and Obaku (黃檗)) use a different type of shichidō garan which includes a butsuden or butsudō (main hall), a hattō (lecture hall), a kuin (kitchen/office), a sōdō (building dedicated to Zazen), a sanmon (main gate), a tōsu (toilet) and a yokushitsu (bath).

Two examples of shichidō garan

Non-Zen: Hōryū-ji

Plan of Horyuji Temple

Plan of Hōryū-ji's shichidō garan

Hōryū-ji (法隆寺?) is a Buddhist temple of the "Shōtoku" sect in Ikaruga, Nara Prefecture, Japan. Its garan is composed of (see plan on the right):

A Chūmon (中門)
In a temple, the gate after the naindaimon' connected to a kairō[3]

B Kairō (回廊・廻廊)
A long and roofed portico-like passage connecting two buildings[5]

C Kondō (金堂)
The main hall of a garan, housing the main object of worship[5].

A pagoda, which is an evolution of the stupa (a kind of reliquary) . After reaching China, the stupa evolved into a tower with an odd number of tiers (three, five, seven, nine, thirteen).[5].

E Kōdō (講堂)
The lecture hall of a non-Zen garan[3].

F Kyōzō (経蔵)
Lit. "scriptures deposit". Repository of sūtras and books about the temple's history[5]. Also called kyōdō.

G Shōrō (鐘楼)
A bellfry

Zen: Zuiryū-ji

Plan of Zuiryuji

Plan of Zuiryū-ji's shichidō garan

Zuiryū-ji is a Zen temple of the Sōtō sect in Takaoka, Toyama Prefecture.

A Sōmon (総門)
The gate at the entrance of a temple[3]. It precedes the bigger and more important sanmon.

B Sanmon (三門 or 山門)
The gate in front of the butsuden[5]. The name is short for Sangedatsumon (三解脱門?), lit. gate of the three liberations[5]. Its openings (kūmon (空門?), musōmon (無相門?) and muganmon (無願門?)) symbolize the three gates to enlightenment[5]. Entering, one can symbolically free him or herself from the three passions of ton ( greed?), shin ( hatred?), and chi ( foolishness?)[6].

C Kairō (回廊)
See above

D Butsuden (仏殿)
Lit. "Hall of Buddha". A building enshrining the statue of Buddha or of a bodhisattva and dedicated to prayer[3].

E Hōdō (法堂)
Lit. "Dharma hall". A building dedicated to lectures by the chief priest on Buddhism's scriptures (the )[3].

F Zendō (禅堂)
Lit. "hall of Zen"[5]. The building where monks practice zazen, and one of the main structures of a Zen garan[5].

G Shōrō (鐘楼)
A bellfry

H Kuri (庫裏)
A building hosting the galleys, the kitchen, and the offices of a Zen garan[3].

See also

  • For an explanation of terms concerning Japanese Buddhism, Japanese Buddhist art, and Japanese Buddhist temple architecture, see the Glossary of Japanese Buddhism.


  1. Also called sōen (僧園?) shūen (衆園?) and shōja (精舎?)
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 JAANUS, garan
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 3.6 Iwanami Kōjen
  4. The six Buddhist schools 南都六宗, introduced to Japan during Asuka and Nara period
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 5.5 5.6 5.7 5.8 JAANUS entry of the same name
  6. Zōjō-ji accessed on May 1, 2009


  • Japanese Art Net User System Dictionary of Japanese Architectural and Art Historical Terminology accessed on April 27, 2009
  • Iwanami Kōjien (広辞苑?) Japanese dictionary, 6th Edition (2008), DVD version

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