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Friday, October 15, 2010

No. 41: Caotang Temple, Xi'an, Shaanxi

This pavilion (阁) holds a relic (舍利子) said to be the tongue of Kumarajiva
(鸠摩罗什) at Caotang Temple (草堂寺), Xi'an, Shaanxi (陕西, 西安市).
After the grueling climb down from Jingye Temple, I began walking the two kilometers down to where the bus had dropped me and the "black taxis" were waiting. Before I had gone far, another car came by and whisked me to the intersection for a reasonable price.

The drivers there offered to take me onward to Caotang Temple for only 30 renminbi--not a bad price, but more than the 2 renminbi I paid for the bus that arrived shortly. It dropped me a pleasant 15-minute walk from the gate, and voila! I arrived at Caotang ("Straw Hut") Temple before 3 p.m.

This fine place had the usual halls, but also a couple of special features. One was the "Misty Well"--unfortunately un-misty when I was there. It is known at times to emit a vapor caused by geothermal activity. (However, there is some concern that changes in the water table or other effects of development have disrupted this phenomenon.)

Legend has another explanation for the mist. The ancients believed that a prodigious serpent rests on a stone part of the way down the well; the mist is his breath, like that of a dragon. I hope he's still there!

Another facet of this temple is its association with the great Kuchean monk and translator Kumarajiva (鸠摩罗什, died 413 CE). Along with Paramartha, Xuanzang, and Amoghavajra, Kumarajiva is considered one of China's four great sutra translators.

So important was he that it is said that emperor Yao Xing sent armies to Gansu to free him from his captivity by the warlord Lu Guang and bring him to Chang'an (modern Xi'an), where he translated 74 important texts.

According to legend, Kumarajiva said that if his translations were accurate, his tongue would not burn when his body was cremated. And so it happened, and a small building on the grounds holds a tongue-relic of the great translator.

After a long bus ride, I was back in central Xi'an for the night.

(An edited version of this article was published in the Shenzhen Daily November 5, 2012.)

GPS Info:
  • 34.01231, 108.74416



Map:




GALLERY

Red peppers drying in front of the gate of Caotang Temple, Xi'an
The "Misty Well" in its own pavilion
Inside this pavilion is a small jade pagoda holding the tongue relic of Kumarajiva (also seen above)
Here is the miniature pagoda that contains the tongue relic

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