Dazu Rock Carvings
They are a UNESCO World Heritage Site and have been since 1999. The oldest of the Dazu Rock Carvings dates back to the 7th century, while the majority come from the 9th century on.
What makes the Dazu carvings so special is not their scale — they cover small areas compared to those at Datong, Luoyang and Dunhuang — but their quality, state of preservation and variety of subjects and styles. Some sculptures are small, some are huge; many are brightly painted and tell religious, moral and historical stories.
The designated area consists of five separate sites of cliffside carvings: Beishan, Baodingshan, Nanshan, Shizhuanshan and Shimenshan. The grottoes found in Baoding are generally considered the most impressive of the Dazu Rock Carvings, in part because of the relatively short time in which they were all carved. The more than 10,000 carvings found here were all created over a seventy-year period, and were overseen by one monk, Zhao Zhifeng, who devoted his entire life to their creation. The Cave of Full Enlightenment is a popular place in Baoding, looked over by guardian lions, with carvings of clouds on the roof, and the Buddhist trinity. Afterwards is a beautiful rendition of the Wheel of Life. The Reclining Buddha in this section is also a perennial favorite among visitors, and is followed by an intricate and tortured rendition of the Eighteen Layers of Hell.
Bei Shan Carvings
The Bei Shan carvings are the oldest works at Dazu, begun in 892 AD. They were started by the military governor Wei Junjing, who was posted here while campaigning against Sichuanese insurgents. The sculptures here are somewhat worn and formal in execution, making an interesting comparison with the more lively sculptures of Baoding Shan. They fill 264 numbered recesses in two groups and are protected by an awning.
The first group is the oldest and features several military pieces, including a life-sized Wei Junjing dressed in armor. Tucked away in the first niche beside the entrance, this was sculpted by a defeated Shu warlord. The second group is dated back to the 12th century and is spread over a 500-meter-long overhang. The sculptures here mostly feature Kwanyin, the Goddess of Mercy, accompanied by monks, nuns and the donors who funded the project.
Baoding Shan Carvings
Variously exciting, comic and realistic, the Baoding Shan carvings are unmissable. They are the life work of the monk Zhao Zheifeng, who raised the money and designed the carving work from 1179 to 1245. This accounts for the unusually harmonious nature of the 10,000 sculptures here.
Dafowan is the most impressive group of carvings on Baoding Shan, with 31 niches incorporated into the inner side of a broad, horseshoe-shaped gully. The sculptures depict scenes from the Buddhist scriptures intercut with images of daily life. They are all in amazing condition given their exposure to the weather. The Cave of Full Enlightenment is a lion-guarded deep grotto with 12 life-sized lohans surrounding the Buddhist trinity and a roof carved with clouds. An overhang beyond is decorated with demonic guardian figures painted in blue, red and green; this is followed by Anicca holding the wheel of predestination.
Midway around the site, visitors come upon a 20-meter-long Reclining Buddha inset into the cliff face, fronted by realistic portraits of important donors. The following two panels, Parental Kindness and Sakyamuni's Filial Piety, interestingly use Buddhist themes to illustrate Confucian morals. Next is the Eighteen Layers of Hell, a horrific scene interspersed with amusing images like the Hen Wife and the Drunkard and His Mother. The final panel illustrates the life of Liu Benzun, a Tang-dynasty ascetic from Leshan showing strong Tantric influence.
Bei Shan Carvings: 60 yuan; students 25 yuan; joint ticket with Baoding Shan Carvings 120 yuan
Baoding Shan Carvings: 80 yuan; students 45 yuan; joint ticket with Bei Shan Carvings 120 yuan
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