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Bamboo Temple

Only 7 miles northwest of Kunming, lies the Bamboo Temple, which is not only frequented by sculptors from across the world but also by those who take a keen interest in art and history. A conglomeration of larger-than-life surrealism and realism that at times verges on being an imitation of life, the temple was founded during the Tang dynasty, only to be razed to the ground in a conflagration in the 15th Century. Perched on the Yu’an Mountain and cradled by luxuriously dense bamboo forest, the temple is shrouded in mystery. Legend has it two brothers of royal lineage during the Tang dynasty went on a hunting spree in a jungle in the outskirts of what is now known as Kunming. They spotted a rhinoceros and hoping to seize their prey, they chased the fleeing animal into the depths of the jungle, where it suddenly disappered. Just as they lost sight of their prey, they walked into a bevy of monks, who were unlike any other monks they have known or seen. The monks soon vanished into thin air, leaving their walking streets behind, nailed to the ground. Surprised, the brothers realised that they were given the blessed opportunity of meeting enlightened, supernatural beings and this inspired them to build Qiongzhu Temple, now known as the Bamboo Temple. Although the legend has no historical reference or basis, the very association of Bamboo Temple with such legends is what makes it tantalizingly mysterious.

The temple had withstood severe blows of time. During the Tang dynasty, it was destroyed and reconstructed from the scratch. It saw its restoration, when the legendary Sichuanese sculptor Li Guangxiu modelled and designed 500 Buddhist arhats (noble beings), which are considered as an architectural masterpiece today.

Built with the painstaking meticulousness, these statues were so much life-like that they invited unusually harsh criticism from contemporary sculptors. After seven years of gruelling work, Li Guangxiu and his apprentices were able to whip the statues into perfect shape and breathe life into them. The arhats or clay models, also famously known as “Sculptured pearls in the oriental treasure-house” stand for various aspects of ordinary human lives and are a projection of different human emotions and expressions. As for instance, one of the statues with a face almost scrunched up into a scream is on the verge of biting into a peach, while another statue is reprimanding his pet monster. Some arhats are reaching out for the moon, while others have their faces contorted in anger. Besides housing these arhats, the temple is a treasure-trove of antithetical couplets penned down by legendary poets such as Dandang of the late Ming dynasty and general Li Genyuan.


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