Leshan, Sichuan Province: The Giant Buddha

Sichuan Province

June 17, 2010

Dear Family and Friends,

Here are a few tall stories…and finally, the tallest one of all:

Last year I had the privilege to visit the colossal statues of Abu Simbel.  Built by Ramses II in 1257 BCE, the rock hewn likenesses of the seated Pharaoh are 20m or 67ft high.  Outside Cairo, the Sphinx is 20m tall.

Earlier this year at the Batu Caves near Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, I had the pleasure to visit the tallest sculpture of a Hindu god.  Built in 2006, Lord Murugan stands 42m or 137 ft tall.

As a native New Yorker, I have visited The Statue of Liberty several times.  Miss Liberty welcomes all to New York Harbor as a beacon of tolerance and a lamp of freedom.  She was built in 1886 and is 46m or 151 ft from the base to the top of her torch.

As a patriotic American, I visited Mount Rushmore in the Black Hills of South Dakota many years ago.  Mt Rushmore is 152m or 500 ft tall.  Dedicated in 1941, the faces of Presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln are 18m or 60 ft high.

Still on my “To See” list is the iconic Christ the Redeemer.  Completed in 1931, the art deco statue towers over Rio de Janeiro in Brazil and stands 38m or 124 ft high.

But today, I crossed one tall item off my “To See” list.  I have visited the largest stone carved Buddha in the world. 

The Giant Buddha of Leshan (Lèshān Dàfó) was built more than one thousand years ago.  The seated Buddha is carved into the mountain side and the serene countenance faces the churning confluence of the Minjiang, Dadu and Qingyi Rivers in southern Sichuan Province.  At the time of its construction, 803 CE, it was the tallest statue in the world. 

The Giant Buddha, sometimes called the Grand Buddha of Leshan, stands 71m or 233 ft tall.  Twenty-three stories tall! 

“The statue depicts a seated Maitreya Buddha with his hands resting on his knees. His shoulders are 28 meters wide (92 ft) and his smallest toenail is large enough to easily accommodate a seated person. There is a local saying: ‘The Mountain is a Buddha and the Buddha is a mountain.’ This is partially because the mountain range in which the Leshan Giant Buddha is located is thought to be shaped like a slumbering Buddha when seen from the river, with the Leshan Giant Buddha as its heart.” *

The Buddha is the major feature of the Leshan Giant Buddha Scenic Area, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  The area also includes several temples and gardens.  The Oriental Buddha Park contains hundreds of replicas of Buddha images from around Asia.  (I knew some of them looked familiar.)

Back (for a second day) at the top of the mountain, I start at the head and slowly, slowly make my way down the narrow winding staircase that is carved into the face of the cliff.  I pass the torso and the arms and legs and then the feet and the toenails - large and small.  Here at the riverside, tour boats pause and bob in the choppy current. 

Incense sticks are burning at the base of the statue and the devoted Chinese Buddhists, waving broad red waistbands, sing and dance in praise. 

The rest of us take a million photos of the sacred statue: serene, sublime, splendid, stupendous.


* http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leshan_Giant_Buddha

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