Mt. Wutai

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 Mt. Wutai

Wutai Mountain has the longest and most prestigious history in the four well-known Buddhist holy lands and the only mountain where both Chinese Buddhism and Tibetan Lamaism are practiced. For hundreds of years, Wutai Mountain has been China's most sacred Buddhist ground mainly because it was where the highly revered Manjusri, the Bodhisattva of wisdom, once lived and taught Buddhism. As the most trusted aide of Sakyamuni, the founder of Buddhism, he drew emperors from various dynasties here on pilgrimages, adding more significance to the mountain.

Wutai Mountain is a famous scenic spot under national protection.

Located in Shanxi Province's Wutai Country, 240 kilometers from the provincial capital of Taiyuan, the mountain is actually a cluster of five terrace-like peaks, hence the name Wutai(Five Terraces). Its cool and pleasant summer climate has also given rise to another name: Qingliang(Cool and Pleasant) Mountain. The mountain has been regarded as an ideal place for escaping summer heat since ancient times.

During the reign of the Emperor Mingdi of the Eastern Han dynasty (25-220), people started to cut into the mountain and build temples there. In later dynasties building and repairing of the temple continued, which resulted in a large complex of ancient structures. In its heyday, the mountain had over 300 temples housing more than 10,000 monks. Today, 47 of these temples are still in good condition. Within their walls is a rich legacy of over 100,000 superb sculptures and paintings, along with a great quantity of Buddhist cultural relics.

With a history of 1,200 years, the main hall of the Nanchan Temple on the mountain, which houses 17 painted figurines, is the earliest wooden structure of its kind preserved in China today. And it's a real treasure of China. Its eaves stretch out, and the hall has not a single column. Its outer appearance looks simple and its structure concise. The smallest of all the temples in the Wutai Mountain area is Nanchan Temple near Lijiazhuang Village, 22 kilometers southwest of Wutai. The Buddha statues in the hall are vividly sculpted and lifelike, and in terms of Tang Dynasty art, they are similar in style to those found in the Mogao Grottos in Dunhuang.

Several kilometers north of Nanchan Temple is Foguang Temple, an amazing temple built on different levels following the slope of the mountain and embraced by green hills on three sides. Built on terraced land, Foguang Temple consists of three courtyards, each higher than the one in front. The highest structure is the East Hall. Inside this magnificent hall are 530 painted clay statues in addition to the 35 placed on the altar, all from the Tang and Ming Dynasties(618-1644). The painted clay figurines, 12 frescos, the writings on roof beams and the style of the structure are considered by authorities of ancient Chinese architecture as "four uniquenesses in one hall".

The Big White Pagoda for Buddha's Sarira, the symbol of the Mt. Wutai, is said to have been built there before the Emperor Mingdi of the Eastern Han dynasty. The pagoda, Nepalese style in shape, has a base circumference of 83.3 meters and is 75.3 meters high. Inside the pagoda, there is small India-made iron stupa, where some remains of Sakyamuni are keptXiantong Temple is the oldest temple in China. Nestled in the center of the town of Taihuai, the First Guesthouse of Wutai Mountain was once the west compound of Xiantong Temple; even today an entrance connects it with the temple proper. Originally built in the year 68 during the Eastern Han Dynasty, it has been placed under state protection. Covering eight hectares, the temple has 400 halls, the biggest on Mt.Wutai. Inside, there is a pure copper hall cast in the Ming Dynasty, engraved with fine patterns and bronze Buddhist figurines. On the sides, two 13-storied bronze towers, each with a height of eight meters, are covered with cast Buddhist figurines, carved patterns and various inscriptions. The two towers and the engraved decorations were also made in the Ming dynasty. In front of the temple stands a tall wooden bell tower with a huge 5000-kilogram bronze bell cast during the Ming Dynasty(1368-1644). It is the largest bell on the mountain. The hall of Buddhist Scriptures in the temple keeps more than 200 pieces of Buddhist works. The temple also boasts other famous ancient architectures such as the Hall of Measureless.

A set of 108 stone steps leads to a Qing-dynasty memorial archway supported by four pillars to Zhenrong Temple, which is also called Pusading (Bodhisattva Summit) Temple, on Lingjiu Peak behind Xiantong. On the tablet at the top of the archway are four characters reading "Lingfeng Holy Ground" in the hand-writing of Emperor Kangxi(1662-1722). It is said that once you have walked up the stone steps and entered the Lingfeng Holy Ground, all your worries will disappear.

Further up is a section of road called the Imperial Path - a sloped road with nine dragons carved along its center. It is said that during the Qing-dynasty(1644-1911) only emperors were allowed to tread on the carved dragons. The steps lead into the temple courtyard, where the roofs of all the halls are covered with glazed yellow tiles. In the courtyard are various stelae erected under emperors' decrees, carved with the grandeur and magnificence only associated with imperial palaces. Bodhisattva Summit Temple actually looks like a miniature version of the Potala Palace in Lhasa, therefore it also called Lama Palace.

In both the front and rear courtyards are several copper cauldrons over two meters in diameter. Every year on the 14th day of the sixth lunar month a grand birthday ceremony is staged for Manjusri, when these cauldrons are used to cook rice and steam buns for all the lamas on Wutai Mountain.

Numerous temples on Mt. Wutai contain many relics and have different features. In Luohou Temple, one can see the wonder of "Buddha appears amid flowers". Shuxing Temple has the largest halls and statues. Jinge Temple has gilded copper tiles. Bishan Temple is famous for its Burmese-made jade Buddhas. The picture of "Bodhisattva Sending Offsprings" at Nanshan Temple is done with fine skills, and the temple also has 84 frescoes engraved in the Ming dynasty. Youguo Temple is full of engravings, and has more than 1,160 pieces of carvings. Zhenhai Temple, which had Zhang Jia Living Buddha from Tibet as its abbot, has the finest Lamaist pagoda. Longquan Temple is famous for its three white marble structures: screen wall, gate way and pagoda.