If you are thinking about visiting China, you definitely must include the Leshan Giant Buddha stone sculpture into your sightseeing plans. This is one of the most impressive stone sculptures in the world and incontestably the largest Buddha statue in existence, measuring 233 feet in height. The Leshan Giant Buddha can be found east of the city of Leshan in Sichuan Province, at the meeting point of three rivers: Qingyi River, Dadu River and Qingyi River. The statue is a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1996, and because of its imposing size and rich historical heritage, it is featured in several stories, songs and even poems.
Construction for this imposing structure started in the year 713 thanks to the efforts of a Chinese monk named Hai Tong. It was finished 90 years later in the year 803, and its building process required thousands of workers as well as vast sums of money. As you can imagine, its creation was seen as an extraordinary event that was not taken lightly, more so since the sculpture was meant to serve as a protector for the simple folk that lived near the rivers, who were complaining about the numerous boat accidents and casualties claimed by the rivers and their tumultuous waters. When Hai Tong died, the project was halfway complete, but his work was carried on by two of his disciples.
The Leshan Giant Buddha actually represents a Maitreya in sitting posture. The Maitreya is regarded as the future Buddha, who will appear to preach the dharma after the words of Gautama Buddha have faded from memory. Needless to say, the Leshan Giant Buddha did not become famous just because of its enormity alone. The sculpture flaunts intricate details such as 1,021 buns of hair as well as a sophisticated drainage system that includes hidden channels in its clothes, arms, head and behind its ears.
This drainage system prevents damage from erosion and maintains the inner part of the statue as dry as possible. Apparently, the original builders intended to protect the statue from the elements by placing a massive, thirteen story gold plated structure in front of it, which was later destroyed and claimed by the Mongols during wars in the late Yuan Dynasty and early Ming Dynasty.
Historical records indicate that the dynasties of old did their best to preserve and protect the Buddha as best as they could. Unfortunately, acid rain, atmospheric moisture and mountain water have taken their toll over the years, which is why the Chinese government and several UNESCO experts started an extensive renovation program that will hopefully remedy some of the major problems and restore this masterpiece to its original state.