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Guangyuan Thousand Buddha Cliffside Statues


TheGuangyuan Thousand Buddha Cliffside Statueslie on the east bank of the Jialing River, 4 kilometres north of Guangyuan City, Sichuan Province.

The Thousand Buddha Cliffside Statuesare on the wall of the cliff that is about 420 metres long and about 40 metres high, whose scale is the largest among the grottoes in Sichuan Province. The grottoes and shrines there are arranged layer upon layer, which reach 13 layers at most. It was recorded on a stone tablet built in the fourth year (1854) of the Xianfeng rein in the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) that there used to be altogether more than 17,000 statues on the cliff. However in 1935, about half of the statues were destroyed when the cliff was blown up to make for the Chuanshan Road. Now, there only exist more than 400 shrines and grottoes, and more than 7,000 statues. According tothe History of Guangyuan County, there are 27 segments of the Tang Dynasty (618-907), 5 segments of the Five Dynasties Period (907-960), 26 segments of the Song Dynasty (960-1279), 26 segments of the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368), 8 segments of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1911), and 41 segments without exact record of date. Besides these, there are one more hundred inscriptions and Cliffside stone carvings of the Tang, Song, Yuan, Ming, Qing Dynasties.

Taking the Dayun Cave as the centre, the statues on the Thousand-Buddha Cliff can be divided into two parts: the north and the south. The famous grottoes in the south part include the Big Buddha Cave, the Lotus Cave, the Sakyamuni Cave, the Thousand-Buddha Cave, the Sleeping Buddha Cave, and the Multi Treasures Buddha Cave, etc.; those in the north part include the Three World Buddhas (Amida Buddha, Sakyamuni Buddha and Bhaisajyaguru Buddha) Grotto, the Maitreya Buddha Grotto, theThree Buddha Bodies Shrines, the Vairocana Buddha Shrine, and the Hiding Buddha Cave of the Qing Dynasty, etc. There is a fine collection of the carving works from the Northern and Southern Dynasties Period (386-581), Tang, Song to Qing dynasties (618-1911), all of which have feature particular artistic flavour and exquisite craftsmanship.

The Dayun Cave, lying in the centre of the Thousand-Buddha Cliff, is 3.8 metres high, 3.6 metres wide and 10.6 metres long. In the right middle of the cave, there is a standing statue of the Maitreya Buddha (Laughing Buddha), with broad shoulder, fat body, round face, and curved eyebrows. He seems composed and happy, exposing his abdomen with eternal laugh. Behind the statue there is a cone-shaped stone wall, along both sides of which are carved many small shrines and Bodhisattvas. There are two deep shrines cut in each side, which house seven statues, including one Buddha, two disciples, two Bodhisattvas and two Hercules. The two walls were carved into half-round, engraved with 148 Bodhisattvas, all in attires flying in the sky and showing very special dispositions.

The Buddhas in the Big Buddha Cave and the Three-Sage Shrine, with small eyes and thin lips, look fine and delicate. The attendants, with prominent foreheads and deep Nasolabial folds, seem simple and elegant. Their hair is arranged into two buns on the top of the head, and two ribbons hanging from the ears and the capes are placed in front of the abdomens. The two grottoes are different from other ones in terms of the features of the Lotus Throne and the Buddha Shrine. They must have been the works of the Southern and Northern Dynasties Period. There are inscriptions written in the first year (555) of the Tiancheng reign of the Liang Kingdom in the Southern Dynasty (420-589) in the Three-Sage Grotto on the right side of the Dayun Cave. The three statues in the grotto, with simple and unsophisticated facial expressions and elegant clothes, are similar to the statues in Big Buddha Cave, and all of them are the earliest statues in the Thousand-Buddha Cliff.

The Lotus Cave was named after a lotus with a diameter of 1.2 metres in the right middle of the sunk panel. People in the Song Dynasty (960-1279) painted peonies around the lotus, and the seedpod of lotus was painted as Bagua Taiji (the Diagram of the Eight Trigrams and Cosmological Scheme) of Taoism. In the east, north and south walls of the cave, each one has a big shrine, with one Buddha and two attendants in it. The Buddhas, with a round face and broad shoulders, are in the round-collared clothes with cassock covering just one shoulder, and there is a peach-shaped halo behind each Buddha. In the space between the three shrines, there are 96 small shrines and 130 more statues such as Buddha, Arhat and Bodhisattva. In the Sleeping Buddha Cave, the Sakyamuni was sleeping on one side, with serene expression. The disciples standing behind him are in different postures and expressions. Some of them are beating their breasts, some are crying or sobbing. At each side of the Buddha, stands a Bodhisattva, who is against a Borneo Tree that has a dragon crouching around the trunk. There are two series of basso-relievos on the north wall of the grotto, narrating the story ofthe Buddha burning himself in the gold coffin. This shrine is the masterpiece of the stone-carved statues of the Tang Dynasty.

There are other exquisitely-carved small shrines in the Thousand-Buddha Cliff, in which are vivid figures, such as the artists in Hu dressing, goddess dancing with the music, flying man with two wings, soldiers in a suit of armour, all kinds of birds and beasts, fairy tales and so on. It is the treasure house of the art of China ancient grottoes because of their rich contents.

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