seven-halled temple ［七堂伽藍］ ( shichidō-garan): A type of Buddhist temple with seven basic structures. Though these seven structures and their designations differ according to the Buddhist school and historical period, the oldest arrangement consisted of the pagoda (main tower), the main hall (called golden hall), the lecture hall, the bell tower, the sutra repository, the dormitory for priests, and the dining hall. The pagoda originally housed the relics believed to be those of the Buddha. Later pagodas were used to house Buddhist scriptures instead. The main hall contained the temple’s principal object of devotion.
In Zen temples, the main hall was called the Buddha hall. The pagoda and the main hall were the most important buildings in the early temple complex, though gradually the main hall became the central component. In the lecture hall, lectures on the Buddhist scriptures and discourse on the Buddhist doctrines were conducted, and the priests of the temple assembled to listen to sermons and perform rituals. The bell tower held the temple bell, which was traditionally sounded to assemble priests and to mark their daily routine. The sutra repository housed a collection of Buddhist texts. The dormitory was usually a long and narrow building where priests lived, some temples having more than one. The priests took their meals in the dining hall. Besides those buildings, temple compounds had an inner gate and an outer gate. The outer gate was the front entrance of the temple grounds and was called the “great south gate” because it faced south. The seven-halled temple style originated in China and was prevalent in Japan.
Asuka-dera temple, built by Soga no Umako (d. 626), a leading imperial court official, was the earliest among the full-fledged temple complexes in Japan. Early types of the seven structures, though with somewhat different layout, exist at Shitennō-ji and Hōryū-ji temples, built about the same time as Asuka-dera; at Yakushi-ji temple built in the late seventh century; and at Tōdai-ji in the mid-eighth century.