Mountain Made: Leshan Buddha
This statue is literally made of the mountain, the Leshan Buddha Head is the largest stone budha in the world, and is located just outside the city of Leshan in China. The work for this statue began in 713 AD, and would not be completed until 90 years later, making it one of the oldest Buddhas as well. This statue was literally carved right out of the cliff. The statue sits at the conflux of the Minjiang, Dadu and Qingyi rivers, and they flow beneath him, as he gazes out over the area. Leshan translates, roughly means “happy mountain”, and this area is in the southern Sichuan province.
The idea was conceived by a monk named Hai Tong, with the hopes of calming the rivers that would send chips crashing against the shore. The monk collected alms for over two decades before he had enough to start carving the statue. Eventually, it was the many tons of rock carved away that altered the currents enough to make the water more navigable. The government officials became aware of the money Tong had collected, and tried to tax him for these monies. He refused, saying he would rather gauge out his own eye than give these officials the Buddha’s money. He did gauge out his eye, offering it up to the officials, who left horrified and never returned. Tong died leaving behind only a half completed statue with only two followers to continue the work. Eventually thousands of workers came to help the two followers, and they finished the statue in 803 AD.
The Leshan Buddha features a smiling stout monk, peacefully sitting with his hands on his knees. Though to be Maitreya, a Buddha and disciple of Sakyamuni, believed to have founded Buddhism. The only part not made of stone are the ears, which were crfted from wood and affixed to the statue and covered in clay. There are comples systems of gutters and channels that keep the Buddha dry. There was originally a structure built to house the Buddha, but in the Wars of the 13th and 1th centuries, it was destroyed.
Resotration effors were undertaken in 1963 due to severe erosion of the statue. The statue was in danger of being washed away, this effort has shored up the statue. Restoration continues to this day with advice from international representatives. Recent work includes removing built up soil, cleaning the face, and protecting the environment from pollution, as well as repeairing cracks with traditional materials. Restoration efforts will being to focus on prevent water from pooling on the feet and belly of the Buddha.
The entire Mt. Emei Scenic Area was declared by the United Nations as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996. Over 180 countries recognize this site as a place of value for the entire human race, and determined that is needs to be protected for future generations. There have been over 860 sites throughout the world that have been named for cultural or natural value since the conception of the Convention Concerning the Protection of World Cultural and Natural Heritage in 1972. The protection of this site has become an international urgency after the destruction of the Buddhas of Bamiyan in Afghanistan in 2003.
You can visit this site today by ferry, bus or a charter flight.