Last week, we walked up to the top and then down to the feet of the Leshan Giant Buddha. Today, we stay at the top and have a look around.
But before you reach the summit, you walk through a mountain pathway that will bring you through an outdoor exhibition of calligrapher on the stone face by masters from as far back as Song Dynasty (960-1279).
Lingyun Temple 凌云寺
Once you walk through the gate, you will come to a big open area which is the compound of Lingyun Temple.
On the left hand side is Lingyun Temple 凌云寺. The temple was founded when the mountain was picked for carving the Buddha. The earliest written record showed that the temple was already there in 713 AD (Tang 1st year of Kaiyuan, 唐开元初年) when the construction started.
But the current temple was rebuilt on the original foundation in 6th year of Qing Emperor Kangxi 清康熙六年 (1667 AD)
When you walk through the first hall of the temple, you will be surrounded by the huge statutes of the Four Heavenly Kings 四大天王. The Four Heavenly Kings are said to live in Mount Meru and their task is to protect the world in their direction respectively.
The Mahavira Hall 大雄宝殿 is the main hall for worship of Gautama Buddha 释迦摩尼佛 and is the oldest building in the temple compound. It was built during the Ming Dynasty. While the guides will tort you to donate or pay for the incense, you are entire not obligated as the ticket for the entrance you paid earlier included all these sights.
And when you are finished with the Giant Buddha, you will exit the compound from the back of the Temple.
Leshan Giant Buddha 乐山大佛
The temple was not what we came to see. It’s this outdoor Maitreya Buddha that we were interested. In Buddhism, Maitreya Buddha is Sakyamuni’s (Gautama Buddha) successor.
After you walk though the courtyard of the temple, you will be awed by this grand view of the Buddha overlooking the river. The Leshan Giant Buddha, also known as Lingyun Giant Buddha 凌云大佛, is the largest stone Buddha in the world. It is 71 meters tall. It is 8 meters taller than Bamiyan Buddhas in Afghanistan. They were both built around the same period and have similar artistic outlooks. Unfortunately the Afghan buddhas were blown up by the Taliban in 2008.
Carving of Leshan Giant Buddha began in 713 AD during the 1st Year of Kaiyuan of the Tang Dynasty. About 3,000 sculptors worked on the statue during the 90 years it took to complete it. The entire Buddha is built in stone, except for the ears that were designed in wood, covered with mud on the surface to make clay, and attached to the head. It was later discovered that the nose was made of wood too. It has a calm form, which conforms to the Tang Dynasty statues’ style.
A sophisticated drainage system was incorporated into the Leshan Giant Buddha when it was built. It is still in working order. It includes drainage pipes carved into various places on the body, to carry away the water after the rains so as to reduce weathering. It is said that the Giant Buddha can display emotions like happiness (smiling or eyes open) or sadness (crying or eyes shut). This was, however, said to have been caused by bad weather and air pollution, combined with the drainage system.
The ears and nose of the Buddha are made of wood. And inside the root of the right earlobe, there is a hole about 25cm deep, from which the repairman took out a lot of broken objects. A hole was also found at the lower end of the Buddha’s nostril, which exposed how it was completed in the 19th year of Zhenyuan (803) in the Tang Dynasty. It is no longer possible to verify whether it was repaired with this process by later generations.
The head of the Buddha has a total of 1,021 hair buns, which was counted for the first time when it was repaired in 1962. Looking at the bun and head from afar, one would thought that it was one item altogether.The hair bun is actually carved in stone and embedded one by one. During the maintenance in 1991, three original bun stones were found in the concave part of the right leg of the Buddha statue, two of which were relatively complete, 78 cm long, 31.5×31.5 cm at the top, and 24×24 cm at the root.
After spending some time looking the head of the Buddha, it’s time to take a look at the feet of the Buddha. To go there, you have to walk through an alleyway of plaques, sucking up to the officials of the day with their handwriting on the wall. But I have to say, Deng Xiaoping, the Chief Architect of the Chinese Economic Miracle, did a nice work at calligraphy.
And on the way down to the feet of the Buddha, you can see these modern carvings of calligraphers from modern times.
The Architect Behind the Buddha
This project was initiated by a monk called Hai Tong 海通. He was concerned about the long-suffering of the people who earned their living around the confluence of the three rivers. The recurring floods disrupted their daily activities and put them at great risk. He thought that a buddha carved into the mountain would suppress the river dragons causing the flooding and fierce torrents.
During the construction, he spent every last dollar on the buddha and stayed in the cave behind the construction site. By the time Hai Tong passed away, the project was half done. It was continued by two of his ardent disciples. They finished it in 803 BC.
The safety of the people was secured as since then no accident was reported. In actual fact, the currents of the rivers were altered by deposits from excavating the mountain for building the Giant Buddha.
Restoration work was on-going for this outdoor statue that is constantly bombarded by the elements of nature. So smart engineers and artisans in the 80s built a sample wall so the they can compare deterioration with new tiles and paints.
The site and the statue were listed as UNESCO World Heritage Site (as part of the Mount Emei Scenic Area) in 1996.
Other Sights on the Mountain
Besides the Buddha, there are other sights within the mountain compound.
There’s another attraction that require a separate ticket. I would advice you to skip it as there’s no artefacts or relics that are the actual thing in there. It’s a tourist trap that is just showing a bunch of replicas.
Nothing much to see in the Steele Garden 碑林 as well, but it’s on the way to the exit.
Lingbao Pagoda 灵宝塔, also known as Lingyun Pagoda 凌云塔, is named after the peak because it stands on the top of Lingbao Peak behind Lingyun Temple. The tower was built in the Tang Dynasty, made of brick and stand 38 meters high with a total of 13 levels. The tower body is hollow, and the stone steps hover along the axis of the tower to the top. The top of the tower is pointed in four corners. The structure and style of Lingbao Pagoda are similar to those of Xi’an Xiaoyan Pagoda 小雁塔.
Seriously, there used to be a Jurassic Park here that featured flora and fauna that resembled the ones in the movie. And they even built fibreglass animatronics dinos for the little ones to look at while they ran around the maze. The plants and maze have remained, but the dinos, thank goodness, have been dismantled.
And just before you reach the carpark exit, there’s an interesting hall with steeles of past monks that had stayed in the temple.
Besides the Leshan Buddha, there are three more attractions around the area. Wuyou Temple 乌尤寺 is located on Wuyou Mountain 乌尤山 (it is actually an island) and was built in Tang Dynasty. Keep walking to the left of the Giant Buddha along the Lingyun Pathway (凌云栈道) and you can reach to Wuyou Temple 乌尤寺 in the west.
Also in the vicinity are two more ancient temples, Bijin Tower 壁津楼 and Mahaoya Tombs 麻浩崖墓. The word “Bi” 壁 is taken from the jade from the Qingyi River, and the word “Jin” 津 means ferry. The original Song Dynasty building has been destroyed. The current building is new, built around Ming Dynasty 🙂 originally Hongchuan Temple 洪川庙, where the statue of the River God was worshipped. Mahaoya Tombs 麻浩崖墓 is a Han Dynasty ancient tombs where some Buddha statues were excavated, showing how long ago Buddhism arrived in Sichuan basin. Unfortunately they were closed when I was there.
About Leshan Giant Buddha 乐山大佛
The Leshan Giant Buddha 樂山大佛 is a 71-metre (233 ft) tall stone statue, built between 713 and 803 AD (during the Tang dynasty).
Due to the large amount of photos, I have divided this series into three parts:
- Going Up and Down – The path going up to the top of hill
- At The Top – Vintage point of looking at the Buddha’s head up close
- By The River – Looking at the Buddha along the river
Visited in Dec 2021