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Bamboo Temple

Bamboo Temple (Qiongzhu Temple)

Buddhist Bamboo Temple (Qiongzhu Temple) is located in Yu'an Mountains in the Northwest of Kunming, about twelve kilometers (seven miles) away from the center of the city. It is a famous Buddhist temple, which was first built in the Tang Dynasty and burned down in the Ming Dynasty. Suffering reconstruction for several times, the present structure mostly dates from the late Qing Dynasty.

As to the origin of the temple, there is a wonderful and mysterious legend. One day during the Tang Dynasty (618-907), two brothers of royal lineage discovered a bizarre rhinoceros when they were hunting in the hills outside Kunming. Out of the curiosity and the hope of capturing it, they followed the rhinoceros and got into Yu’an Mountain. Mysteriously, the rhinoceros suddenly disappeared and a group of monks who were different from the normal monks came into their sight. As they wanted to get closer, the monks vanished in clouds and mist, only leaving several walking sticks made by bamboo planted in the ground. The next day, it was so amazing that these walking sticks grew up with verdant branches and leaves, and finally became an entire bamboo forest. In order to honor the supernatural beings, the two brothers built the Bamboo Temple on the site where the walking sticks planted. The couplet on the gate of the temple summarizes this anecdote.

Even though this is a marvelous story, it does not follow the historic record. The recorded history of the temple can dated back to the Song Dynasty. During the Yuan Dynasty (around 1280), a famous monk taught Buddhism lessons in the temple. From then on, this temple was well-known as a spiritual center.

The highlight of the Bamboo Temple is the art treasures: 500 colored clay sculptures of Arhats which are reputed as ‘the bright pearl of sculptures in the Orient’. The life-size clay figures were made by the Sichuan sculptor Li Guangxiu and his apprentices. This huge art project took seven years from 1833 to 1890. All the sculptures stand in different poses and have different expressions, vividly jus like real people. From the vivid appearances, you can distinguish the old and the young, the sick and the healthy, the skilled and the unskilled, the strong and the emaciated, the beautiful and the ugly, the wealthy and the poor. They capture the gamut of human emotions, including joy, anger, laughter, grief, amusement, satisfaction, hunger, delight, sadness, compassion, serenity, curiosity, surprise, boredom, and contemplation. Each Arhat is unique and expresses its own singular inner character. It is said that you can count the Arthats as stepping into the temple (gentlemen start from the left, and ladies start from the right) and not stop until the number of your age, and then you will find the Arhat that depicts your inner character.

The 500 clay sculptures are exhibited on three layers in both sides of the Great Buddha’s Hall of the temple (with 68 sculptures), Tiantan Lai Pavilion (with 216 sculptures) and Fanyin Pavilion (with 216 sculptures). With so many life-like statues, the temple is really like a sculpture exhibition, which not only showcases works of sculpture but also presents the master craftsmanship of ancient Chinese sculptors.

In addition to the spectacular Arhats, you will also find a large number of inscriptions and couplets on columns and tablets; the statues of Four Guardian Kings in the entrance hall; the three large statues of Buddha in the main building and two majestic 450-year-old cypress trees that stand in the forecourt. All of these make the Bamboo Temple a restorative and peaceful attraction with natural beauty, art and culture treasures.

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