The Dazu rock carvings, one of China’s most impressive UNESCO World Heritage Sites, are situated between Chengdu and Chongqing in the southern part of China, in Sichuan Province, and they are as famous as the Mogao Grottoes in Dunhuang, the Yungang Grottoes and Longmen Grottoes.
There are two ways to reach Dazu, either from Chengdu or from Chongqing. The route is much longer from Chengdu, about 271 km which takes around 5 hours but if you are travelling from Chongqing then it’s only around 3 hours.
The carvings at Dazu are a most beautiful form of rock art and symbolise the integration of Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism, the 3 main religions of China. Besides images of the Buddha, the carvings show different people including ministers, military officers, executioners, monks, rich and poor people, and performers. The carvings date from the 9th to 13th centuries.
There are four places to see Dazu rock carvings – the most popular is at Baodingshan, but you can also see them at Beishan, Nanshan and Shizhuanshuan.
Baodingshan is the most visited grotto in Dazu. At the entrance there are nine Dharmapalas (Protectors of the Law) which guard the entrance, carrying swords, spears and fans. To the left you will come across servants with human bodies and animal heads, and they represent humans who have been reincrinated as animals in order to pay off a karmic debt. The most significant carving is the wheel of reincarnation which summarises the Buddhist teaching of reincarnation. The demon Mara who personifies existance holds the wheel in his jaws and arms, and the wheel is also supported by the personification of greed, (an official), evil (a solider), foolishness (a monkey), and lust (a woman). Six Buddha-rays on the wheel illustrate that enlightenment, the goal of all Buddhist practice, will allow the seeker to escape from the eternal cycle of birth and death.
Among other rock carvings, the most imposing one is the Parinirvana, a 31m long reclining statue which illustrates the death of Shakyamuni.