Yulin Grotto Temple

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Located 75 km to the southeast of Anxi county seat, the Yulin Grotto Temple is also known as Ten Thousand Buddha Gorge. The grottoes were opened high on the cliff banks of the Tashi River.

The site boasts 41 extant caves. Grotto making started here in the Northern Dynasties period and major digging and repair activity took place during the Tang, Five Dynasties, Song, Western Xia and Yuan dynasties. Cave 25 is the most compelling example of those created during the Tubo (Tibet) reign in the mid- and late-Tang time. The cave is separated into front and rear rooms. On the south and north ends of the west wall in the front room are painted two murals—Manjushri and Samantabhadra. On the south and north walls in the cave are murals of the Amitaya Buddha of Boundless Life and Maitreya, both of which were executed with first-rate painting skills. In the first, the Amitaya Buddha is seated on a six-sided dais within a square balustrade platform, solemnly preaching to an audience. The Goddess of Mercy and Mahastamaprapta sit either side of the Buddha, and a group of deities around the three listen attentively. In front of the Buddha platform two lines of musicians sit on the floor happily playing their various instruments, and in between them a dancer, a waist drum on her chest, one leg raised and arms outstretched, dances to the joyous music. In the background are magnificent palaces on each side of the picture. Lotus flowers bloom in the clear seven-treasure pond between the square platform and winding corridor. Beautiful peacocks and auspicious birds fly and dance around. The sky above with floating pink clouds and melodious music presents a lively and enchanting scene.

The Goddess of Mercy with Water and Moon, on the south and north sides of the east wall in Cave 2, dates from the Western Xia period. In a tranquil field full of singing birds and fragrant flowers, the Goddess has long hair to the shoulders and wears a flower crown. Holding a string of prayer beads, she sits on a hill rock by a stream in the silver light of a huge round moon, looking simultaneously divine, dignified, kind and loving. The auspicious clouds, trees, rocks and stream form an enchanting composition of paradise.

Inside Cave 3, painted on the cliff to the right of Samantabhadra is a picture of “Tang Monk Xuan Zang Seeking Sutras in the West.” This is earliest extant picture on the theme of Tang Xuanzang seeking sutras from the West and as such has high artistic and academic value.