Longmen Grottoes (Longmen Shiku)(2000)
China

Back to index

The grottoes and niches of Longmen contain the largest and most impressive collection of Chinese art of the late Northern Wei and Tang Dynasties (316-907). These works, entirely devoted to the Buddhist religion, represent the high point of Chinese stone carving.

Longmen Shiku ("Dragon Door Grottoes"), are situated in Central China, northeast of Xi'an, the ancient imperial capital.  These grottoes were created during the 5th-7th centuries, and most of the figures and the grottoes were financed by the nobility of that time.  There are more than 1300 grottoes and 700 niches, containing 40 pagodas, 2780 inscriptions and more than 100,000 statues and images.  Many of the most beautiful sculptures were stolen or beheaded in the beginning of the 20th century and can now be found in various museums in the western world.  But like the Dunhuang Cave Murals in the far north (at the end of the Silk Road), the Longmen Grottoes give a good impression of Buddhist art, and show the various styles of the northern Wei-dynasty and the Tang-dynasty.  The largest of these statues is 17 meters tall, and the tiniest less than 2 cm.  At the occasion of the 1500th anniversary of the Longmen Grottoes at Luoyang, the below souvenir sheet and stamps were issued.  

China 1993. Souvenir sheet. Panorama from the Longmen Grotto.

China 1993. Longmen Grottoes. Rocana, ancestor worshipping temple. China 1993. Longmen Grottoes. Sakyamuni, middle of the Binyang Cave. China 1993. Longmen Grottoes. Maharaja, devas trading on Yaksha. China 1993. Bodhisattva at the left side of Rocana, Guyang Cave, Northern Wei.

Some of the statues and sculptures of ancient times show Buddhist images from the Liao Dynasty  (beginning of 1st millennium). Buddha (c. 563-BC - 483 BC), who was the founder of Buddhism, was born in the Lumbini park (on this web site), near Kapilavastu, in present-day Nepal near the Indian border. The name Gautama Buddha by which the historical Buddha is known, is a combination of his family name Gautama and the epithet Buddha, meaning "Enlightened One". 

China 1982. Longmen Grottoes. Bust of Bodhisattva. China 1982. Longmen Grottoes. Boy on Lotus Flower. China 1982. Longmen Grottoes. Head of Bodhisattva. China 1982. Bodhisattva.

Despite many efforts, the dates of Buddha's birth and death remain uncertain. The various Buddhist sources agree that Buddha lived for 80 years, but they disagree on the precise dates. Modern Theravada countries place his birth in 623 BC, and his death in 543 BC, but these dates are rejected by most Western and Indian historians. The ancient sources offer two different chronologies: the long chronology, based on Sinhalese sources, places Buddha's final nirvana around 218 years before King Ashoka's consecration (c. 273 BC); the short chronology, attested by all Sanskrit and Chinese sources, places Buddha's death 100 years before Ashoka's consecration.  

China 1982. Souvenir sheet. Longmen Grottoes. Head of Bodhisattva. In the left margin an ancient scripture of teachings.

All the surviving accounts of Buddha's life were written many years after his death by idealizing followers rather than by objective historians. Consequently, it is difficult to separate facts from the great mass of myth and legend in which they are embedded. Furthermore, most Buddhist traditions hold that Buddha was merely the ultimate incarnation in a series of lives chronicled in various edifying stories; and the Mahayana tradition maintains that Buddha is a manifestation of the universal Buddha of the cosmos, which underpins all being. The myths and beliefs obscuring the figure of the "historical" Buddha are almost as important to Buddhism as the words and deeds of Buddha himself. The historical details of Buddha's life are therefore hard to establish, but perhaps enjoy no privileged claim over the appended tales and doctrines.  

The grottoes and niches of Longmen contain the largest and most impressive collection of Chinese art of the late Northern Wei and Tang Dynasties (316-907). These works, entirely devoted to the Buddhist religion, represent the high point of Chinese stone carving. 

Please note that there is another set of Buddha-stamps from the Longmen Grottoes, issued by China in 1988 (Scott # 2189-2192). Unfortunately I do not have this set.  

Sources and links:

Other World Heritage Sites in China (on this site). Inactive links are not described on stamps. Please refer to the UNESCO-listing, section China for further information about the individual properties.  

Back to index


Revised 20 jun 2007  
Copyright 1999 Heindorffhus
All Rights Reserved