Leshan’s Giant Buddha is a stone statue 71 meters (233 feet) high, built between 713 and 803 (during the Tang dynasty), which represents Maitreya. It is carved on a sandstone cliff of the Cretaceous red bed that is located at the confluence of the Min River, the Qingyi River and the Dadu River. Dadu River in the southern part of Sichuan state in China, near of the city of Leshan. The stone statue faces Mount Emei, with the rivers flowing under its feet. It is the bigest and tallest stone Buddha sculpture in the world and is by far the tallest premodern statue in the world.
It is believed that the sculpture is Maitreya, a Buddha and a pupil of Sakyamuni, who is believed to have been the founder of Buddhism, which symbolizes brightness and pleasure. Worshiping Maitreya was especially popular between the fourth and seventh century. Today, pictures of him can still be found in many Buddhist temples throughout China and the sculpture of Leshan is deliberated, the most inspiring of all.
The application of the Buddha lies not only in its size but in its architectural workmanship. The entire sculpture is made of stone, except for the ears that were made of wood, then fixed and encircled with clay. The Buddha’s hair is arranged in special spiral curls with 1,021 twists that have been cleverly embedded in the head.
The statue is ten stories high, and if the statue stopped, it would be almost face to face with the Statue of Liberty. The Buddha is so huge that it is claimed that 100 monks could sit on one foot. With a height of 71 meters (233 feet), the statue has a symmetrical posture, creating an elegant and relaxed image. Its head is 15 meters (50 feet) high, its shoulders 28 meters (92 feet) wide and its smallest toenail can accommodate a seated person. Each eyebrow alone measures 5.5 meters (18 feet) while its nose is 6 meters (20 feet) long. A large pair of ears, measuring seven meters (23 feet), is able to hold two people inside.
Several drainage ducts hidden inside the hair, neck, chest and back of the Buddha’s ears have prevented the statue from eroding and aging for millennia. The drainage system of the Giant Buddha is a complex system formed by hidden channels and channels, which carry rainwater and keep the internal parts dry. That is why the great Buddha has survived intact until modern times. Compared to when it was initially completed, the statue looks quite different from how it looks today. Once he sat in a large 13-story wooden pavilion that protected the size of erosion. However, the pavilion was finally destroyed at the end of the Ming dynasty, exposing the statue to the elements.
It is said that the sculpture of the giant Buddha of Leshan was constructed to quiet the turbulent waters that plagued the passing ships and killed many people of every year. Then, in the Tang dynasty, a monk named Hai Tong decided to carve a giant statue beside the river, hoping it would appease the gods of the river and save the lives of more local people. With this belief, the monk Hai Tong pleaded for 20 years to acquire sufficient funds to begin his work. According to legend, when some local government officials wanted to get large amounts of money from Hai Tong, he said they could have their eyeball but not the money raised for the Buddha statue.
When the government funds for the project were threatened, it is said that the monk tore his eyes to show his sincerity and devotion to the cause. The officials were scared, and Hai Tong saved the money and started the project in 713 AD. The project was half finished when he died and two of his disciples stayed to continue the work. The project was finally completed 90 years later by the local governor in 803 AD. As so much rock was removed from the cliff and deposited in the river below during construction, the river currents were, in fact, altered by the statue, making the waters safe for passing ships.
Today, erosion is the biggest threat to the survival of Leshan’s Giant Buddha. The statue was almost destroyed by the erosion of wind and rain before 1963, when the Chinese government began to repair and protect. In 1996, the UNESCO World Heritage Committee inscribed the scenic area of Mount Emei and the Leshan Giant Buddha Scenic Area on its World Heritage List as a mixed cultural and natural property of the world. Since 2001, it is rumored that the equivalent of more than US $ 40 million has been spent to keep it intact.
Today, erosion is the biggest threat to the survival of Leshan’s Giant Buddha. The sculpture was almost destroyed by the erosion of wind and rain before 1963, when the Chinese government began to repair and protect. In 1996, the UNESCO World Heritage Committee inscribed the scenic area of Mount Emei and the Leshan Giant Buddha Scenic Area on its World Heritage List as a mixed cultural and natural property of the world. Since 2001, it is rumored that the equivalent of more than US $ 40 million has been spent to keep it intact.
At the beginning of the Lunar New Year, tens of thousands of Chinese people flock to Leshan’s Giant Buddha to pay their respects and pray for good fortune. The queues that slowly climb the 250 steps to the top of the Buddha’s head can take hours, and upon reaching the top, it is almost impossible to move as each person tries to look at the Buddha more closely. Others opt for a boat ride to see the Buddha, cramming the waters, as everyone wants to have the opportunity to burn some incense and expect the Buddha to grant them good luck in the coming year.