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Water-and-Land Hall at Xinglong Monastery (Xinglong si Shuilu dian 興隆寺水陸殿) Taubes, Hannibal


The Water-and-Land grotto is located within a large and well-preserved complex of shrines known as Xinglong Monastery (Xinglong si 興隆寺), which is located in a loess-canyon near the ruins of what was once Zheng Family Hollow Village (Zhengjiagou cun 鄭家溝村) in Jia County (Jia xian 佳縣), Shaanxi. The new 'modern' village is now located on the hilltops above the canyon. The steles in this complex (not shown here) are discussed in Huyan Sheng's 呼延勝 dissertation (“Shanbei tudishang de shuilu hua yishu” 陕北土地上的水陆画艺术, Xi’an meishu xueyuan, 2012), and transcribed in Shaanxi shiku zonglu: Yulin 陕西石窟内容总录:榆林 (Xi’an: Shaanxi renmin chubanshe, 2017), Vol. 3, pp. 1196-97. The rock grotto was cut into the wall here between 1498 and 1506, as part of a high tide of Buddhist and Daoist grotto-excavation in the areas along the Great Wall in northern Shaanxi in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. The murals were probably painted at this time, but the first clear mention of them in the steles is from 1882, at which point the grotto was entirely remodeled. Whether the artists recolored older images or repainted from scratch at this point is unclear; in any case, according to Huyan Sheng's research, Water-and-Land murals in this region seem to have been highly conservative in the Ming-Qing period, with model-books (huapu 畫譜) passed down for generations in artist-lineages. According to the Zheng 鄭 brothers, from a family of mural-artists who now run the site, there is still a monk who performs Water-and-Land funeral rites here, as well as a number of mediums (matong 馬童) in the area; unfortunately this monk was absent during the researcher’s visit. The grotto is located in a western section of the monastery that contains several painted shrines related to funeral ritual; these include shrine-rooms to the Bodhisattva Kṣitigarbha (Dizangwang pusa 地藏王菩薩) and the Ten Yama Kings (Shidian yanwang 十殿閻王), to the Ghost King (guiwang 鬼王)/Great Scholar of Flaming Mien (Mianran dashi 面燃/然大士), the Gods of the Soil and the Mountains (Tudi shan shen 土地山神), etc. Within the Water-and-Land grotto, the altar contains newly-made images of the three Buddha-kāyas (Sanshenfo 三身佛), plus a central image of the Buddha Vairocana (Pilushenafo 毗盧遮那佛), who is centrally associated with the Water-and-Land rite and the Vajroṣṇīṣa (Jingangding 金剛頂) cycle from which it descends. Around the altar-top are placed images of the Arhats (Luohan 羅漢). The central wall murals depict the Ten Vidyārāja (Shi mingwang 十明王) who guard the Water-and-Land bodhimaṇḍa, while on the flanking walls are depicted all the hundreds of deities of who are called down to receive offerings in the course of the ritual. The murals around the door lintel (which continue the sequence of summoned deities) and the ceiling, on which was a 19th- or 20th-century painting of a maṇḍala-like design, are not shown in full. The full-wall images contained here are photoshop-composites of several photographs of wall-segments (the room is too long and narrow to photograph an entire wall at once); thus they may contain small distortions.

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