Twelve kilometers south of Luoyang the Yi River cuts its way northward through the Dragon’s Gate(Longmen). Legend Recalls that a mountain once stood here thousands of years ago. Beyond the foothills in a vast expense of water a dragon lived, causing havoc and constant chaos. The Great Yu, mighty figure of ancient China who tamed the rivers, split the mountain in half to release the dragon to the sea. The sheer cliffs of the Eastern and Western Hills were thus formed. There are of Course, other legends and other explanations about the creation of these cliffs but Longmen is far more fascinating for the work of Man than for the work of Nature. More than1352 Grottoes, 750 niches and 39 pagodas were carved and built here on the slopes of the Eastern and Western Hills Carving of the Longmen Grottoes began in the fifth century and according to historical records took more than four hundred years to complete. There are 97,306 Buddhist statues by one accounting although it is likely that the number is far greater. The smallest is only two cm. Tall. The largest has an ear taller than the height of an average man.
Buddhism flourished during the Northern Wei dynasty(386- 534)and by 49 5 the dynasty had reached its zenith. In that year the work on the grottoes began. They were, in fact, an extension of the art of sculpture already practiced at the Yun-gang Grottoes in Datong to the north. Three grottoes were Carved:Guyang, Bingyand and Lianhua. The Bingyang Grottoes consist of three caves. Built by the Emperor Xuan Wu to honor his parents, Emperor Xiao Wen and Empress Wen Zhao, the middle cave alone took 24 years(500-5230 and 2.8 million wordays to complete. It was the most splendid of its kind of workdays to complete. It was the most splendid of its kind of the Northern Wei dynasty containing 11 magnificent statues of Buddha. The walls of the entrance to the cave were once decorated with bas-relief carvings of the Emperor Xuan Wu and his wife worshiping Buddha. The reliefs are, unfortunately, missing. Among the grootes carved during later dynasties an especially interesting one is the Grotto of Prescriptions, built in 575. The recipes of a great number of traditional herbal medicines were carved on the walls and the Grotto is an encyclopedia of ancient Chinese medical practices. The Grotto of Buddhas was built in 680 during the Tang dynasty and contains more than 15 thousand statues of Buddha. Differing in size and features they were carved so that each would be individual in character and appearance. Meticulously executed, even the smallest Buddhas carved on the wall, two cm. In size, are precisely rendered miniatures.
Approximately thirty meters up the slope of the Western Hill is the Ancestor-worshiping Temple. This is the biggest groto at Longmen and was built more than 1300 years ago by the Emperor Gao Zhong and Emperor Wu Zhetian of the Tang dynasty. It is the focus of the Longmen Grottoes with the statue of the seated Buddha, the buggest in CHina. He is seventeen meters in height, his head alone is over four meter tall, and his sears are more than a meter in length. Stand beside him and you find that you are no taller than the thickness of his foot. Flanking the Buddha are his disciples, Bodhisattvas, divine generals and heavenly guards. While the sculptures on the southern side have been largely destoryed over the centuries, those on the northern side have survived well intact. The divine general, one hand holding a pagoda, is handsome and stalwart. The disciple appears sincere and honest. The Bodhisattva has an open face of mild benignity. The heavenly guard, with a trampled devil under his foot, is fierce and powerful, his neck muscles bulging. Embracing his ankle will bring you luck and the constant rubbing over time has made it as smooth as black jade. Each figure stands over ten meters tall and is well proportioned and lifelike.