Buddhism came to China from it’s birthplace in India via the Silk Road in the 1st century. Since then, the religion has had many ups and downs in China, but there is no denying the imprint it has left on the country’s culture.All over China, one can find dedications to the religion in the form of ancient cave carvings, monasteries and temples.
More recently, China’s love for and expertise in building the “world’s biggest so-and-so” has crossed over to dedications to the Lord Buddha. The Spring Temple Buddha in Henan province is the world’s tallest statue at 128 m tall. Scrolling down the list of the world’s tallest statues, the date of completions for each are in the late 20th and 21st centuries. Except.
#16- the LeShan Giant Buddha. Height- 71m, Year of completion- 803 AD
For comparison, the next oldest statue on the list is the 56 m tall Statue of Liberty completed in 1886. Construction of the Buddha took 90 years (including delays due to financial constraints)
A more apt comparison would be the Bamiyan Buddhas in Afghanistan which were blown up by the Taliban in 2001. The larger Buddha, completed in 554 AD and 55 m tall, used to be the tallest standing Buddha carving in the world. It, too, lies on the Silk Road showing how this ancient trade route helped the spread of Buddhism.
I find it hard to believe now that I had never heard of the LeShan DaFo (“Da” or 大 means big, 佛 or “Fo” means Buddha) before I moved to China. When my parents decided to come over in October’11, I made arrangements for us to go see DaFo.
What’s DaFo’s story?
– DaFo, the world’s tallest sitting Buddha carving, is carved into the cliff-face overlooking the confluence of three rivers (Wiki)
– A Chinese monk, Haitong led the construction in the hope that the Buddha will calms the turbulent waters. Amazingly, this idea actually worked because the rubble from construction was deposited on the riverbed calming the waters.
– Body-part Statistics: Ears- 7m, shoulders- 28 m, fingers- 3m, instep-8m, hair- 1021 buns (Travel China Guide)
Should we walk or take the ferry?
The walk is the ideal way to see Dafo. Only take the ferry if
- You’re travelling with people who can’t walk or don’t want to walk
- You’re in a hurry
- You really need a photograph of DaFo in his entirety. The ferry hangs around the front of the Buddha for about 15 minutes letting people take pictures
- Consists of a uphill path through the foliage to the ear-level of DaFo and takes about 20 minutes.
- the walk down to feet level is via a precarious stairway carved into the cliff. It wasn’t crowded when we were there allowing us to great photos on the way down. (the staircase is visible in the top left photograph)
- Remember to send your folks down ahead of you so you can take an aerial picture of them on DaFo’s 8m long foot.
- At the bottom, you can offer prayers, pay for incense sticks or just admire the grandeur of DaFo
- The walk up is long and steep. If you’re with elderly people, I would suggest leaving them on top. The climb takes a lot of you. On the plus side, there’s gardens and temples to explore on the way up
- There is no official luggage deposit place at the North gate. For 5-10 RMB, you can ask the shops opposite the gate to hoard your luggage. You definitely don’t want to walk with luggage.
How to get there?
- Take a bus from Chengdu to LeShan. Buses leave every half an hour (Travel China guide)
- At LeShan bus station, avoid the touts. To avoid the hassle of bargaining for the cab, a rickety bus leaves from the Bus Station and goes all the way to the North gate. Ticket is only 5 RMB.
- Jessica Marsden gives a valuable tip that we followed without realizing: If you’re dropped off at the East gate, you have to pass through (and pay the entry fee for) the Oriental Buddha Park. Go directly to the North gate to avoid the park.
- If you plan to go to Emei Shan, there are buses that go from LeShan bus station to Emei Shan bus station. We hired a car on the fly for 100 RMB and the drive took us about an hour.
Can I do Leshan and EmeiShan together?
Yes, you can. Yes, you should. I cover that in my next post on Emei Shan.
Like the Great Wall, it never ceases to amaze me what our forefathers accomplished without modern equipment. The audacity of the Chinese monk Haitong to come up with the idea of carving out a 67 m tall Buddha out of the hillside and then go ahead and do it blows me away. I’m glad that my parents got to visit a site that very few Indians visit or even know of.