Yungang Grottoes (Cloud Ridge Caves) Yungang Grottoes (Cloud Ridge Caves)

                        

       

    Yungang Grottoes as a treasure house of rare and splendid Chinese sculptures enjoys worldwide fame.
    Yungang Grottoes is located at the southern foot of Mt Wuzhou, about 16 kilometers west of Datong City, Shanxi Province. These grottoes are the main reason most people make it to Datong. The grottoes contain over 50,000 Buddihist statues and stretch for about 1 km east to west.
    The Yungang Grottoes were first hewn in 453, the second year of the Xingan reign of the Northern Wei Dynasty, more than 1,500 years ago. Most of the principal caves had been completed by the year 495. With its 53 existing rock caves and over 51000 statues, Yungang Grottoes is a treasure house of ancient Buddhist art, the largest of its kind in China. It is as famous as the Longmen Grottoes in Luoyang and Mogao Grottoes in Dunhuang, Gansu Province.
    The 53 grottoes in Yungang Grottos include some 1,000 niches with about 51,000 statues – a treasure-trove of cave art that combines traditional Chinese art forms with foreign influence, particularly Greek and Indian. Sculptures here are noted for their vigorous features and rich variety that range from the smallest, only 2 centimeters high, to the tallest – a Buddha 17-meters high. The tallest Buddha is surrounded by many small Buddhas in Grotto No. 5, also called the Big Buddha's Cave.
    The grottoes are composed of the following three parts: the early rock caves (altogether five) in the west, mostly oval-shaped and planned on a large scale, the main statue reaching the height of 17 meters; the grottoes in the middle, oblong in shape and of two chambers, with the main statue in the center and the walls, arches and roofs covered with Buddhist relief sculptures; the square grottoes, each with a pagoda-shaped central column, also excellently sculptured, attainting to the roof while the walls are carved with niches enshrining Buddhist statues. The principal statue of the Buddhist in Cave No.20 is 13.7 meters high and well preserved above the chest. Executed in a well filled-out figure, the statue with vivid eyes and broad shoulders is a representative of the sculptural art of the Yungang Grottoes.

    Caves 1-4

      

    These early caves, with their characteristic square floor plan, are at the far eastern end, and are separated from the others. Caves 1 and 2 contain carved pagodas. Cave 3 is the largest in this group, although it contains only a seated Buddha flanked by two Bodhisattvas.

    Caves 5-13

   

    Yungang art is at its best in this group, especially in caves 5 and 6, which boast walls of wonderfully carved Buddhist tales and processions. Cave 5 also contains a colossal seated Buddha almost 17m high. Cave 6 contains a richly carved pagoda, and an entrance flanked by fierce guardians. In the centre of the rear chamber stands a two-storey pagoda-pillar about 15m high. On the lower part of the pagoda are four niches with carved images, including one of the Maitreya Buddha(Future Buddha).Gautama Buddha's life story from birth to his attainment of nirvana is carved in the east, south and west walls of the cave and on two sides of the pagoda.
    Caves 7 and 8 are linked and  contain carvings with Hindu influences. Shiva, with eight arms and three heads, and seated on a bull, is on one side of the entrance to cave 8. On the other side is the multifaced Indra, perched on a peacock. Caves 9 and 10 are notable for their front pillars and figures bearing musical insruments. These instruments appear again in cave 12, while cave 13 has a 15m high Buddha statue, its right hand propped upby a figurine.
 
    Caves 16-20

                                                  

    These caves were carved in about AD 460 and the Buddha in each one represents an emperor from the Northern Wei dynasty. The Buddha in cave 18 represents Emperor Taiwu, who was once a great patron of Buddhism, but later came to favour Taoism.
    After a revolt that he blamed on the Buddhists, Taiwu ordered the destruction of Buddhist statues, monasteries and temples. His son is said to have died of a broken heart, having been unable to prevent his father's atrocities, and was posthumously awarded the title of emperor.
    Taiwu's grandson Emperor Wencheng, who restored Buddhism to the dynasty, is represented b the 14m-high seated Buddha of cave 20.
    Cave 21 and onwards are small, in poor condition and can't compare to their better preserved counterparts.
    Yungang Grottoes have been damaged by both war and natural disasters over the past 1,500 years since their completion.  A special Yungang Grottoes protection institution was set up in 1995, and in 1961, the State Council listed Yungang Grottoes as key cultural site under its protection. In 1965, the Datong municipal government issued and implemented the Programs for the Protection Scope and Safety of Yungang Grottoes. From 1973 to 1976, under the instruction of Premier Zhou Enlai, China injected a huge sum of money into the grottoes, rescuing many grottoes and caves that had been on the verge of collapse.

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