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Antique Buddha Statue in Bingling Temple

By Devik Balami at
qingning jia

Bingling Temple is a series of grottoes, in which Buddha Statues along with statues of other bodhisattvas, etc. are carved into natural caves and caverns in a canyon along Yellow river. This site is located on the small Jishi Hill 35 km west of the Yongjing Country of Linxia Autonomous Prefecture in Gansu province, around 100 km southeast of Lanzhou. The grottoes are considered to be second most valuable in terms of artistic value, and the first one to be Mogao Caves.

In the Tibetan Language, the term, "Bingling" means "ten thousand Buddhas". The name of the temple got according to the Buddhas installed in this temple. Another name for Bingling Temple is Bingling thousand Buddha caves. It is recorded that the first cave of this temple was dug around 420 CE during the Northern Wei Dynasty. Even after the Northern Wei Dynasty, the construction of the Caves and installation of the statues were continued. This construction was carried out during the period of Wei, Sui, Tang, Song, Yuan, Ming, and Qing dynasties. When one observes the caves and the statues, then he or she can easily distinguish the artwork of particular dynasties. The Bingling Temple is stylish and is considered to be the geographical midpoint between the monumental Buddhas of Bamiyan in Afghanistan and the Buddhist Grottoes of central China; also between Yungang grottoes which are near Datong and Longmen Grottoes near Luoyang.

bingling temple

History associated with Bingling temple

Once Han Emperor of China named Mingdi had a dream. He saw a golden figure in his dream and he asked about the dream to his adviser. In reply, he said that the figure was none other than the Buddha, himself. Therefore, the emperor Mingdi sent his men, Cai Yin to learn about the Buddha and the religion to Central Asia. Cai Yin returned China with two fellow Buddhists monk and Buddhist scriptures. The Buddhism slowly started to spread over the China and with the popularity, people, monks started to build Buddhists temples. Slowly they started to build the Buddhist Grottoes as well and one of them is Bingling Grottoes. The cave was started during the Northern Wei Dynasty and continued till Qing Dynasty. But during the Late Tang Dynasty, the rulers were turned against Buddhism and therefore they destroyed thousands of Buddhist Temples. After the Tang Dynasty, this kind of acts was not seen and the shrines and monasteries were again increased in number.

It was recorded that in 1969, the government of China decided to build Liujiaxia dams in order to control the yellow river and to generate electricity. The dam helped to collect the water and became the country's biggest hydroelectric power station but it also took about 200 grottoes. Most of the caves were damaged but Bingling Temple's Big Maitreya Buddha escaped the water and survived with little damages. In the current situation, the Antique Buddha Statue is protected by the wall.

Antique Buddha Statue in Bingling Caves

With the passage of time, many of the caves and the artistic values have been damaged or destroyed mainly due to earthquakes, and erosions. Many of the sculptures were also looted by the looters. In the present context, there are altogether 183 caves, 694 statues made up of stone, 82 clay sculptures, and some 900 square m of murals. The cave is stretched up to 200 m on the west cliff of Jishi hill. Among the artistic creation, Antique Buddha Statues of Sakyamuni Buddha, Amitabh Buddha, Maitreya Buddha, and Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara are the focal point of the caves. In Cave No. 169, the beautiful statues of Avalokiteshvara, Dali Buddha, and other deities have been placed. Dali Buddha is portrayed in sitting with leg crossed position. Most of the viewers who observed this statue have expressed their feeling as being very solemn. Either side of this Buddha statues has the statue of Bodhisattvas. Another magnificent statue of Shakyamuni in cave no 125 is also worth observing. The giant statue of Maitreya Buddha carved in the large natural cavern also gets the attention of the people which is built during the Tang Dynasty. This statue is of more than 27 m tall, portrayed in sitting position as if in a chair with Bhumisparsha hand mudra. The statue has robe- draped around the both shoulders. The Unisha is depicted in the small bump in the head. Since the site has numerous artistic statues, the UNESCO listed the Bingling Temple in the World Heritage List on June 22, 2014.