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The sentinels of Shuanglin

Updated: 2022-07-28 08:09 ( China Daily )
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Sculptures and the rooftop of the main hall in Shuanglin Temple feature exquisite craftsmanship. [Photo by YI HONG/XIAO JINGWEI/FOR CHINA DAILY]

Bodhisattva Skanda, regarded as a devoted guardian of Buddhist monasteries, is commonly seen in temples across the country, but the one at Shuanglin boasts a stern disposition like no other. The brawn beneath the armor, the broad belt and the flapping rope together lend both grandeur and gravitas.

"You feel as if the guardian is alive and moving, not static," says Chen, extolling the exquisite craftsmanship.

Among other salient features of the shrine is the prominent presence of female sculptures, more than half in number.

"We all tend to associate women with the qualities of kindness and compassion. These sculptures thus bring the masses closer to Buddhism. Also, the liberal space offered to the female form speaks volumes for the progressive outlook of the Pingyao people," Chen explains.

The connection with the common man is equally outstanding. Flanking the door leading to the Thousand Buddha Hall are more than 30 statues fashioned after devoted worshippers. Some of the names can be traced to the family trees of local villagers. "The sculptures have been more than a study in art for generations. The clothes and accessories are a valuable source for modern research on the evolution of attire," says Chen.

While the number of visitors to the temple may be sparse compared to those to the town seat, several ancient architecture research teams and students of art have beaten a path to the temple over the years.

"Many stay here for at least half a month," says Li Qixu, the curator of the Shuanglin Temple Painted Sculpture Art Museum, which was founded in 1987. "Some of them replicate the sculptures on the spot, thus demonstrating the craftsmanship to curious travelers."

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