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Baima Temple, Luoyang

Baima (White Horse) Temple is situated in the east of Luoyang City, Henan Province, and is the first Chinese place where Buddhist rites were performed. In 1983, it was designated as one of national key temples in the areas of the Han nationality.
It is said that Baima Temple got its name from a story. An emperor in the Han Dynasty (206BC-220) dreamed of a gold man and then ordered in the 10thyear (67) of the Yongping reign to seek Buddhist doctrines from the Western Regions. The obtained Buddhist scriptures and statues were carried back to Luoyang on the back of white horses; therefore, a temple named Baima (White Horse) was built in the 11thyear (68) of the Yongping reign. In the past two thousand years, Baima Temple experienced several rises and declines. Among all reconstructions of past dynasties, the scale of reconstruction in the first year (685) of the Chuigong reign of the Tang Dynasty (618-907) was the largest. Now, the temple mainly keeps the overall arrangement of the one reconstructed in the 35thyear (1556) of the Jiajing reign of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644).

White Horse Temple (Baima Temple) is located 12 km away from Luoyang City. Established by the Han Dynasty in 68 AD when Buddhism started to spread, this temple is believe to be the first Buddhist temple built by the government in China.

According to historical records, Emperor Ming of the Eastern Han Dynasty (25 - 220 AD) once sent his minister on a diplomatic mission to western region to learn about Buddhism. After finished study, they came back with two eminent Indian dignitary monks - She Moteng and Zhu Falan, and a white horse carried the sutra and the figure of Buddha. In order to memorialize the white horse's contribution of taking back the sutra, Emperor Ming ordered the construction of the temple and named it White Horse Temple.

White Horse Temple was regarded as the "originating court" and the "cradle of Chinese Buddhism" by the Buddhist disciples. Since its establishment, White Horse Temple has experienced vicissitudes of centuries. It was rebuilt for several times, in which the restoration during the reign of Emperor Wu Zetian was especially notable in its large scale.

Now Baima Temple covers an area of 40,000 square meters. Its main buildings include Heavenly King Hall, Great Buddha Hall, and Main Hall. Among these halls, the Main Hall is the most magnificent one and houses statues of three Buddhas (Maitreya, Prabhutaratna and Sakyamuni) and 18 arhats. These statues are vivid with different expressions and postures. A big bell is hung in the Great Buddha Hall. It is interesting that due to similarity of temperament, when the bell rings, the bell in the Bell Tower in Luoyang City, 25li(1li= 500m) away from Baima Temple, will also ring. At zero o'clock midnight of New Year's Day each year, people always come here to ring the bell.

There is one tomb each at the southeastern and southwestern corners of the temple respectively where two accomplished monks from India were buried. A pagoda named Qiyun Pagoda of about 200 meters once stood at the southeast of Baima Temple. This pagoda was destroyed in the Song Dynasty (960-1279) by war and in the 15thyear of the Dading reign of the Jin Dynasty (1115-1234), a 13-storeyed square pagoda was built at the same place, and the pagoda is called Baima Temple Pagoda now. The pagoda has a unique style, and is of high artistic value as well as one of a few ancient buildings of the Jin Dynasty extant in the Chinese Central Plains.

Baima Temple is the earliest place where Buddhist scriptures were translated during the initial stage of dissemination of Buddhist doctrines in China. Here, Kashyapamtanga and Dharmaraksha, two accomplished Indian monks, translated the first Buddhist Scripture into Chinese from Sanskrit:The Sutra in Forty-two Sections Spoken by the Buddha. Afterwards, Dharmakala translated the first commandment into Chinese from Sanskrit:Buddhist Disciplines for Monks. Since then, China has had formal Buddhist disciplines. According to historical records, such ancient accomplished monks and sutra translation masters from the Western Regions as An Shih Kao, Zhu Fulang, and An Xuan once also translated Buddhist scriptures into Chinese in Baima Temple. They translated large volumes of Buddhist scriptures. Along with spread of these works, Chinese Buddhism gradually reached its zenith in the Sui and Tang dynasties (581-907).

Tianwang Hall (Heavenly King Hall)

Standing behind the temple gate, Tianwang Hall is the first hall of this temple. In it, the Maitreya Buddha was enshrined with four Heavenly Kings on both sides. The four Heavenly Kings hold respectively a pipa, a sward, a snake and an umbrella in their hand, which symbolizing favorable weather for crops and a prosperous and peaceful country for the people. Behind the Maitreya Buddha is Weituo, the protector of the Buddhist doctrine.

Great Buddha Hall

Great Buddha Hall is the second hall of the temple. It is the place where the grand Buddhist ceremonies are held. The existent hall dates from the Ming Dynasty (1368 - 1644). In its center sits erect a statue of Sakyamuni which is closely flanked by two Bodhisattvas Wenshu and Puxian, and his two disciples Ananda and Jiaye. Behind stand the statue of Avalokitesvara.

In the southeast of the hall, a huge bell is hung from the beam. It was said that when the bell is struck, the toll could be heard far away. More interesting is that once the bell is tolling, the one in Bell Tower in Luoyang Old Town will response it quickly due to the sympathetic vibration. "Horse Temple Bell", one of the eight scenes in Luoyang city was named from it.

Daxiong Hall (Great Hero Treasure Hall)

Originally built in the Yuan Dynasty (1271- 1368) and rebuilt in the Ming and Qing dynasties, Daxiong Hall was the most magnificent in scale and most splendid in view. The hall houses three Buddhas. Sakyamuni is sitting in the center with Medicine Buddha who from the Eastern Pure Land of Azure Radiance on the left and Amitabha Buddha, the teacher of the Western Pure Land on the right.

The hall also house eighteen Arhats. They are vivid in modeling and unique in gesture and are treasures in Buddhist arts of the Yuan Dynasty.

Qingliang Terrace

The fourth hall is Jieyin Hall (Receiving and Directing to Paradise Hall). Behind it is a platform named Qingliang Terrace. Rebuilt in the Ming Dynasty, Qingliang Terrace was said to be the place where Emperor Ming of the Han Dynasty read and rest. Later, the two dignitary monks from Indian once lived here and preached Buddhism and translated scripture books until death. After the Eastern Han Dynasty, this terrace was adopted to house the Buddhist sutra.

Qiyun Pagoda (Cloud Reaching Pagoda)

Located about 200 meters southeast of White Horse Temple is Qiyun Tower. It was originally built in the Later Tang Dynasty during the Five Dynasties as a pavilion-like wooden structure. Later, destroyed in a fire, it was rebuilt in 1175 as a 13-story square brick structure with closely arranged eaves.

Qiyun Pagoda is 25 meter in height with 13 stories and 7.8 meters on each side at the bottom. Displaying a unique style, the pagoda belongs to the style of cubic shaped, close eaves brick pagoda. The eaves are built with small, exquisite overlapping bricks. Once you clap your hands 20 meters away from the pagoda, the echo reflected from the eaves sounds like frogs croaking.

Qiyun Pagoda is also one of the few ancient buildings of the Jin Dynasty (1115 - 1234) in central China.

Besides, White Horse Temple has kept more than 40 upright stone tablets through the ages since the Tang Dynasty. Among them the Notes of Luojing Baima Temple Originating Court handwritten by Zhao Mengfu, a famous calligrapher of the Yuan Dynasty, is the most precious one.

Outside of the temple there is two stone horses, all in life-size. These two horses look geniality and tractability. They are the stone-carved horses made in Song Dynasty (960 - 1279), and they are the excellent artwork.

Edited by Athena Lee
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