Longmen Grottoes — Royal Stone Carving Caves on Cliff and Buddhist Art Wonders

Panoramic of Longmen Grottoes on West Hill, Photo from Official Site of Longmen Caves.

What is the Longmen Grottoes?

 

Longmen Grottoes or Longmen Caves, an invaluable artistic wonder of Buddhist stone carving, consists of many ancient royal caves constructed mainly during the Northern Wei (386 — 534) and Tang (618 — 907) dynasties.

 

As a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage, Longmen Grottoes holds great religious, artistic, historic, and cultural values.

 

Stone Carving Statues of Longmen Grottoes, Photo by wwbb1961.

History of Longmen Grottoes.

 

In 493, the Emperor Xiaowen of the Northern Wei Dynasty migrated his capital to Luoyang city and built the first Buddhist cave there, to pray for blessing to the departed Empress Dowager Feng.  

 

Since then, more royals and nobles followed his step and opened more caves there.

 

During the early to mid-Tang Dynasty (618 — 907), the construction of Longmen Grottoes reached its peak,  especially during Emperor Gaozong of Tang and Empress Wu Zetian's reign (649 — 705).

 

Afterward, the Longmen Grottoes had been constructed on and off in the next 1400 years, but also suffered big losses several times in history, by manual and natural causes. 

 

Until 1953 built an agency to preserve the Longmen Grottoes, which received national level conservations since then, and listed as a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage in 2000.

 

Stone Carving Statues and Inscriptions of Longmen Grottoes, Photo by Yunfei.

Important Data of Longmen Grottoes.

 

  • The Longmen Grottoes are in Luoyang city, Henan Province of China;

 

  • Over 2300 caves and niches of the Longmen Grottoes are scattering on cliffs of two sides of Yi River and stretching for about 1000 meters long;

 

  • There are over 110,000 Buddhist stone statues, vary from17.14 meters to 2 centimeters' tall, and 2,800 carved stele inscriptions in those caves and niches;

 

  • There is a Prescription Cave, or Yaofangdong, in which carved over 150 medical prescriptions with easily reachable herbs to cure ordinary diseases.

 

These are the earliest existing stone-carved prescriptions, and many of them are still in use today.

 

Carved Prescriptions in Prescription Cave or Yaofangdong of Longmen Grottoes.

How did the Longmen Grottoes connect to royals? 

 

Besides being a Buddhist stone carving wonder, Longmen Grottoes also had close connections to royals. 

 

Guyang Cave

 

Guyang Cave, the first cave of the Longmen Grottoes, constructed in 493 under the command of Emperor Xiaowen, to pray for blessing to departed Empress Dowager Feng

 

Stone Carving Statues, Inscriptions, and Reliefs of Guyang Cave.

Central Binyang Cave

 

Central Binyang Cave, built from 500 to 523 by Emperor Xuanwu of the Northern Wei Dynasty, to pray for blessing to departed Emperor Xiaowen and Empress Wenzhao. 

Reliefs of Empress Wenzhao Worshiping Buddha Used to in Central Binyang Cave — Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art

Northern Binyang Cave

 

Northern Binyang Cave, started in 500 by Emperor Xuanwu as well, but forced to end after the Northern Wei Dynasty was ended in 534.

 

Later, this cave was finished in the early Tang Dynasty. 

Buddha Statues in Northern Binyang Cave, Photo from Official Site of Longmen Caves.  

Southern Binyang Cave

 

Southern Binyang Cave, firstly constructed in 500 by Emperor Xuanwu, later completed by prince Li Tai (620 — 652) to pray for Empress Zhangsun, the beloved queen of the Emperor Taizong of Tang.

Buddha Statue of Longmen Grottoes, Photo from Official Site of Longmen Caves.

Vairocana Buddha

 

The 17.14 meters tall Vairocana Buddha, or Lushena Dafo, built from 672 to 675, was supported and modeled by Wu Zetian when she was the queen.

 

A few years later in the year 690, she enthroned and became the only female emperor in the history of China. 

Vairocana Buddha in Fengxian Temple, Photo by Wuye.

Longmen Stele

 

Longmen Stele, wrote by Emperor Zhenzong of Song (968 — 1022) when he was visiting the Longmen Grottoes.

Part of the Longmen Stele Written by Emperor Zhenzong of Song.

Wanfo Cave

 

Wanfo Cave, or Ten Thousand Buddhas Cave, finished in 680 and supported by a female court official of the Tang Dynasty, has over 15,000 about 4 centimeters tall Buddha figures.

Wanfo Cave of Longmen Grottoes, Photo by Wuye.

What's special with Longmen Grottoes's location?

 

Longmen Grottoes are carved on Longmen Mountains next to Yi River, in Luoyang City. 

 

  • Longmen Mountains were cut into two parts to dredge the Great Flood by Yu the Great, founder of the Xia Dynasty (2070 BC — 1600 BC). 

 

Afterward, in local legends, carps that could leap over the turbulent current there will incarnate into dragons. 

 

Therefore, it was named Longmen, which means the gate of dragons. 

 

In Chinese culture, fishes leaping over Longmen has been a famous phrase that symbolizes achieving great success after intense competitions and diligent works. 

 

Picture of Fish Leaping Over Longmen (Yuyue Longmen), Designed by Quejiao.

  • The Longmen Mountains and Yi River area had been an ancient battlefield where general Bai Qi won a big war in 293 BC, which opened up the chapter of State Qin's annexing of other kingdoms and establishing the unified Qin Dynasty (221 BC — 207 BC). 

 

 

The political, cultural, and geographical importance of this city were significant reasons for Emperor Xiaowen, the first cave's builder, to migrate his capital city to Luoyang city. 

 

Wu Zetian, one of the most important patrons of the Longmen Grottoes and the only female emperor in Chinese history, set Luoyang as the capital city during her reign (690 — 705) for more complicated reasons. 

Xiangshan Temple next to Longmen Grottoes, Firstly Constructed During Wu Zetian's Reign.

What cultural aspects that the Longmen Grottoes show?

 

As an exceptional Buddhist wonder in the important ancient capital city of Luoyang, artworks of the Longmen Caves show many cultural aspects of China mainly from the 4th to the 10th century.

 

Destructions and protection to the Longmen Grottoes.

 

Throughout history, besides natural weathering, the Longmen Caves had suffered many destructions that were caused by man forces. 

 

  • During Emperor Wuzong of Tang's reign (840 — 846), he implemented a Persecution of Buddhism that caused big destruction to Longmen Grottoes. Meanwhile, for political concerns, those royal related caves and statues were preserved.

 

  • In 1932, many caves were blown up for constructing roads by the government of The Republic of China.

 

  • From the late Qing Dynasty (1636 — 1912) to the 1930s, some statues, reliefs, and stone inscriptions were cut off, sold for money, and dispersed abroad, during the chaos of endless wars.

 

Stone Guardian Lion Used to be in Wanfo Cave of Longmen Grottoes — Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (Photo by Dongmaiying)

In 1953, an agency to preserve the Longmen Grottoes was constructed. Since then, it has received national-level conservation and listed as a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage in 2000.

 

Nowadays, more efforts are making to preserve and recover the Longmen Grottoes, including the returning of a statue of Arhat by the National Gallery of Canada in 2001 and restoring damaged relics using modern technologies.  

Restored Colors of the Vairocana Buddha using Modern Light and Shadow Technology. 

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