Caotang Temple (Straw Hut Temple) is located at the northern foot of Guifeng Mountain in Huxian County in the south of Xi'an. It is 50 kilometers (31 miles) from the city center, bordering the Fengshui River on the east and facing rolling hills to the south. Built at the end of Eastern Jin Dynasty (317 - 420), the temple is one of the oldest Buddhist temples in China. Stricken by flood and fire, the present temple was rebuilt under appropriation from government and with the help of public donations. The present temple was part of the Xiaoyao Garden during the Later Qin dynasty (384 – 417 AD). It is not only a renowned old temple, but the birthplace of the Three-Treatise School of Buddhism. Due to the emperor’s worship of Buddhism, the Buddhist master Kumarajiva was invited to Chang’an (present Xi'an) to translate Buddhist scriptures. It was the first historic translation of foreign scripture.
Kumarajiva, a monk, had traveled to many countries and had a good knowledge of different languages. Whilst dwelling in Caotang Temple, he was responsible for outstanding achievements in sutra translation; his masterpieces of translation reached up to 94 parts，425 volumes. Kumarajiva made a great contribution to the development of Chinese Buddhism, and was the earliest of the four great translators of Buddhist scripture. He founded The Three-Treatises School, the earliest of the eight great Buddhist schools established in China. This temple became his Bodhimanda and the birthplace of The Three-Treatises School.
Facing south, Caotang Temple has two gates, an outer gate and an inner gate. Entering the outer gate, the Giant Bell lies on the right, with the Steles Pavilion on the left. Through the inner gate, Steles Corridor lines both sides of the courtyard. Xiaoyao Tipitaka Hall is in the middle, and outside the hall, in the west, towers the Kumarajiva Sarira Stupa. Mist Well is north of the stupa, concealed within a bamboo forest.
Xiaoyao Tipitaka Hall
Xiaoyao Tipitaka Hall, also called Tianwang Hall, is the largest hall in Caotang Temple. In the center of the hall is enshrined a sculpture of the Gautama Buddha. A statue of a sitting Kumarajiva is lying in the front. The statue, sculptured from a single block of wood, was donated by the Nichiren Buddhists from Japan. The Maitraya Buddha is also enshrined in the hall; the smiling face and big paunch reflect his typical image. On the sides of the hall, the Four Heavenly Kings can be worshiped to protect the temple. The Kings are the Eastern Chiguo King with Chinese lute, Southern Zengzhang King with sword, Western Guangmu King with snake and Northern Duowen King with banner.
The Kumarajiva Sarira Stupa
At the age of seventy, Kumarajiva passed away in Caotang Temple. His tongue was not destroyed in the cremation. It is said Kumarajiva promised to avoid any mistakes in his translations; otherwise his tongue should be burned. So his students collected the unburnt tongue as sarira and constructed the stupa to commemorate him. The stupa is 2.5 meters (eight feet) tall, eight-faced with 12 levels. Different colors of jade and marble are engraved with floral designs. Carving, in relief, of clouds, waves and tigers reflect the exquisite workmanship, which make the stupa a delicate cultural treasure. It is well preserved, so visitors can take experience the complete and solemn Kumarajiva Sarira Stupa.
Mist Well is also called Dragon Well. It is said there is a giant rock beneath the well, with a dragon lying on it. The mist is the exhalation of the dragon coming out of the well. However, this is just a legend; terrestrial heat is the main reason for the mist. There are rich geothermal resources around the temple; many hot springs have been excavated. In autumn and winter, the steam rises up through crevices on the surface, and develops into a thick mist. It seems though, as if all the mist flows out of Caotang Temple, so people called this scene Caotang Mist, one of the Eight Famous Scenes of Xi'an. If you want to visit this site and experience the mist, the recommended touring time is from September to December.
Cast in 1591 during the Ming Dynasty
(1368 - 1644), the giant bell weighs about two tons with a height of 2.6 meters (8.5 feet) and a diameter of 2.2 meters (7.2 feet). The bell is a rare ancient giant bell in Shaanxi Province. The bell body is inscribed with the name of donors, and the bell feet are engraved with patterns of a dragon, lion and phoenix. The giant bell is well preserved, so visitors still can see its clear outline. Most bells are hung up and used to indicate the time, rung at daybreak to wake up people for work and at dusk for refreshing people’s minds. However, this bell is kept on the ground. There is a story about the reason. In order to cast this bell, the monks went out to collect the iron. Some villagers donated money, and some donated iron. When a monk came across a poor widow with her son, he asked her for donations. The woman rejected the monk’s request because of their poverty, and her son, who hadn’t eaten for a few days, burst into tears. On this, the widow became upset and told the monk that all she could give was her son. The monk left in silence. After the bell was finished, when struck, it sounded like a baby crying, which made people feel heartbroken. Since then, the bell had been lain down and never been struck.
Built in 1956, Steles Corridor is located on both sides of the inner temple gate. It has 12 rooms inside with an area of 120 square meters (143 square yards). There are 20 steles of different generations kept in the corridor, most of them well preserved. In the eastern corridor, the Emperor Taizong of the Tang Dynasty
(549 – 599 AD) left a poem inscribed on one stele. It is said that Li Yuan, Emperor Taizong’s father, came to Caotang Temple to pray for Taizong’s eye disease. When Emperor Taizong recovered, he visited the temple and composed a poem to show his gratitude. Many other scholars also left their works, which add much value to the study of calligraphy.
How to Get to Caotang Temple
1. Take Huanshan Tourist Bus Line 1 at east side of Giant Wild Goose Pagoda
North Square to Caotangsi (Caotang Temple) Station.
2. Take bus No. 921 from Xi'an Bus Station (located on Fengqing Road), and get off at the Caotangsi Nankou Station.Xi'an Bus / Metro Search
|Admission Fee ||March-November: CNY 30 |
December-next February: CNY 15
|Opening Hours ||07:30–18:00 |
Time for a Visit
|One hour |
Other Temples in Xi'an:
Temple of the Eight Immortals