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Temple of history inspires the future

By Wang Ru | China Daily | Updated: 2024-06-11 06:43

A Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) inscribed board that says "infinite wonderland" hanging at the temple's Mahavira Hall. [Photo provided to China Daily]

Wen Hui, director of Yixian's archaeology and cultural relics protection and service center, says, "The Mahavira Hall is one of the largest wooden structures among ancient China's Buddhist temple remains. The clay statues, with their exquisiteness and grand scale, are rare treasures anywhere in the world."

Moreover, the beams and ceiling of the hall are painted with Buddhist patterns like Flying Apsaras, some of which are "rare to see", according to Buddhist master Hsing Yun (1927-2023), who visited the temple three times. Altogether, the painted area covers 2,400 sq m, says Li.

Wen says that, in front of each Buddhist statue, there are two painted clay statues of flanking-attendant Bodhisattvas, standing at a height of 2.5 meters. On two sides of the hall, two heavenly kings are also present. Currently, efforts are underway to repair and preserve the statues.

"We have seen cracks and missing parts on the surface of the statues, and dust and bird droppings may corrode the painted patterns. Therefore, we have been cleaning them and restoring the fallen parts to extend their lifespan," says Wen.

Another project aims to protect the Yuan Dynasty murals on the hall's walls. He says that, at the beginning, there were Liao Dynasty murals as well, but a major earthquake in the Yuan Dynasty destroyed them. Then, Yuan people made new murals, which have been kept to this day.

"There have been instances of peeling and cracking, as well as pest infestation on the original murals. Subsequently, we have carried out a research project focusing on their preliminary conservation," says Wen.

A Jin Dynasty tablet written by Zhang Shao, an official at that time, records the past grandeur of the temple. The tablet says that the temple once boasted an expansive scale, featuring lofty and magnificent buildings that housed more than 1,000 monks.

Li says that most of the buildings were destroyed by the Jin people after they conquered Liao, but nobody knows why they left the Mahavira Hall intact.

"Although the Liao Dynasty left behind few historical records due to the Jin Dynasty's destruction, these Liao buildings vividly recount the prosperous past of the Liao era," says Li.

Three important Liao Dynasty temples still exist today — the Huayan Temple in Datong, Shanxi province, Dule Temple in Tianjin and Fengguo Temple, among which only the Fengguo Temple still keeps its main hall, says Wen.

Moreover, among the existing eight wooden Liao structures in China, the Mahavira Hall of Fengguo Temple is the largest in scale, according to Li.

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