Monday, April 5, 2010

Chinese Buddhism at the Longmen Grottoes

Along with the Mogao Caves and Yungang Grottoes, the Longmen Grottoes are one of the three most famous ancient sculptural sites in China. They are 12 km south of present-day Luoyang City in Henan, China. There are 2,345 caves and niches, 2,800 inscriptions, 43 pagodas, and over 100,000 Buddhist images at the site. Thirty percent of the caves date from the Northern Wei Dynasty, 60 percent from the Tang Dynasty, and 10 percent of the caves are from other periods. Fengxian Temple (Fengxiansi), 672-675 AD, is the largest and most extravagant cave in Longmen, featuring the impressive Vairocana Buddha and various other bodhisattvas. It was built during the golden age of the Tang Dynasty and is often considered the pinnacle of Chinese Buddhist art.

PHOTO: Middle Binyang Cave constructed by order of Emperor Xuanwu of the Northern Wei in honor of his parents Emperor Xiaowen and Empress Wenzhao, the cave was supposed to imitate Lingyansi Cave at the Yungang Caves. Work began in 500 AD and was completed in 523 AD. The main buddha (shown here) and bodhisattvas are representative of the Northern Wei sculptural style. A lotus-flower pool decorates the floor. The ceiling is engraved with a blossoming lotus flower, 8 musical apsarases, 2 attending apsarases, and tassel and drapery patterns. The front wall is covered with a large Vimalakirti relief, the Prince Sattva Jataka, the Prince Sudatta Jataka, an emperor/empress worshipping scene, and ten deity kings.

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