Yuantong Temple is located on the skirt of the Loufengshan Mountain, also known as Yuantong Mountain, near downtown Kunming. The temple bears a history of more than 1,200 years and is considered as the grandest and most important Buddhist temple in Yunnan Province. A visit in the temple usually begins at the Four Heavenly Guardians Hall (Tian Wang Bao Dian), a shrine built for the Smiling Buddha, and the “Four Heavenly Guardians” (Deva Kings). Milefo Buddha or the Smiling Buddha is noted as the most impressive Buddha in the Mahayana Buddhism.
In the central Yuantong Complex is a clear pool with an octagonal covered pavilion that serves as the temple for Guanyin, the Goddess of Mercy with One Thousand Arms. The main hall, a shrine for Dharmakaya (Body of Buddhism), Sambhagaya (Reward Body), and Nimanakaya (Reincarnation Body), is the highlight of the temple. Behind the hall, tourists will get a glimpse of a 3.5-meter high copper Buddha statue named Sakyamuni.
The Celebrated History of the Yuantong Temple
The Yuantong Temple was built in the Nanzhao kingdom in the late 8th and early 9th century in the Tang dynasty. The temple’s architecture presents a high structure in front and a lower hidden structure at the rear. The front archway, called “Yuantong Shenjing” (Wonderland), opens to a scenic garden view of the entire temple. Far to its north lies the Yuantong main hall where a clear shimmering pool can be found. The main hall reflects the ancient architecture of the Yuan Dynasty.
Two central pillars serve as the centerpiece inside the hall. These two pillars are accentuated with two blue and yellow giant dragons carved during the Ming dynasty. The two dragons are facing each other as if they are geared for a fight.
On either side of the main hall is a stone staircase, which was carved from the cliff known as “Caizhilu”. This staircase offers a pathway to the mountain’s summit. This path is adorned by ancient writings that manage to survive nature’s weathering and erosion for centuries. In a sight that never fails to impress visitors, the inscriptions and characters are still clear and readable today.
In the past, Sun Ranweing, author of the long antithetical couplet found on the Daguan Belvedere, used to predict people’s fortunes in the temple as a way to make a living.
What to See in Yuantong Temple
Yuantong Temple is a widely known destination for Buddhist pilgrims and tourists alike. The temple’s most salient features are its non-typical Chinese architecture. The temple was built in a descending style, where a visit will start from the entrance and will descend in a slight slope going through the gardens, halls, and caves. The Yuantong Temple and its surrounding area features several scenic views including the Treasure Hall, also known as the Central Hall, with its seven separate rooms decorated in ancient Chinese style. You will also see the Living Pond, a delicate stone bridge, and the Yougu and Chaoying Caves located at the farthest edge of the area.
Buddhist visitors especially appreciate the 500 Buddhist Arhats wall carvings that can be found in the temple. As an important Buddhist site in Kunming, people also gather in the Yuantong Temple on the 1st and 15th of each lunar month to take part in different kinds of Buddhism services held there.
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