Visit the world’s tallest ancient statue

One must get up close to truly appreciate the Giant Buddha – every detail carved over 90 years is remarkable, including the coiled hair comprising 1,021 masterfully-embedded buns that appear an undivided whole

Linger and marvel at this magnificent giant before it undergoes restoration

It is quite an otherworldly experience for a  minuscule human being to stand at the foot of this towering giant
It is quite an otherworldly experience for a minuscule human being to stand at the foot of this towering giant

The Leshan Giant Buddha is so huge that one of its shoulders can support a basketball court! Stretching up to a whopping 71m in height, the Giant Buddha – or Da Fo – is the largest stone Buddha statue and the tallest existing ancient statue in the world.

Built during the Tang Dynasty in the year 713, and completed in 803, the statue depicts Maitreya, a Bodhisattva, in a serene and symmetrical sitting posture.

Located in the heart of the scenic Mount Emei or Emei Shan (featured in wuxia fiction novels), it is a protected UNESCO World Heritage site in the Sichuan Province of China.

But, owing to the region’s rapid development, the Giant Buddha sports signs of wear. Not to worry, though, the government has promised restoration works.

So, visit this great sight before it gets covered in tarpaulin and scaffolding!

An ancient and dramatic past

In the year 713, a Chinese monk named Haitong began construction of the Buddha. Haitong hoped that the Buddha would calm the turbulent waves in this area, making it safe for vessels travelling down the river.

However, when Haitong passed away, the construction was stalled due to insufficient funding. Around 70 years later, a kind military governor sponsored the project, and the Buddha was completed by Haitong’s disciples in 803.

And Haitong’s wish for calmer waters came true. Apparently, the construction work deposited so much stone into the river below that the tempestuous currents slowed down, and ships were able to cruise along safely.

Art in the highest form

One must get up close to truly appreciate the  Giant Buddha – every detail carved over 90 years is remarkable, including the coiled hair comprising 1,021 masterfully-embedded buns that appear an undivided whole
One must get up close to truly appreciate the Giant Buddha – every detail carved over 90 years is remarkable, including the coiled hair comprising 1,021 masterfully-embedded buns that appear an undivided whole

One must get up close to truly appreciate the beauty of the Leshan Giant Buddha. Every detail carved into it (over 90 years, no less!) is a remarkable work of art. The Buddha’s coiled hair alone features 1,021 buns, so masterfully embedded that they look like an undivided whole.

Another architectural genius is the statue’s sophisticated drainage system hidden beneath the mud and stone. Like blood vessels running throughout the body, a system of pipes snake throughout the whole Giant Buddha, helping to channel rainwater into the river and reducing erosion.

But these drainage pipes aren’t made of metal or wood; they were artistically carved into various parts of the inner statue. It was no mean feat for the talented craftsmen of ancient China!

Getting to the Buddha

Guided or solo, up close or from afar – there are many ways of appreciating the Giant Buddha when you’re in Mount Emei.

If you’re up for it, you may scale the top of the mountain, where you can admire this magnificent work and its surroundings from a distance. Or, you may choose to go on a boat ride along the river, taking the same route that many ancient Chinese travellers sailed along.

Whichever itinerary you choose, keep in mind that the Giant Buddha is an extremely popular site, so start queueing before the site opens. Or, visit during off-peak seasons, avoiding the mid-year, year-end and Lunar New Year periods of course!

Your perspective and sense of scale will certainly be transformed.

By Pamela Chow

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