Located on the Small Jishi Hill, about 35 kilometers (about 22 miles) west of Yongjing County in Lanzhou City, Bingling Temple Grotto is one of the very noted four caves in China, it is also regarded as the second to Mogao Caves in terms of its artistic value.
The Bingling Temple Grotto is located at a transportation hub on a feeder line of the ancient Silk Road leading from China to the western countries. Buddhists started to cave grottoes and sculpture as early as the western Jin Dynasty. During the period of the Sixteen states, the nobles of the Xianbei ethnic tribe established the Western Qin Regime here. They were for the Buddhist cult and so many eminent monks from inland and western regions swarmed to the place, preaching and sermonizing. The Dasi Valley in the Minor Jishi Hills within the territory of the Western Qin ,namely the area where Bingling Temple located came to be the Buddhist venue of the time.
According to historical records, the Bingling Lower Temple used to be called the Lingyan Temple during the Tang (618-917 AD) and Ming (1368-1644 AD) dynasties. Bingling is a Tibetan expression, which means “ten thousand Buddha” and equivalent to “Thousand Buddha Hill” or “Ten thousand Buddha cave” of literary translation in Chinese. The formal construction of the Bingling Temple took place in the 420, the first year under the reign of the Western Qin dynasty. And it was carried on during the ensuing dynasties of Northern Wei, Northern Zhou, Sui and Tang, and murals and decorations were made even in the Yuan and a Ming dynasties. So it has a history of 1,600 years.
There are now 183 niches, 694 stone statues, 82 clay sculptures and some 900 square meters' (about 1,076 square yards') of murals, which are all well preserved. Being well-known for its stone sculptures, Bingling Temple Grotto stretches about 200 meters (about 600 feet) on the west cliff in Dasi Gully. Among the caves, the main characters are Sakyamuni, Kwan-yin, Amitayus Buddha, Maitreya Buddha, and other Buddhas. With elegant postures, flying robes and ribbons, the statues are life-like. Among the caves, Cave No.169 is worthy of a particular mention. Made in the Northern Dynasties (386-581), it is the most imposing and delicate one which holds the clay sculptures of Kwan-yin, Dali Buddha (Dali means powerful strength in Chinese), etc. Dali Buddha has a round face, sitting with legs crossed. When we see thissculpture we will feel its expression as being very solemn. On its two sides stands Bodhisattvas with their hair bound, waving bare arms. The colors present us vivid Bodhisattvas and Buddhas. Cave No.125, which holds the stone sculpture of Sakyamuni, is also one not to be missed.
The stone sculptures in Bingling Temple Grotto represent the social situations and customs during ancient times. In the vicinity of the caves are green hills, crystal water, grotesque stones and precipitous cliffs, which adds more beauty to this artistic site.
It is nice to visit here when you travel to China on the ancient Silk Road.