Qixia Temple's Ancient Remnants

(This article was published in the Shenzhen Daily on August 1, 2016.)

Thousand Buddha Grottoes, Qixia Temple, Nanjing

Although Qixia Temple in Nanjing was first built in 489 CE, it has undergone many renovations, and its buildings are primarily Qing-era architecture. Two elements of the temple are significantly older, however. Its Buddha's Relics Pagoda was built in 601; destroyed in the Tang Dynasty; and rebuilt in 945. Located in the southeast quarter of the temple grounds, its five stories stand 18 meters high, with eight sides and a two-story base.

Immediately next to it is the temple's other ancient feature: the Thousand Buddhas Grottoes, carved into a single peninsula of rock jutting out from Qixia Mountain. History says that the first three figures (of the famous Three Sages of the West) were carved in 484. This makes them two or three decades younger than the oldest carvings at the more famous Yungang Grottoes near Datong, but a decade or so older than the spectacular carvings at Longmen near Luoyang.

By official count, Thousand Buddhas Grottoes has 515 (not a thousand!) statues of the Buddha, scattered among 294 niches. It is known that some statues have been destroyed, for instance during the Taiping Rebellion.

But it seems unlikely that there were ever a thousand. Nevertheless, one legend claims it is surely so.

There is one statue, located far to the east of the others, of a stonemason holding a hammer and chisel. The legend says that as construction was completed, a count was made, and the total came up to only 999! The mason, in an act of selflessness, gave up his life to be turned into the 1,000th Buddha--and was instantly enlightened!

Buddha's Relics Pagoda, Qixia Temple, Nanjing

No comments:

Post a Comment