Dazu Rock Carvings
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 Dazu County. The statues here are stylistically different from those at Yungang Grottoes and Dunhuang Mogao Caves, 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 statuesdedicated by pious families to massive reclining Buddhas, requiring hundreds of artisans. A welcome break from Chongqing's urban sprawl, the sites unfold over theidyllic scenery of rolling hills, placid farmsand the red earth of the Sichuan basin.
Of the two major sites, North Mountain (is 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 Emei Mountain riding a white elephant and the goddess of mercy, Guanyin. The Peacock King can be found in Niche 155.
Fortunately, this site is 2 km from Dazu County 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.
The sculptures at Baoding Mountain, though further out of town, are far superior. Constructed from 1179 to 1249, the works range from near miniature to massive. Whether enjoying theartwork, the religious zeal or the beauty ofthe area, it's well worth spending half a day.
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, Baoding was carefully planned out, utilizing the natural features of the rock to accentuate the work.
At the center is the giant, Reclining Buddha some 31m long and 5m high.Entering Nirvana, the expression on his faceis one of peace and happiness. Flanking him is a 1,007-armed, gold Avalokitesvara. Ineach hand is an eye symbolizing allencompassing wisdom.
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 800 years 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. About 15km outside of town, reached by a 30 to 45-minute bus ride, the ride out to Baoding takes in solo sculptures carved along the winding road.