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Kaiyuan Temple – The Buddhist Art Treasure on the Marine Silk Road


Before Quanzhou, before the marine silk road, let’s talk about temples.

Quanzhou is an important city with a long history, since the Three Kingdoms Period about AD 260. There are lots of historic sites which you can find very easily, especially the great history of religions. You can find the ancient site of 5 religions with more than 1000 years history, one of them is the most famous, the Kaiyuan temple.

Kaiyuan temple is not just a temple with only Chinese Buddhism, it incorporates different cultures from India, which were from the marine silk road. That’s right, Quanzhou played a very important role in ancient foreign trading, especially during the Song and Ming dynasties.

This is a legendary temple, which was built more than 1300 years ago, by the Huda Abbot in AD 686. The original name was Lotus Temple, it’s been changed many times from AD 686 to AD 738 by the emperors. In the 22nd year of the Kaiyuan period of the Tang dynasty, it was named Kaiyuan Temple.

The boom time of the temple was during the five dynasties and Song dynasty. There were about 120 branches around it, with a population of 1000 monks and an area of 20,000 square meters. It enjoyed the highest reputation, the same as the White Horse Temple in Luoyang, Lingyin Temple in Hangzhou and Shaoji Temple In Beijing.

The first part you are going to see is the 800 year-old twin stone towers which were built in the South Song dynasty. There are five floors of tower with an octagonal structure. The Eastern Tower and Western Tower are symmetrical, with a special religious meaning.

From the Buddhists’ point of view, the Eastern tower stands for Saha world, and the Western tower stands for Nirvana. The reliefs, which are 2 meters by 1 meter on the wall, feature 160 Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, Monks, and Arhats in both towers, and 384 of the gods of the tower, gnomes, Buddhist stories, birds, flowers, lions, and dragons. The very different one is the Avalokiteshvara (Guanyin) with bread, which come from Indian Buddhism, indicating the Song dynasty people still kept the Indian male Guanyin.

72 reliefs of the Great Sphinx of Giza are showing on the waist of the front platform of the Mahavira Hall, with many different types of gestures and styles, they were moved from the ruins of an Indian temple during the Song and Yuan dynasties.

Underneath the eaves of the veranda of the Mahavira Hall, there are two sixteen-sided stone pillars in the center, 24 stories of Hercules Krishnamurti reliefs are sitting on the lower, middle and upper square platforms, which were also moved from the ruins of an Indian temple.

Now it comes to the end of the most amazing part of the temple, the Kalavinka, where they were said to sing incredible songs. Those human heads and bird-bodied creatures are extremely beautiful ladies, holding fragrant flowers and fruits, writing tools, papers, some of them even hold musical instruments singing and dancing in front of Buddhas.

This is just the beginning, to see more about the Marine Silk Road in Quanzhou, to know more of the amazing ancient mysteries, welcome to Quanzhou!