Land of the mighty

Forbidden city

Land of the mighty

When visitors enter the walled Forbidden City complex in Beijing, they are assailed by an air of mystery, secrecy and intrigue. It is called the Forbidden City because permission had to be sought from the emperor to enter it. In the 15th century, the third Ming Emperor Yongle built it, but the place was predominantly ruled by the Manchu Qing dynasty. For 500 years, it was the centre of imperial reign.

The Emperor of China was privileged to sit on the oldest throne in the world. He was accepted as the Son of Heaven and the Lord of 10,000 years. The divine right to reign was awarded to him by the Heavenly Mandate. The Forbidden City had gates in the east, west, north and south. The structures connected with royal ceremonies were in the middle. These consisted of the Hall of Supreme Harmony (laws pertaining to the kingdom were proclaimed from here.) The place for the throne was in the Hall of Perfect Harmony. The emperor always sat facing south, in accordance with the Yang principle.

Everywhere a visitor turns, animal symbols such as cranes, lions and turtles come into view. It was their job to ward off evil spirits from harming the emperor and his retinue. In front of the Hall of Supreme harmony and the Hall of Heavenly Purity are bronze tortoises. The animal was supposed to bring wisdom, longevity and stability. The dragon was predominant as it signified authority, fertility, strength, goodness, wealth and good fortune. Such was the power of the dragon that the emperor’s throne was dragon-shaped, his clothes had a dragon design and he even slept in a dragon bed!

Colours played a huge role, red and yellow having the pride of place. The temples and palaces were red as the colour was associated with fame and fortune. It also denoted fire, summer and the south direction. The roof tiles were mostly yellow. It was the colour of royalty and was representative of the Middle Kingdom. It also stood for the earth.

The emperor is also known to have celebrated the New Year and the winter solstice and would also make official announcements in the Hall of Supreme Happiness, which has a unique roof resembling a bird’s wing.

The walk around the large complex is time-consuming and energy-sapping. But it allows the visitor a peek into the formality and ceremonial grandeur of the Chinese court. To say the least, the visitor comes away with a sense of awe. Such is the complicated structure of the Forbidden City.

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