Vairocana Buddha Statue in Longmen Caves

Vairocana Buddha Statue in Longmen Caves

The Vairocana Buddha Statue (卢舍那大佛), located on the southern slope of the west hill of Longmen Grottoes in Luoyang, Henan Province, China, is situated at the Fengxian Temple. According to legend, it was modeled after the image of Empress Wu Zetian, reflecting the dignity and elegance of Tang Dynasty women. This statue is the pinnacle of artistic achievement in the Longmen Grottoes, boasting the highest level of artistry, meticulous design, and grand scale. Renowned for its enigmatic smile, it has been hailed by foreign visitors as the “Eastern Mona Lisa.”

The name “Vairocana” comes from the Sanskrit term “rócanabuddha,” which translates to “Buddha of Illuminating Splendor,” signifying the attainment of absolute truth and enlightenment. “Vairocana” also means “universal illumination.” On the other hand, Empress Wu Zetian, who named herself “曌 (Zhao),” meaning “the sun and moon in the sky,” shares the same meaning of illuminating splendor. Hence, not only does the statue resemble Empress Wu Zetian, but its name also holds identical significance.

Construction of the Vairocana Buddha began in the third year of the Xianheng era (672 AD) during the reign of Emperor Gaozong of Tang Dynasty, as an act of filial piety to his father Emperor Taizong. Empress Wu Zetian, who was then Empress Dowager, contributed 20,000 coins for the project, equivalent to more than six million RMB in today’s currency. The carving of the statue took 3 years and 9 months to complete, finishing in the second year of the Shangyuan era (675 AD).

Standing at a height of 17.14 meters, the statue’s head measures 4 meters tall, with ears extending 1.9 meters. The face is full and round, adorned with wavy hair patterns on the head, crescent-shaped eyebrows, and almond-shaped eyes gazing gently downward. The straight nose, dignified expression, and serene smile exude tranquility. Long, slightly drooping ears, a round chin protruding slightly forward, and simple, elegant robes further enhance the image’s harmonious and peaceful demeanor. With its wise and compassionate countenance, the statue commands respect without evoking fear, captivating viewers with its profound artistic allure.

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