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Great Cloud Monastery (Dayun si 大雲寺) Taubes, Hannibal


Great-Cloud Monastery is located to the west of the old village, and would originally have stood in the open fields. The main hall is seemingly of Liao-Jin (916-1234) construction, as evidenced by the heavy wooden bracket-and-tendons (dougong 斗拱) beneath the eaves, as well as the murals within. At a certain point, the original murals seem to have been plastered over and repainted. Modern restorations have partially uncovered the original surface of one wall, revealing a delicately painted Liao-Jin Buddha flanked by two Bodhisattvas. The newer murals show monumental images of the ten wrathful Wisdom Kings (Mingwang 明王, Skt. Vidyarāja), each depicted as the emanation of a single Buddha, floating in a cloud above. These images of fierce tantric deities are unique, both in style and substance, and their origin and purpose is enigmatic. Several broken-apart steles stand in the courtyard, but none seem to relate to the monastery itself. The heavy use of Prussian-blue marks the murals as nineteenth century or later, but it’s possible that the images could have been recolored. In early-modern Chinese iconographies, the Ten Wisdom Kings are usually associated with the semi-tantric Water-and-Land (shuilu 水陸) funeral ritual, in which they are summoned to guard the ritual arena (daochang 道場). In the massive Ever-Peaceful Monastery of the nearby Hunyuan County seat (Hunyuan Xiancheng Yong’an Si 渾圓縣城永安寺), eighteenth-century Water-and-Land murals show both the Ten Wisdom Kings and the full set of Water-and-Land deities. Speculatively, it may be the case that the murals in the smaller Great-Cloud Monastery are nineteenth-century copies of the murals in the great monastery of the county seat; as was common elsewhere, the other Water-and-Land deities might have been painted on scrolls and hung up for display during the ritual. These scrolls would have been destroyed during the Cultural Revolution, leaving only the Wisdom Kings guarding the monastery walls. This theory is entirely speculative.

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