EXTRA: Shengshou Temple, Baodingshan Grottoes, Dazu, Chongqing

(This article was published in the Shenzhen Daily on March 17, 2014.)

The Mountain Gate (山门) of Shengshou Temple (圣寿寺) at the world-class
Baodingshan Grottoes (宝顶山石窟) in Dazu, Chongqing (重庆, 大足)
June 17, 2012 - Like many of its sisters, Shengshou ("Longevity") Temple has been destroyed and rebuilt several times, most recently in the Qing Dynasty. Unlike most, however, it is the ritual center of a magnificent complex of stone grottoes.

Built in 1179 at "Xiao Fo Wan," or Small Buddha Cove, it was the forerunner of what was to become the Baodingshan Grotto complex, the centerpiece of which is "Da Fo Wan," the Large Buddha Cove that lies before it.

On the day of my visit in 2012 the temple was undergoing a massive facelift, and Xiao Fo Wan, said to be home to some 2,000 carved statues, was closed to visitors. The temple, though swathed in scaffolding and green net, was open, however, offering a fascinating peek into this ancient site.

The temple is comprised of five main halls: The Hall of Shakra (the Hindu god Indra), The Hall of the Great Buddha, The Hall of the Buddhas of Three Times, The Yuan Tong (Guan Yin) Hall, and The Vimalakirti Hall.

These last two were of especial interest. The Da Fo Wan had had a magnificent image of Guan Yin with a Thousand Arms that was, unfortunately, closed for repairs. But the Yuan Tong Hall in Shengshou Temple had a shinier reproduction that gave some sense of the original.

The Vimalakirti Hall at the top of the hill is named for an idealized layman, central figure of his own sutra. It's interesting that there should be a hall dedicated to a layman, as there is some question whether Zhao Zhifeng--who built the temple and oversaw the carving of the grottoes--was a duly ordained monk, or something of a smooth-talking charlatan.

In any case, though the hall was stripped down to the bare beams, there were some fine old headless statues in the front that were worth the climb up the stairs.

Shengshou Temple was a fine finish to my day at Baodingshan, and I hope to return someday to see the portions that were closed on my visit.

GPS Info:
  • 29.75213, 105.79810



More pictures can be found here.

The ornate main gate of Shengshou Temple, Baodingshan, Dazu  (similar postcard above)
The Indra Hall with scaffolding
Ancient, headless statues in front of the Vimalakirti Hall
Statue of Zhao Zhifeng in front of the Baodingshan Visitors' Center

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