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Shaolin Temple

The world-famous Shaolin Temple is located at the foot of the Wuru Peak of the Shaoshi Mountain of Dengfeng, a little more than 50 miles southwest of Henan's provincial capital, Zhengzhou. Built in 495 during the reign of Emperor Taihe of the Northern Wei Dynasty, the temple was originally designed to house Batuo, a celebrated Indian monk, who, after many years of spreading Buddhism, was later known as Fo Tuo, or Grand Monk. Then in 527 AD, Bodhidharma, an ancinent Indian monk known to the Chinese as Da Mo, came here and started the Zen sect, which is regarded as the "ancestral (first) court" of the Chinese Buddhism. It is reported that he lived here for nine years until his death in 535. Some accounts relate that Da Mo, seeing the monks becoming fat and lazy due to the sitting meditation, came up with walking meditations that imitated the natural motions of animals and birds that eventually evolved into a form of unarmed combat or martial arts (Wu Shu or Kung Fu).

That started the kung-fu tradition at the temple. At the beginning of the seventh century, a tiny army of 13 Shaolin monks were reputed to have saved future Tang Dynasty emperor Li Shimin, by defeating an entire division of the ruling Sui Dynasty's army and helping him break out of prison. When he took power, Li showered favors, land and wealth on the temple. Shaolin then thrived as a center of kung-fu masters from around the country. At its heyday, it housed more than 3,000 solider-monks.

In the temple the Hall of Thousand Buddhas is the most magnificent inside which well preserved are gigantic murals of "500 Arhats Worshiping..." that cover the east, west and north wells. On the brick floor of the hall two rows of depressions can be seen; these are marks left by Shaolin monks who over long years practiced in it martial arts, the well- known Shaolin Gongfu, which originated right here. The architecture of the halls, pavilions, pagodas and other structures in Shaolin Monastery is a representative of an important style in the history of Chinese architecture. Another valuable and precious relic well kept is the more than 300 inscribed stone tablets left over since the Tang Dynasty.

About 300 meters west of Shaolin Monastery is the Forest of Stupas, the largest group of stupas in China, serving as the tombs for Shaolin monks after they die. The existent over 220 stupas of brick and stone were built in the dynasties of Tang, Song, Jin, Yuan, Ming and Qing. The stupas, usually of 3-5 stories, are no more than 15 meters high, and vary in shapes of quadrangle, sexangle, cylinder, cone, parabola, straight line, bottle, circle; some are made of one piece of rock. On most of the stupas there are bas-reliefs and inscriptions. The stupa forest is representative of the artifacts of the successive dynasties and a treasure house of ancient architecture and sculpture of China.

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