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Hewn from rock, the Giant Buddha of Leshan is something special. The world’s largest sitting Buddha statue, 71 metres tall, is so enormous that his fingernails are bigger than the height of a person. Sandwiched between 2 rock faces, he stares calmly over the water at his feet and at the sacred Mount Emei. This Buddha is an icon that will take your breath away.
The region surrounding Leshan is the birthplace of Buddhism in China. The country’s oldest temples can be found scattered around the sacred Mount Emei. Ancient bronze statues, pavilions, temple gardens and hundreds of tombs lie hidden between the trees and are often surrounded by a mysterious mist. But however mystical the sacred mountain might seem, the Giant Buddha by the river is the region’s most popular attraction. A steep set of stairs along the rock face takes you to the statue’s head, where you can pass the time staring together at the confluence of the 3 rivers at his feet.
Whereas the Giant Buddha was originally protected by a canopy, mosses and shrubs have since given the statue a natural coating. Due to erosion, the statue has undergone many facelifts. Something else that is immediately noticeable is the large earlobes, which are a standard feature of Buddha statues. According to legend, Gautama Buddha, the founder of Buddhism, was a prince who wore earrings encrusted with gemstones. In order to focus on his enlightenment, he removed his earrings and shaved his head. His long earlobes have since become a symbol of his rejection of the materialistic world. Various stories are used to explain the studs that always cover the head of Buddha statues. According to some, they are snails, which protect his bald head from the sun with their slime.
At the village of Leshan, after which the Giant Buddha is named, 3 rivers converge: the Minjiang, the Dadu and the Qingyi. These were once so turbulent that boats would regularly capsize and sink. The monk Haitong decided that a Buddha was needed to calm the waters. In 713 AD he began to carve the statue from the red stone above the confluence. The statue was only completed a century later, with the help of others. During the carving process, the pieces of removed rock were deposited in the water. Because the river was partially dammed, it became less turbulent – although the inhabitants of Leshan have their own, spiritual version of this historical tale. Whichever version is true, the fact remains that the Giant Buddha stares calmly over the water, encouraging the belief that it was he who tamed the rivers.