Feilai Peak exhibition traces Hangzhou's history of Buddhist art and traditions

Wu Huixin
Ahead of the Hangzhou Asian Games, the city is holding the Tracing Feilai Peak exhibition, delving into the historic roots of Hangzhou's Buddhist art, traditions and culture.
Wu Huixin

Once known as the "Southeast Buddhist Country" in the 10th to 14th century, Hangzhou was renowned for its numerous Buddhist grottoes and temples thronged with devout believers. These Buddhist relics were the essence of cultural exchange between the ancient Jiangnan region (the area south of the lower reaches of Yangtze River), Japan, India and the Korean Peninsula.

To welcome the approaching Hangzhou Asian Games, the 4th Tracing Feilai Peak exhibition is now underway at the Feilai Peak scenic area with the theme of "Asian civilization community."

Throughout the dynasties, a myriad of inscriptions and Buddha sculptures have been engraved on the mountainsides of Hangzhou by monks and scholars, forming the cultural heritage sites of the West Lake cliff inscriptions.

The cliff inscriptions peaked in the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907) and the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms Period (AD 907-979) when the hilly area of Hangzhou was dotted with Buddhist grottoes and temples.

Those at the Feilai Peak was believed to be the highlight of the West Lake cliff inscriptions by virtue of well-preserved Buddhist heritage.

Feilai Peak exhibition traces Hangzhou's history of Buddhist art and traditions
Ti Gong

The 4th Tracing Feilai Peak exhibition focuses on the history of cultural exchanges between Hangzhou and other regions.

The exhibition is divided into garden design, rubbing inscriptions, calligraphy and creative designs, providing people with a rare opportunity to learn about the religious culture of the city.

In the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), scholars invented a rubbing method to reproduce inscriptions on stone surfaces. This method turns three-dimensional inscriptions into two-dimensional marks on paper. Thanks to this skill, the West Lake cliff inscriptions could be shown at exhibitions in the modern era.

The exhibition displays 34 pieces of rubbing inscriptions ranging from the Tang to Qing dynasties, including rare Sanskrit pieces. Stone inscriptions are less prone to destruction. Additionally, they are an art form requiring both skills in calligraphy and stone carving.

The exhibition also shows nice pieces of contemporary calligraphy and seal carving work, paying respects to the ancient art.

The West Lake cliff inscriptions have tremendous historic importance as evidence of the presence of certain people, including Monk Huili from ancient India.

Dating back to the Southern and Northern Dynasty (AD 420-581), Huili came to Hangzhou and was enchanted by the picturesque landscape of the area. He settled down to build temples and spread Buddhism across the city, which laid the solid foundation of present-day enriched Buddhist culture.

The Feilai Peak literally means "the peak that flew hither" in Chinese. According to legend related to Monk Huili, it was flown from India to Hangzhou overnight to demonstrate the power of Buddhism. Today, over 300 stone inscriptions remain at the Feilai Peak. Some of them were hidden in forests for years and have been discovered in recent years.

Huili symbolized the beginning of friendship between ancient Hangzhou and India. The exhibition aims to commemorate Huili and other monks who made great contributions to religious exchanges throughout history.

Feilai Peak exhibition traces Hangzhou's history of Buddhist art and traditions
Ti Gong

A 3D-printed Vajrasattva of the Yuan Dynasty

In addition to the Feilai Peak, ancient scholars and monks have left over 1,000 spots of stone inscriptions on the hills around the West Lake, which remain as treasures for present-day China. While many of these caves have collapsed over the years, there remains a cluster of caves filled with peculiar stone formations.

In efforts to showcase these stone formations at the exhibition, organizers have used 3D printing technology to reproduce the Yuan Dynasty 18 luohan (Buddhist arhat) and Vajrasattva statues found at the Feilai Peak.

In Chinese Buddhism, luohan were depicted as the original followers of Buddha.

Vajrasattva is a figure in the Mantrayana Buddhist traditions, commonly associated with the student practitioner who through the Buddha's teachings attains an ever-enriching subtle and rarefied grounding in their esoteric practice.

Different from other dynasties, the Yuan Dynasty statues feature elements from Tibet and Tangut Empire, which covers modern-day northwestern China. It reflects the cultural exchanges between different regions.

Feilai Peak exhibition traces Hangzhou's history of Buddhist art and traditions
Ti Gong

Exhibition info:

Date: Through December 31, 6:30am-5:30pm

Admission: 45 yuan (half price for students and seniors over 70 years old)

Address: 1 Fayun Lane, Lingyin Road


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