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31 Dec 2014

Yungang Grottoes, Datong China

Datong [大通] • 31 DECEMBER 2014
The Yungang Grottoes are excellent examples of Buddhist cave art, dating from the 5th and 6th centuries. They are located near the city of Datong in the Chinese province of Shanxi. The site stretches about 1 kilometer from east to west, and holds 53 caves with 51,000 statues.

Yungang is a relic of the Northern Wei Dynasty (386-534) of the nomadic Toba people. They recruited 3,000 monks from along the Silk Route to turn Buddhism into their state religion.

The caves can be divided into 3 phases:
1 - Caves 16-20 (Five Caves of Tan Yao, where the Wei-rulers were depicted as living Buddhas). Caves 16-20 are the earliest at Yungang. 
2 - Caves 1, 2, 3, 5-13 (more varied and Chinese in concept).
3 - Caves 4, 14, 15, 20 and the rest (smaller caves).
During these phases, the 'foreign' Indian Buddhism turned into a Chinese folk religion. 

The seated Buddha of Cave 20 is either Amitabha (based on his hands-together meditation posture) or Shakyamuni (based on the idea that this cave represents the Three Buddhas of the Past, Present, and Future).

In 494, the Wei moved their capital from Datong to Luoyang and the Yungang Grottoes slowly fell into decay. The caves used to be protected by wooden temple buildings, but most of them burnt down. Many of the artwork was stolen in the early 20th century and now resides in museums and private collections around the world. 

The Yungang Grottoes, known as Wuzhoushan Grottoes in ancient times, are located on the southern foot of the Wuzhou Mountains, in the Shi Li River valley, 16 km west of Datong City. They consist of 252 caves of various sizes housing more than 51,000 statues; the site extends much as 1 km east-west. Three main periods can be identified in the construction: the Early Period (460-65), the Middle Period (c . 471-94) and the Late Period (494-525). Apart from the grottoes, the nominated core area includes the remains of a castle, a defence wall, and a beacon tower of the Ming dynasty on the plain above the grottoes. 

The grottoes of the early period (460-65) are composed of five main caves; these magnificent and simple caves were dug under the direction of the monk Tan Yao and are named after him. For the layout of the grottoes, large caves were dug to house the giant statues, 13-15m tall. They have a U-shaped plan and arched roofs, imitating the thatched sheds in ancient India. Each cave has a door and a window. The central images have tall bodies and occupy the major part of the caves, while on the outer walls 1,000 Buddhist statues are carved, a feature rarely seen in the tradition of Chinese history of grotto carving.

The 14m-tall seated Buddha of Cave 20 is an icon of Chinese art, comparable to the colossal exposed Buddhas of Dunhuang and Longmen. It was originally flanked by a pair of smaller standing buddhas, of which only the eastern figure now remains.

It is is one of China's biggest grottoes with world-famous treasure-collection of arts and culture

World Heritage Site by the UNESCO in 2001, Yungang Grottoes represent the excellent achievement of Buddhist sculptural art of ancient China, and it is the largest among the four most famous ancient grotto complexes in China

Nanjiao, Datong, Shanxi, China
+86 352 320 6818

Information : TravelChinaGuide
Admission Fee: CNY 120
Opening Hours: 8:30 - 17:20 (April 15 - October 27)
8:30 - 17:00 (October 28 - April 14)
9:30 - 16:30 (the exhibition hall)

Time for a Visit:Two hours
Bus Route:Take bus No. 4 at Datong Railway Station and get off at Xin Kai Li. Then transfer to bus No. 3-1 to Yungang Grottoes.
There are other bus routes but it is advisable to take taxi or hire a van from downtown Datong to the Grottoes directly. The cost should be about CNY50.


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