Yungang Grottoes, one of the three major cave clusters in China, punctuate the north cliff of Wuzhou Mountain, Datong. The area was excavated along the mountain, extending 1 km (0.62 miles) from east to west, revealing 53 caves and over 51,000 stone statues.
The Caves are divided into east, middle, and west parts. Pagodas dominate the eastern parts; west caves are small and mid-sized with niches. Caves in the middle are made up of front and back chambers with Buddha statues in the center. Embossing covers walls and ceilings.
Yungang Grottoes, some 16 kilometers west of Datong, contain China's largest and earliest stone sculpture. These are known as one of the three major cave complexes in China, the others being the earlier Mogao Grottoes at Dunhuang in Gansu and the later Longmen Caves at Luoyang in Henan. The sculptural works at Yungang are noted for t he fleshy, vigorous features and rich variety.
Back in the fourth century, during the later part of the period known as the Southern and Northern Dynasties, Datong was made the capital of the Northern Wei(368-534). This state was made by Tuoba Gui, a member of the militant Tuoba clan of the nomadic Xianbei tribe from the north. By the end of the fifth century, the Northern Wei had conquered a large part of northern China, and they were quick to intermarry with the Han Chinese and absorb their Culture. Great artistic progress was made during this period.
The Northern Wei court looked to Nuddhism as the state religion. By 446, however the reigning sovereign Taiwu, prompted by his chief minister, Cui Hao, turned against Buddhism and burnt down large number of monasteries and temples, forcing the monks to return to the secular life. Soon afterwards, Taiwu fell seriously ill and wondered if the was the retribution for what he had done to Buddhism.
After his demise, his son succeeded him, becoming Emperor Wencheng. In an effort to redeem his father's sin, he decreed the restoration of the religion and embarked on a large-scale programme of monastery-building. He went so far as to spend his entire tax revenues on the Lingyan Monastery, now known as the Yungang Grottoes.
Construction of these cave temples began between 460 and 465. The first five caves were excavated under the auspices of the noted monk Tan Yao. More than 1000 caves, big and small, were finished in the following years and it was not until 494, when the Northern Wei court moved its capital to Luoyang in Henan, that the grottoes were in the main completed. Over 10000 master artisans and the stonemasons, plus their assistants, were pressed into service at the peak of the construction - a truly gargantuan undertaking.
A 17-Metre Sitting Buddha
Today, more than 1500 years after their execution, the Yungang Grottoes still boast over 1100 shrines and niches of widely varying sizes and no less than 50000 sculptures of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. The larger-sized caves, 53 all told, are scattered over the southern foot of Wuzhou Hill, sprawling for over a kilmetre from east to west. Walls peeling with the passage of time add an archaic note to these caves, while the sculptures peep out at the world through door or window-like openings.
The Grottoes are divided into three zones, east, west and central, and numbered from east to west. Grotto No. 3 is the biggest in the east zone. The sculptures inside are not from the Northern Wei period, but were probably executed during the Sui(581-618) or Tang(618-907) dynasties.
Grottos Nos. 5-20 in the central zone are acknowledged to be the cream of the whole complex. I first entered Grotto No. 5. As it is screened by an impressive four-storeyed wooden facade added in the Qing Dynasty, the huge Buddha it contained came into view only after I had stepped inside. Seventeen meters high, it is the biggest in the Yungang Grottoes. Seated in the lotus position, the sculptures takes up almost the entire floor space of the cave, so it is difficult for the visitor to get a good overall view. Its lap is so vast that as many as 120 people can stand there and each of its feet can comfortably hold 12 people!
Next comes Grotto No. 6. There are no huge sculptures here, but carvings of Buddhas, Nodhisattvas, arhats and flying apsaras cover the walls. In the middle of the cave there is a stupa-like pillar reaching to the ceiling. All of the stupa and the four walls are bas-reliefs depicting the life of Sakyamuni, from the day of his birth up to the time of his achieving Buddha-hood. The images are vivid and varied. Each side of the entrance to Grotto No. 8 is carved with a grotesque-looking heavenly deity, each with several heads and arms, one riding a peafowl and the other an ox.
In Grottos Nos. 9 and 10 there are many fine sculptures, but the moment I stepped into Grotto No. 13 another huge Buddha, 13 meters high, loomed over me. Here there is a fascinating sight: between the right arm and leg of the Buddha stands a tiny figure appearing to be of extraordinary strength, his right hand supporting one of the Buddha's huge hands, apparently without too much trouble.
Monolithic Yungang Art
Grottos Nos. 16-20 are the earliest of the Yungang Grottos and of the utmost grandeur. They are otherwise known as the "Five Caves of Tan Yao" which were built to suggest the limitless power of the Northern Wei Dynasty. Each of the five caves contains in its centre a massive sculpture of Tathagaya("he who has come", one of the epithets of the Buddha), symbolising the five Northern Wei rulers.
These are truly on a gigantic scale: the body of the main statue in Grotto No. 19, for instance, has a disproportionately elongated body by comparison with its head, and its shoulders are broad and thickset. The Bodhisattva by the side of this huge Buddha is comparatively small, providing the main statue with extra contrast. To accentuate the imposing size of the Buddha still more, the artisans of the past who designed the layout saw to it that the distance between the statue and the front of the cave is rather short and that the roof of the cave narrows towards the top so that devotees prostrating themselves before the statue have to crane their necks to see it properly.
Grotto No. 20 may be described as the prototype of Yungang art. The wooden eaves over the entrance to this cave temple were burnt away during some battle of the past and its front wall has collapsed as a result of erosion so that the statues inside are now exposed. The full-bodied, massive Tathagata statue in the middle, 13.7 metres high, sits cross-legged. This has been executed in a simplistic way; the lines delineating the folds and pleats in the clothes are decisive and clear-cut. The deity has an innocent-looking face, calm, with a slight smile as if looking down at the world magnanimously.
A Cosmpolitan Buddhist World
These sculptures in the "Five Caves of Tan Yao" reflect the influence of the sculptural art of Gandhara, with high-bridged noses, deepset eyes, and hair worn in a coil. In fact, some of the Buddhist statues at Yungang are in body-hugging Indian attire, others wear the dress of the Xianbeis while those originating at a later period appear in the dress of the Southern Dynasties or in the loose robes with sleeves worn by the intellectuals of the following Sui and Tang dynasties.
Together they give the impression of a multinational Buddhist family. The art of the Yungang Grottos may in fact be looked upon as a manifestation of a process of blending of cultures and religions, a process of giving a Chinese touch to Buddhist art which, at that time, was essentially Indian.
Yungang Caves, one of China's four most famous "Buddhist Caves Art Treasure Houses", is located about sixteen kilometers west of Datong, Shanxi Province. There exists 53 caves, most of which are made during the Northern Wei Dynasty between 460 and 494 AD, and over 51, 000 stone sculptures. It extends one kilometer from east to west and can be fallen into three major groups.
The first group (including Cave 1, Cave 2, Cave 3 and Cave 4) are at the eastern end separated from others. Cave 1 and Cave 2 have suffered from rigors of time and the weather. Cave 3, an afterthought after the Northern Wei Dynasty, is the largest grotto among Yungang caves.
Tours normally begin from the second group ranging from Cave 5 to Cave 13.Yungang art manifests its best in this group. Cave 5 contains a seated Buddha with a height of 17 meters. In Cave 6, a 15-meter-high two storey pagoda pillar stands in the center of chamber and the life of the Buddha from birth to the attainment of nirvana is carved in the pagoda walls and the sides of the cave. The Bodhisattva was engraved in Cave 7. The rare seen Shiva Statue in Yungang with eight arms and four heads and riding on a bull is illustrated in Cave 8. Cave 9 and Cave 10 are notable for front pillars and figures bearing musical instruments. Musicians playing instruments also appear in Cave 12. Cave 13 has the Buddha statue with a giant figurine supporting its right arm.
The rest caves belong to the third group. Cave 14 has eroded severely. Cave 15 is named as the Cave of Ten Thousand Buddha. The caves numbered 16 to Cave 20 are the oldest complex and each one symbolizes an emperor from the Northern Wei Dynasty and the subject of "Emperor is the Buddha" is embodied. The caves from No. 21 onward are built in the later times and can not compare to their better preserved counterparts.
Traffic: The scenic area is equipped with 3 parking lots, the biggest one is located Yungang station sign nearby the travling special line, visitors may enter the scenic area by storage battery car after they got off , another one is in playground of the Yungang Middle School , ecological car park is the last parking lot located in the exit, each car park has the eye-catching signs, special management, the environment clean and orderly parking.
Visitor service center: In front of the No.6 cave ,embedded computer touch screen, tourists may go into the details about scenic spot introduction and services to tourists by touching it.equipped with umbrellas, temperature cabinets, disinfected cabinet , sewing kits, toys, baby carriage, crutches, wheelchairs, mobile phone charging and the other convenience facilities, and the provision of scenic tourist maps(Ching, Britain, Japan , South Korea, Germany five languages) , Album of paintint (In Chinese , English , Japanise).Set up two lounges of tourists ’public film and video which can hold 150 visitors before the NO.3 and the No.6 cave. Advisory Tel: 0352-3026230
Food and bererage:There are restaurants with local characteristics in the business street and in the exit , such as “Datong Knife Strip Noodle
8:00 to 17:00
Recommended Time for a Visit:
Take No. 4 bus at Datong Railway Station and transfer No. 3 bus at Xin Kaili