Emei Shan – Honouring Buddhist sites along the way

Emei Shan or Mount Emei, an important place of pilgrimage for Buddhists in China, is one of four sacred mountains in the country and is considered a place of enlightenment as well as a place of archaeological importance. Its summit at 3079.3 meters is the highest of all the sacred mountains in the country. To emphasise its association with bodhisattva Samanthabadhra, a massive statue of the bodhisattva is found at the summit, referred to as the Golden Summit. According to historic accounts of the 16th and 17th centuries, martial arts were practiced in monasteries on Mount Emei, the earliest references to Shaolin Monasteries here.

Out of the 76 Ming and Qing Dynasty Buddhist monasteries found near the top of Mount Emei are 10 very old temples. The first Buddhist temple built in China in the first century CE is also located at the summit. First known as Guangxiang Temple, its present name of Huazang was bestowed in the 16th century. The monasteries seem to have consciously adopted a flexible architectural style, ignoring rules laid down for the construction of monasteries, to suit the undulating terrain and the beautiful natural wooded setting. Rather than flattening building sites, many halls of worship are built on terraces while others are raised on stilts. The expert siting of the temples in the natural environment throws light on architectural practices of the time. Many sites are linked by wooden bridges and walkways. The presence of so many religious buildings makes the mountain one of Buddhism’s holiest sites.

Among the ancient artifacts is a 9th century bronze Buddha, a 10th century 7.8 meter Puxian bronze Buddha, a 11th century gilded Amithabha statue group, among others. Over five hundred Han Dynasty tombs from the 1st to 4th centuries with carvings and inscriptions are among the valuable artifacts. Many people go up the mountain via cable car or on foot not only to worship at ancient sacred sites, but also to enjoy the sunrise in its many variations and the so-called cloud sea, which is the spectacle of clouds appearing below the mountain obscuring the surrounding area from view and clouds appearing above it as well. On the subtropical forests on the lower slopes of the mountain are Tibetan Macaques who beg or steal food from visitors. Sub-alpine pine forests cover the top half of the mountain and 2.300 animal species have been recorded here. Due to its archaeological and religious importance, its precious natural scenery and endangered and threatened wildlife, it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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