Dali, China 2011
At the end of July of 2011, I found myself trekking around the City of Dali, China. Dali is situated in the transition area between the dramatic valleys of the eastern Tibetan Plateau and the distinctive mountains of the western Yungui Plateau.
The county-level city surrounds Erhai Lake between the Cang Mountains to the west and Mount Jizu to the east. Dali has a long history dating back to the time when area was the center of the Nanzhao Empire. The present ancient city of Dali was mostly built during the Ming dynasty, though there are some older buildings and structures remaining from earlier eras.
My first night in Dali City, I explored the nearby Yuer Park, with my trekking buddies. Pictured below, I’m standing on the North Gate of near Foreigner’s Street (Hu Guo Lu). The area had a lot of marble objects, water and gardens.
That first night in the Ancient City of Dali, on Foreigner Street, my trekking group accidently happened upon the local Naxi’s Torch Festival. The traditional Torch Festival, also know as the Fire Festival, is one of the most important holidays of the Naxi people in southwest China, and is also celebrated by other ethnic groups of the region, such as the Yi, Bai, Hani, Lisu, Pumi and Lahu. It’s celebrated on the 24th or 25th day of the 6th month of the lunar calendar, which usually corresponds to the end of July, while we were there.
For 3 days, men and women, young and old, carry flaming torches and engage in a variety of activities. The Torch Festival featured – of course – lighting up torches, hence its name. The origin of the festival is the worship of fire by the people’s ancestors, who believed fire had the power to not only chase away evil and to protect crop growth but also – very practical – to repel insects.
During the festival, pictured above, torches were erected in front of every household, and a pile of faggots several meters high were erected in the center of the square. When night fell, the gongs and horns were sounded, people of all ages came forward to ignite a faggot pile. Cheerful flames leaped up to the sky, crackling and spluttering all the while. Shouts of joy together with the boom of gongs and drums created a beautiful musical sea of rejoicing. It was quite the event to witness.
The next morning, my trekking group visited the Zhoucheng Village in Dali Old City. It is famous as the Hometown of Bai People’s Tie-dyeing Art. Tie-dying originated from this location, over 1,000 years ago. Pictured above, tie-dyeing is a technology of printing flower patterns on cloth. As the name suggests, the process divided into “tie” and “dye”. Tie refers to making the cloth into certain shapes by pinching, creasing and flanging it according to the flower patterns. They are then tied tightly together to make a bunch of knots. Pictured below, the aim of tying the knots is to dye the untied part while retaining the original color of the knotted parts. The tighter the knots were tied, the better the effect of the color printing is achieved.
The dyeing process involved; first soaking the ‘knots’ into clear water, followed by immersing them in the dye vat for a period of time before taking them out to dry. After drying, they are again put back in the dye vat and the process is repeated until a satisfactory color is achieved. Once dried, stitches are taken out of the knots and the cloth is smoothen out to reveal that part of the cloth, was sewn and form beautiful flower patterns and the dye crease marks.
The main colors of the tie-dying process are white and blue, with the white color for the flower patterns and the blue for the background, (pictured above). The contrast of these two colors shows the beauty of simplicity, which reflects the Bai People’s way of life.
The main dye comes from the Ban Lan Gen, the Isatis Root in English. Pictured above, cloth dyed with this plant’s extract is good to the skin and presents a color of bluish green that is not easily faded.
The following day, my trekking group decided to hike up the side of the Cang Mountains. The Cang Mountains (Cangshan) are a mountain range west of Dali City.
Cangshan’s snow-capped peaks, flowing clouds, murmuring brooks and diverse flora make it a great day-hike for us to do. Pictured above, the picturesque creeks run between each of the summits, and serene waterfalls cascaded their way down the rocks.
Our last day at Dali City, we visited the Chongsheng Temple and Three-Pagoda Culture Tourist Area. Pictured below is a map of the area. Located at the foot of Yingle Peak of Cangshan Mountain, Chingsheng Temple is also name Three-Pagoda Temple. Erected in the Kaiyuan Reign of the Tang Dynasty (713-741 A.D.) and expanded in the later dynasties, the temple reached it’s peak in Dali Kingdom period of the Song Dynasty, and became the imperial temple, political and religion center of Nanzhao Kingdom and Dali Kingdom. It is dubbed as the “Buddhism Center”.
Covering an area of 5.68 square kilometers and located at the eastern foot of Cangshan Mountain and the north suburban of the Ancient City of Dali, Chongsheng Temple & Three-Pagoda Cultural Tourist Area is among the first cultural relics under conservation listed by the State Council, and is a national key tourist area integrating Cangshan Mountain landscape, relics, Buddhism culture and leisure.
The construction of Chongsheng Temple was resumed in 2003 and finished in 2005. Centered on the protection of the three pagodas, the construction integrateds the architectural characteristics of Tang, Song, Yuan, Ming and Qing Dynasty, featured with the layout of one primary and two secondary lines, nine phases and eleven terraces.
Pictured above, firstly established in the Kaiyuan Reign of the Tang Dynasty and flourished in the Song Dynasty, Chongsheng Temple is renowned in the world for the Three Pagodas, Jianji Bell, Yutong Avalokitesvara Stature, “Buddhism Center” Board, and the Gold Statures of the Three Saints. It is the famous imperial temple of the Nanzhao and Dali Kingdom where nine kings of the Dali Kingdom had cloistered into Buddhist cultivation. During the Xianfeng Reign and Tongzhi Reign of the Qing Dynasty. Chongsheng Temple was destroyed in the wars and natural disasters. Only the Three Pagodas survived.
With its beautiful sceneries, and the sound of morning chimes and evening drum lingering between Cangshan Mountain and Erhai Lake, the temple is the best choice for the monks to practice Buddhism and for the common people to purify their souls and feel the happiness of life.
The Three Pagodas are made of one big pagoda and two small pagodas, forming a symmetric triangle. The Three Pagodas are made of brick and covered with white mud. The purpose of Three Pagodas, as so often in China, is to magically guard against natural disasters, particularly earthquakes and floods, as per the four-character inscription on the tall pagoda: “Forever Control Mountains and Rivers.” The main pagoda is known as Qianxun Pagoda which was first built during 823-840 AD by King Quan Fengyou of Nanzhao Kingdom. Qianxun Pagoda is square shaped and stands 69.4 meters high. The other two sibling pagodas, at 42.19 meters high, stand to the northwest and southwest of Qianxun Pagoda and they are octagonal with ten multi-eave pent roofs. From their structure and shape, the two small pagodas should be built in the Dali Kingdom of the Song Dynasty style.
Pictured above, erected in the 2nd year of Zhongxing Reign of Nanzhao Kingdom (899 A.D.), Yutong Avalokitesvara hall was destroyed in the “Cultural Revolution” period and rebuilt in 1999. Ecuoye Avalokitesvara Pavilion is a triple-eave and double-gable-and-hip-roof building where the 12 m tail figure of Ecuoye Avalokitesvara is worshiped.
The unique form of Avalokitesvara with man body and woman appearance is the Avalokitesvara mainly worshiped in Vajrayana of Bai people. It is also called “Slim-waist Avalokitesvara”, “Dali Avalokitesvara”, and “The Lucky Star of Yunnan”. The Avalokitesvara figure is 8.6 m high. It is made of copper and pasted with gold and weighs 11 tons.
Pictured above, the 4 m tall figure of “Fortune God” is worshiped here. Named as Zhao Gongming, he had practiced Taoism in Luofu Cave of Emei Mountain. Later he rod a black tiger and helped Emperor Zhou of the Shang Dynasty, where he was appointed as “The God of Fortune” by Jiang Ziya.
Pictured above, the 1.6 m tall sitting statue of the “Medicine Buddha” is worshiped here. It is the founder of the Jing Liuli world. The “Medicine Buddha, Amitabha, and Sakyamuni are called “Buddhas of Three Periods”. Meanwhile, the Medicine Buddha and the Sun Bodhisattva and the Moon Donhisattva, (it’s attendants), are jointly called “The Three saints of the Oriental”.
Pictured above, inside the ‘Heavenly King Hall’, with hip roof and a single eave, the dragon and phoenix patterns are adopted here. Worshiped in the middle is the 5.7 m tall figure of “Dahei God”, who has three faces and six arms, holds spears in anger and is winded around by snakes. Worshiped beside him are the four Heavenly Kings in charge of the Buddhist Doctrine.
Pictured above, the Maitreya Hall. With a single cave and hip roof, the Maitreya Hall adopts the elegant dragon pattern. The figures of Maitreya and Weituo Bodhisattva are worshiped in the center and the God guarding the Dharma are exhibited by the figures. The sitting statue of Maitreya is 3.7 m tall. The Buddha is exposing his bosom and abdomen, counting the pearls and smiling.
Pictured above, Vajra is also called Devil Surrendering stamper. These Vajras are made of copper and coated with gold. The largest one, 6 m high and with a diameter of 1 m, is the largest one in China.
Pictured above, the “Prayer Wheels” are a unique instrument in Tibetan Buddhism. Carved on the prayer wheels are Safety Sutra, Banruoboluomi Sutra, Diamond Sutra and Lotus Sutra.
Pictured above, the “Eleven-face Avalokitesvara Hall is a building with double cave roof. Inside, the Eleven-face Avalokitesvara standing at 9 m tall and the eight avatars of Avalokitesvara standing at 4 m tall are enshrined. The lattice on the door of the hall was a famous Jianchuan wood carving.
Pictured above, the “Arhats Hall” is a building full of strange looking buddhas. Made of copper and coated with gold, the figures of 500 Arhats, (enlightened persons) are averagely 1.8 m tall, and the gold-coating amount is the most extravagant among all the temples in China. Based on the sculptures in Quongzhu Temple created by Li Guangxiu of the Qing Dynasty, the statures are of different facial expressions, showing a unique and skillful technique.
Pictured above, built after the pattern of Taihe Hall of the Beijing Palace, the Hall of Mahavira is the largest one in the Han Buddhism temples. With double cave and three layers of terrace, the hall is 51.7 m wide and 26 m high. The hall is laid out in reference to the painting “Sakyamuni Buddha Meeting” in Scroll of Sanskrit Buddha Figures by Zhang Shengwen.
Pictured above, the “Lakeview Pavilion is also called “Scripture Collection Pavilion. It is a triple-eave pavilion of the style of the Ming and Qing Dynasty. The Buddhism classics such as Ta-ts’ang Ching and the Buddhist instruments are stored here.