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Famous Antique Buddha Statues of Longmen Grottoes, China

By Devik Balami at
longmen grottoes

The Longmen Grottoes is situated at 12 Km south of present-day Luoyang in Henan province, China. It is believed that the Longmen Grottoes is the finest example of Chinese Buddhist art. As it houses tens of thousands of Buddha Statues and his disciples carved in the west and east cliffs of the Mt. Longmen inside man-made and natural caves. The height of the antique Buddha statues varies from 1 inch to 57 feet in height. Apart from Antique Buddha statues, the area also contains nearly 2500 Stelae and inscriptions. It is recorded that 30% of the statues were carved during the Northern Wei Dynasty, 60% of the statues were carved during the Tang Dynasty, and remaining other 10% of the statues were carved during different other Dynasties.

Antique Buddha Statues in the main Longmen Grotto

In the main Grotto, there are several Grottoes with the Buddhist sculptures and inscriptions carved in. Most of these sculptures are built during the 5th, 6th, and 7th century. Among them, most peculiar ones are Guyang-Dong, Binyang-Dong, Fengxian-si.

Guyang-Dong

Guyang-dong is also known as old sun cave. This is the oldest Longmen cave and is situated in the central part of the west hill. This cave was carved in the Northern Wei style under the direct order of Emperor Xiaowen. One of the unique features of Northern Wei style is slim and emaciated figures. The Antique Buddha Statues in this cave are very well made. The cave is carved with three very large statues of Sakyamuni Buddha and two other Bodhisattva. The Sakyamuni Buddha statues are carved in the middle and other two Bodhisattvas are carved at the sides of the Sakyamuni Buddha. Apart from these large Buddha statues, there are about 800 inscriptions on the walls.

Bingyang-dong

Bingyang-dong has three caves, North Binyang Cave, Middle Binyang Cave and South Binyang Cave. Among these three caves, Middle Binyang Cave is the most prominent.

North Binyang cave or Binyang Bei Dong was initiated by order of Emperor Xuanwu of the Northern Wei. It was dedicated to his parents Emperor Xiaowen and Empress Wenzhao. The main feature of this Cave is the large statue of Amitabha Buddha in seating posture. He has depicted in Abhaya mudra with the patterned halo behind his head. At the north and south sides of the walls, there is the statue of two large standing Bodhisattvas in each side depicted in different hand mudras. Apart from these large statues, there are other small sized statues carved in the walls of the cave.

Middle Binyang cave or Binyang Zhong Dong is situated on the west hills of the Mt. Longmen. The statues in this cave were built by Emperor Xuanwun which is carved in the Datang style. The main motive to build this cave was to commemorate the Emperor's Father Xiaowen and his mother. It is recorded that around 8, 00,000 workers worked for this cave over the period from 500 to 523 CE. The wall of this cave has nine large statues of Buddha, Bodhisattvas and his disciple build in Northern Wei style. Sakyamuni Buddha was carved in the middle of the wall while two Bodhisattvas and two disciples were carved on each side of the walls. Sakyamuni Buddha is depicted in a seating position showing Abhaya Mudra with the halo behind his head. The Bodhisattvas and disciples are carved in a standing position with different hand mudras. Apart from these important Antique Buddha Statues, there are other statues as well carved on the walls. The ceiling is carved with a lotus flower.

South Binyang cave or Binyang Nan Dong was built by Li Tai in the memory of his mother Empress Zhangsun. His father was Li Shimin, the first Tang Emperor. The statues in this cave have five very large images which were carved in 641 AD. The statues are of Amitabha Buddha, Bodhisattvas, and his disciples. The Amitabha Buddha is depicted in the seating position with Abhaya Mudra. The statue has large halo behind the back of the Amitabha Buddha's head. At the north and south sides of the wall, there are two sculptures- Bodhisattva and a disciple in both sides. These statues are depicted in standing position with different hand mudras. Only Boddhisattavas have a halo behind their back of the head. Apart from the five main Buddha statues, there are other statues as well which are carved in the walls of the cave.

Fengxian

Fengxian cave is also called as Li Zhi Cave or Feng Xian si Cave. This cave is the largest of all caves which measure 39 m high 35 m wide that are carved on the west hill which is built between 672 CE and 676 CE. This cave was built by Empress Wu Zetian and is believed that this sculpture is the ultimate in the architectural perfection of the Tang Dynasty. The cave has nine huge antique Buddha statues which are the largest Buddha statue of the Longmen Grottoes. The highly impressive image of Vairocana Buddha is carved in the back wall of the cave. The height of Buddha statue is 17.14 m which were built in 676 as mentioned in the inscription at the base of this figure. The Buddha is depicted in the seating position with plumpish, peaceful and natural expression. Therefore, this Vairocana statue is considered to be the quintessence of Buddhist sculpture in China. Apart from this huge statue, four other huge statues are of Bodhisattvas, his two principal disciples - Kasyapa and Ananda. They are depicted in standing position with different hand mudras. In addition to these sculptures, there are numerous sculptures of guardians, temple guards, flying devas etc.

The Buddha statues carved in Longmen Grottoes are from 4th century at its earliest so many statues have ruined therefore there is undergoing projects for the preservation of these statues. The effort of preservation has added up when UNESCO has listed this site as a historical monument. This site was added to the list of the UNESCO World Heritage Lists in 2000 CE and the inscription installed by the UNESCO mentions as an outstanding manifestation of human artistic creativity.