More than a thousand years ago, Buddhist and Taoist sects fiercely competed for ascendancy and imperial endorsement. As power changed hands and religious orders came in and out of favor, the victors would create new monuments to their gods and destroy the old ones. One result was that significantly stronger materials were employed to build religious monuments, being hard to destroy, and the monuments got bigger. The monumental Dazu art testifies to this trend.
The Dazu Rock Carvings and statues are scattered over some 70 sites in Chongqing’s DazuCounty. The statues here are stylistically different from those at Yungang and Dunhuang, both of which were much earlier projects. Dating back to the Tang and Song dynasties, the carvings at Dazu are purely Chinese in style, whereas earlier caves at Longmen, Dunhuang and Yungang have very obvious foreign influences. Revealing Buddhist, Taoist, and Confucian influences, the Dazu carvings range from small, intimate statues dedicated by pious families to massive reclining Buddhas, requiring hundreds of artisans. A welcome break from Chongqing’s urban sprawl, the sites unfold over the idyllic scenery of rolling hills, placid farms and the red earth of the Sichuanbasin.
Of the two major sites, BaodingMountain, though further out of town, are far superior. Constructed from 1179 to 1249, the works range from near miniature to massive. Whether enjoying the artwork, the religious zeal or the beauty of the area, it’s well worth spending half a day.
Fortunately, this site is 2km from DazuCounty and can be reached by a 30-minute walk from the bus station. Atop the site, good views can be had of the surrounding countryside.
At the center is the giant Reclining Buddha ,some 31m long and 5m high. Entering Nirvana, the expression on his face is one of peace and happiness. Flanking him is a 1,007-armed, gold Avalokitesvara. In each hand is an eye symbolizing all encompassing wisdom.
Although still somewhat shrouded in mystery, Tantric monk Zhao Zhifeng is credited with founding this site. Built on a mountainside with a monastery perched on top, the lower section is filled with sculpted figures carved into a cliff. Unlike Dazu’s other sites with Buddhist carvings, The sculptures at Baoding was carefully planned out, utilizing the natural features of the rock to accentuate the work.
North Mountainis smaller and requires less time. It’s believed that this was originally a military camp and that a general, perhaps hoping for good fortune in battle, commissioned the earliest statues. Although many of the statues have deteriorated over the centuries, there are a few that still remain in good condition. Among the most notable is Niche 136, which depicts Puxian the patron saint of EmeiMountain riding a white elephant and the goddess of mercy, Guanyin. The Peacock King can be found in Niche 155 .The sheer variety and volume of statues here dazzles, there are heroes of the Buddhist faith, historical figures and scenes and depictions of daily life in the countryside. While nearly 800years have past since these grottos were made, many of the statues have held up remarkably well, though wind has eroded some and paint has pealed off others.