Formally named Pagoda of the Tooth Relic of Buddha, it is the only great pagoda for the preservation of Buddhist relies built after 1949. Sponsored by Buddhist circles in China, the pagoda was constructed at the Temple of Divine Light, second of the eight great sites in the Western Hills to enshrine a relic tooth of Sakyamuni preserved in China for more than fifteen hundred years.
According to a Buddhist sutra, after Sakyamuni's death two of his teeth were left in the world. One was taken to Sri Lanka, and the other was brought to China after passing through many hands. It was first taken to Xinjiang and later, during the fifth century, found in Nanjing. It was taken to Chang'an (today's Xi'an) during the Sui Dynasty and later to Yangjing (today's Beijing) during the Five Dynasties until it was finally enshrined in Zhaoxian Pagoda, specially built for its preservation in August 1071 during the Liao Dynasty.
The then Zhaoxian Pagoda, located at the southeast corner of the Temple of Divine Light, was a multi-eaved, thirteen-storeyed, octagonal brick structure. Since it was decorated with Buddhist statues and pagoda designs, it was also called Thousand-Buddhist-Statues Pagoda. The Temple of Divine Light, a scenic spot in Beijing for hundreds of years, was unfortunately burnt to the ground by the aggressive allied forces of the eight powers in 1900, and Zhaoxian Pagoda was also damaged by gunfire. Later, some monks found a relic tooth in a stone container in the ruins of the pagoda's base. On a wooden case (made of agalloch eaglewood) inside the stone container was written, “Holy relic tooth of Sakyamuni, April 23, seventh year (963) under the reign of Tianhui, inscribed by Shanxiang”. It was estimated that the characters were written during the Northern Han Dynasty, when the pagoda was first built.
In 1949, under the sponsorship of Buddhist circles of Beijing, preparations were begun to build a pagoda. Construction started in the summer of 1958 and was completed in the spring of 1964.
The new pagoda is 51 meters high, octagonal, and has 13 levels of eaves, similar to the original Zhaoxian Pagoda. Each side of its square platform is 2.7 meters high and 22 meters long. Like the multi-eaved pagodas of the Liao and Kin dynasties, the pagoda was built on a huge Sumeru pedestal with a prominent first storey topped by thirteen closely layered eaves. The internal structure of the pagoda has seven levels; the ground level has a secret room with stone tablets and Buddhist scriptures engraved on the four walls. Stone steps leading up to the main hall, where the relic tooth is kept, were built outside the room. The relic tooth is preserved in a small gold pagoda in the middle of the hall. On the other levels are ceremonial articles, Buddhist statues, and Buddhist scriptures in the Hah, Tibetan, Mongolian and Dai languages,