The Leshan Giant Buddha lies at the confluence of the Minjiang, Dadu and Qingyi rivers in the southern part of Sichuan province in China, near the city of Leshan. It was carved on a precipice on Qiluan Peak in Lingyun Mountain on the southern shore of the Minjiang River, with his head at the same height of the mountaintop and the rivers flowing below his feet. It is the largest stone Buddha in the world. Imagining that over 100 people could sit around its instep, you would wonder at the size of the statue.
The Maitreya Buddha, 71 m high, can be seen several dozen kilometers away. He is sitting there wearing a cowl, with two hands resting on his knees. It is massive with a symmetrical scale and with a 14.7 m long and 10 m wide head, 5.6 m long nose, 7 m long ears, 5.6 m long eyebrows, 3.3 m long eyes, 3.3 m long mouth, 3 m long neck, 28 m wide shoulders and 8.3 m long middle-fingers, 11 m long feet, 8.5 m wide instep, and the height from the Giant Buddha’s insteps to his knees is 28 m.
On his head, there are 1,021 hair buns, which have been skillfully embedded on the head. The skill is so wonderful that the 1,021 buns seem integral to the whole, and every hair bun is as large as a round table. The huge ears were carved out of wood and affixed to the statue with great precision and difficulty, and each ear hole is big enough to hold two people.
This Giant Buddha is three times higher than the highest Buddhist statue in the Yungang Grottoes of Datong, Shanxi Province, and 18 meters higher than the giant standing Buddha of Bamyan in Afghanistan (which has been destroyed). The Leshan Giant Buddha is the largest carved stone Buddha in the world and it is by far the tallest pre-modern statue in the world.
The statue began to be carved along the mountain in 713 during the Tang Dynasty. Its construction was initiated by Monk Haitong of the Lingyun Temple and was once suspended. It was not until 803, the construction was completed, lasting 90 years. The Giant Buddha was originally painted with color. After the construction of the Giant Buddha, on top of the Buddha there was also a 13-story pavilion, to cover the Buddha so as to protect the carving from erosion. However, the pavilion was destroyed at the end of the Ming Dynasty, hence the oxidization and less of color on the Buddha.
The Leshan Giant Buddha shows a well-conceived design, with a sophisticated, built-in drainage system of hidden gutters and channels embedded on the head, arms, behind the ears, and in the clothes. This helps displace rainwater and cut back on erosion. So, for thousands of years it has been eroded by wind and rain, the carving still stands majestically.
On the cliffs beside the Giant Buddha, there are two carved stone warriors in battle robes, holding the halberd. Besides the Giant Buddha, there are tens of hundreds other carved Buddhas, which make the mountain a museum of Buddhist carving.
In 1996, the World Heritage Committee of UNESCO inscribed Mount Emei Scenic Area, including Leshan Giant Buddha Scenic Area on their World Heritage List as a mixed cultural and natural property of the world.
From the main entrance, a short 10 minutes’ walk will bring you to the tip of the Buddha’s head, where you can look down the length of his huge body. This is the best place to get up close to the head and face.
On the right of the Buddha, the Jiuqu (Nine Bends) Plank Road leads down a tight, winding vertical staircase to the base of the statue.
You can also take a boat ride to see the statue in all its grandeur from the river.
Leshan is 169 km from Chengdu. You can go from Chengdu to Leshan by public bus or sightseeing bus. It is only 30 km from Leshan to Mount Emei, and public buses are also available. Leshan can also be reached by trains and steamships. Passenger ships run from the Leshan Harbor to Chongqing and Yibin regularly.