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The Leshan Giant Buddha | Fun Facts and History — Trippest’s Chengdu Travel Guide

The Leshan Giant Buddha, also named the Lingyun Giant Buddha, is the largest stone Buddha in the world, standing at 71 meters in height. It’s been carved out of the side of a mountain to the east of Leshan in Sichuan Province. This site alone makes the city of Leshan famous for travelers around the world.

It took 90 years to carve the Leshan Giant Buddha during the Tang Dynasty. At that time, worshiping Maitreya was popular and the local people believed that carving the statue could bring them brightness and happiness. This Maitreya statue sits facing the flowing rivers (the Min, Qingyi, and Dadu rivers) with his hands upon his knees, and his eyes gaze at the rivers peacefully.

Who built this Buddha statue and why? How large is the giant Buddha? We have listed below the most fun facts and history of the statue to help you understand more about this great man-made Leshan Giant Buddha.

Top 10 Fun Facts about the Leshan Giant Buddha

  1. UNESCO World Heritage Site: This remarkable historic site was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996.
  2. How tall is the Leshan Giant Buddha? With a height of 71 meters (233 feet), the Leshan Giant Buddha is the tallest Buddha sculpture in the world. The Buddha’s ear is 7 meters in size and made of wood; his head is 14.7 meters in height and 10 meters in width; there are 1,021 buns in the Buddha’s coiled hair; and his nose and eyebrows are 5.6 meters in size. His mouth and eyes are 3.3 meters wide; his neck is 3 meters long; his shoulders are 24 meters wide; his fingers are 8.3 meters long; and 100 people can sit on his feet.
  1. A closed hole in the Buddha’s chest: You can’t see this hole because there is a stone in front of it. This is actually a stele describing the reconstruction of the Tianning Pavilion during the Song Dynasty. This pavilion was destroyed during the Cultural Revolution.
  1. Local architectural structures are lower than the Leshan Giant Buddha: The tallest building in Leshan stands at 68 meters, which is lower than the 71-meter Buddha, showing the local people’s respect for Buddha.
  2. The Leshan Giant Buddha has been both sad and happy for the local people: The Buddha has been said to show emotions about different moments that have occurred in history. He expressed these emotions by closing his eyes when he felt sad or showing happiness when he was satisfied with a particular situation. However, it has now been confirmed that this mysterious phenomenon was a result of bad weather and air pollution as well as people’s imaginations.
  1. A halo appears: The Buddha’s halo is a natural phenomenon, which is formed by the diffraction and diffused reflection of sunlight on the surface of water droplets in the clouds.
  2. Outstanding drainage system: There is a cleverly designed drainage system behind the Buddha’s head and between his two ears. This important design aspect is the reason why the great Buddha of Leshan has not eroded despite having existed for thousands of years. The “spectacle” people have witnessed of having closed eyes and shedding tears is just the Buddha’s drainage system.
  1. What is the Leshan Giant Buddha made of? The red sandstone in Leshan is a good material for making sculptures as it is softer than granite. The Leshan Giant Buddha was carved into the cliff at the confluence of the Min, Qingyi, and Dadu rivers.
  1. Who built the Leshan Giant Buddha? A monk named Hai Tong initiated the construction of this statue.
  2. Why was the Leshan Giant Buddha built? Hai Tong was concerned about the safety of local people living near the three rivers. He believed that the Buddha would keep the turbulent waters calm.

The Leshan Giant Buddha’s History and Story

Carved in the 8th century during the Tang Dynasty, the Leshan Giant Buddha was built during a peak period of Buddhist culture in ancient China. The sculpture depicts Maitreya, a very popular Buddha in the Tang Dynasty. The sutras say that when Maitreya comes into world, the world will be at peace.

The female Chinese female sovereign Wu Zetian even proclaimed she was the reincarnation of Maitreya and was a strong advocate of Maitreya sculptures being built as a way to maintain her rule. People liked to carve Maitreya sculptures and believed that Maitreya would bring light and happiness into their lives in the future. That’s why Hai Tong built Maitreya when he wanted to keep the local people safe from the threat of floods.

Hai Tong’s Legacy

The Buddhist monk Hai Tong was concerned about the safety of the local people who earned their living around the three rivers. Many people traveling by boat in the area were killed by the turbulent waters each year before the Leshan Giant Buddha was created. Hai Tong decided to carve a statue of Buddha beside the river and believed that this sculpture would appease the river gods and keep the locals safe. He had begged for over 20 years to accumulate enough money needed to build this statue.

During this hard period in his life, he refused official help because the parties who offered it didn’t just want to help him but wanted to gain personal profits from the project. He even gouged out his eyeball in protest against the local authorities. These officials backed off after this behavior. Fortunately, Hai Tong’s disciples continued his work after he passed away and finally completed the sculpture in 803 AD after 90 years of hard work. Interestingly, there haven’t been any shipwrecks since the Buddha was built. Many stones were actually removed from the cliff and transferred to the rivers during construction, which made the waters calmer and safer than before.

The project didn’t end after the Leshan Giant Buddha was finished. Buddhism had been one of the most important religions in ancient China and many other people built statues around the giant Buddha to thank the gods .

Numerous small Buddhas were carved around this huge statue. People even excavated the cliff tombs of the Han Dynasty around the Leshan Giant Buddha. Multiple historic sites make the Leshan Giant Buddha particularly important for archaeologists and researching people’s lifestyles in ancient times.

Mysterious Legends about Buddha’s Tears and Signs of Happiness

The Leshan Giant Buddha cried in 1962, 1963, and 1976 but showed happiness in 1994, 2001, and 2002.

  • 1962: In 1962, there was a natural disaster that lasted for two years. Millions of people died of starvation and many bodies were seen floating in the Min River. The Buddha could not bear to see such tragedy. He closed his eyes in pain and wept silently.
  • 1963: In 1963, the Buddha closed his eyes again at the start of the Cultural Revolution.
  • 1976: Chairman Mao, Zhou Enlai, and Zhu De (three Chinese leaders) all died in 1976. The Tangshan earthquake also caused hundreds of thousands of casualties in the same year. The Buddha was angry about this unfair and dark world.
  • 1994: Despite grieving due to people’s lack of faith and being worried for mankind, the Buddha’s sadness turned to a smile as he realized that hope was on the way.
  • 2001: China successfully joined the WTO and won the bid to host the Beijing Olympic Games. The light around the Leshan Giant Buddha’s head showed his happiness for China.
  • 2002: In the sky above the sculpture, where the dark clouds had not yet faded, there was a sudden halo phenomenon. At 9:43am on May 7th, 2002, a mysterious halo, which was thought to be Buddha’s light, reappeared over the giant Buddha in Leshan. A multicolored ring of infrared violet with a diameter of about 300 meters appeared around the newly rising sun. The colors came and went, and thousands of local people were surprised to see such a rare sight.

Travel Tips for Visiting the Leshan Giant Buddha — Transportation, Best Times, and Detailed Information

  • Chinese name:乐山大佛 (Leshan Dafo)
  • Location: Lingyun Street, Shizhong District, Leshan, Sichuan Province; 126 kilometers away from Chengdu
  • Best times to visit the Leshan Giant Buddha: With the most sunny days and beautiful scenery, April and October are the best months of the year to travel to see the Leshan Giant Buddha.
  • Opening hours: April 1st to October 7th: 7:30am to 6:30pm; October 8th to March 31st: 8am to 5:30pm
  • Entrance fee: 90 yuan per person (including Wulong Temple and the Mahao Cliff Tomb)
  • The Leshan Giant Buddha ferry price: 70 yuan per person

Avoid Crowds of Tourists by Taking a Boat

The boat trip takes about 30 minutes and costs 70 yuan for a return trip. You should wear a life jacket when you are in the boat. Without being surrounded by crowds of tourists, you will have the best angles to take photos from and to get a full view of the Leshan Giant Buddha.

Do you want to get closer to the giant Buddha? To do this, you have to spend over 3 hours crossing the bridge from the hilltop to the feet of the giant Buddha, which is usually very crowded with people. It’s not a very enjoyable experience. You can see the full structure from the top after your boat trip, which will allow you to see the Buddha’s head and the three connecting rivers.

How to Get There from Chengdu and Other Places

No matter where you are traveling from, the best option is to fly to Chengdu’s airport first and then take a high-speed train to Mount Emei. You will see many buses operating to Mount Emei when you exit the train station. Take a bus trip for 15 minutes to arrive at this famous spot.

Go to the Leshan Giant Buddha by Train from Chengdu

It’s convenient to take a high-speed train from Chengdu to Mount Emei. It takes about 1½ hours and costs 104 yuan for a first-class seat ticket. There are many trains operating every half an hour from 6am to 9pm.

By bus: There are many buses operating from Chengdu to Leshan. There are two bus stations in Leshan — Jiuzhu Long Distance Passengers Transportation Center and Emeishan Tour Passenger Transport Center. The first one is 6 kilometers away from the Leshan Giant Buddha and the second one is in Mount Emei Scenic Area.

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