West Lake Fair for Pilgrims


Since ancient times, Buddhism has always been the most important religion in China. Almost every Chinese believes in Buddha, even emperors in ancient times.
West Lake Fair for Pilgrims is a temporary fair that is associated with Pilgrimage. It started as early as the Tang Dynasty (618-917) and has gradually become a part of Hangzhou tradition.

As far back as the Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279) when Hangzhou was the capital, the emperors would, by their example, lead their civil and military officials to make an annual pilgrimage to major Buddhist Monasteries during the Spring Festival. Of course, during this time, Hangzhou was regarded as the holy place by neighboring counties. Following the emperors’ example, silkworm farmers came over to Hangzhou and joined in the Fair to pray for a bumper harvest. Over time, West Lake Fair for Pilgrims took shape, and every person in Hangzhou, rich or poor, now observes this tradition.  


West Lake Fair for Pilgrims in Tianzhu, Lingyin, Yue Fei Temple and Wu Hill is the most popular. The fair usually lasts for about three months from February 12th (the birthday of flowers) to May 5th on the Lunar Calendar (Dragon Boat Festival). The scene of the fair is rather splendid with thousands of people flooding into the hallowed temples, with local stores elaborately decorated and vendor's stalls covering every inch of the ground.

According to accurate historical records, West Lake Fair for Pilgrims catered to different groups of pilgrims, and was divided into three distinct types of Fairs - Tianzhu Fair (天竺香市), Xiaxiang Fair (下乡香市), Sanshan Fair (三山香市). Among the three, Tianzhu Fair was the earliest which starts on December 19th on the Lunar Calendar --- the birthday of Guanyin (Goddess of Mercy, 观音).

Because of Guanyin’s popularity in China, numerous Buddhist pilgrims would gather there to worship. Pilgrims for Xiaxiang Fair were mostly silkworm farmers from neighboring counties, and they usually came by the boatload. "Sanshan" literally means three mountains in English. The three mountains refer to Tianzhu Mountains (天竺山), Xiaohe Mountain (小和山) and Fahua Mountain (法华山). Pilgrims of Sanshan Fair were usually organized by the pilgrims' organizations in Suzhou and Hangzhou. In groups, they would tramp over hill and dale to worship Buddha and the Goddess of Mercy.