Longman Grottoes

By: renmenbi

Longmen (Dragon's Gate) Grottoes, in Luoyang, is one of the three most famous places with extensive stone inscriptions in China. The caves house an overwhelming number of Buddhist inscriptions and images, as well as historical materials concerning art, music, religion and architecture.

In total there are 2345 caves and niches, 2800 inscriptions, and over 100,000 Buddhist statues in Longmen Grottoes. Some 30 percent of the caves date back to the Northern Wei Dynasty, nearly 60 percent to the Tang Dynasty, and the rest from other periods.

The Fengxian Temple, built during the Tang Dynasty, is the largest cave at the site. It's about 41 metres long and 36 metres wide, and its temple contains nine statues of Buddha, each bearing a different expression. The statue of Vairocana Buddha is the most imposing figure in the temple. This statue of Buddha sitting cross-legged on a lotus throne is 17 meters tall, four of that head. The Vairocana Buddha wears a peaceful smile. Vairocana means 'illuminating all things in the area'. Statues of two disciples, Kasyapa and Ananda, stand to either side of the Vairocana wearing devout expressions. The temple also houses statues of the Bodhisattvas and Devas.

Wanfo Cave is another famous cave, famous because it has 15,000 small statues of Buddha, his Bodhisattvas, and singers and dancers accompanied by various instruments carved into its north and south walls. The cave is divided into two rooms with flat roofs and it and its carvings date back to the Tang Dynasty.

Guyang Cave is one of the oldest caves in the grottoes. Hundreds of statues are carved in three tiers of niches along the northern and southern walls, each engraved with the name of the artist, the date it was carved and the reasons for carving. The style of these statues is reminiscent of the Gandhara style developed in India. The cave also contains examples of 19 of the 20 styles of Wei calligraphy.

Prescription Cave has over 140 prescriptions engraved on its walls, depicting the advancement of medicine through the ages.

Binyang Cave houses 11 big statues of Buddha. The statue of Sakyamuni is the most dignified and serene of these. The slender figure of his Bodhisattva stands close by. The floor of the cave is carved in a lotus pattern, as is the roof.

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