Analysis on Landscape Layout of "Caverns of Heaven and Place of Blessing" in Jiangnan

2017-06-30 04:33:11

MIAO Shi-qi, JIN He-xian* , WANG Xin

To Taoist disciples, Caverns of Heaven and Places of Blessing are the habitations of immortals and the earthly paradises. According to the celestial concepts in Taoism, there are a total of 10 major caverns of heaven, 36 minor caverns of heaven and 72 places of blessing. The Chinese character dong (literally cavern) sounds like tong which literally means a path or channel; therefore, the caverns are deemed as the places from which one can get into heaven, and people can become heaven deities after cultivating themselves in those caverns. Fudi literally means the blessed lands, and in Taoism it is believed that people can become earthly deities after cultivating themselves there.

In the beginning, Caverns of Heaven and Places of Blessing served only as the tangible basis for immortal-worshipping in Taoism. However, the concept has become more extensive in its evolution for over 2 000 years, and ultimately Taoist buildings, Taoist temples and monasteries, and their surrounding natural environment have all become a part of Caverns of Heaven and Places of Blessing. In view of that, when studying the landscape layout of Caverns of Heaven and Places of Blessing in regions south of the Yangtze River, we should not only focus on mountains, caverns or Taoist temples and buildings, but also make a comprehensive analysis of the layout by taking into account the natural surroundings and the architectural space.

1 Landscape Layout in Surrounding Environment

1.1 Enclosure with an Opening

"Enclosure with an Opening" refers to the layout where the sacred sites are surrounded by mountains or waters with an opening at the front and are properly shielded from the outside world. With this layout, the cultivation site can achieve multiple functions in sheltering, defense, segregation and space identification, etc., which fulfills the requirements of Taoist followers for the cultivation site.

Dadi Cavern is in a layout like a basin surrounded by mountains, which perfectly matches the ideal landscape described by the prominent poet Tao Yuanming (Fig. 1). In other words, the site is enclosed by mountains with only one opening to the outside world, which means it is almost completely isolated from the outside world. The landscape layout is just like what is described in the famous essay A Tale of the Peach Blossom Spring by Tao Yuanming, a prominent poet in Wei and Jin Dynasties.

Linwu Cavern is in an ideal layout of the unearthly Penglai Island (Fig. 2). According to legend, Mount Penglai, surrounded by waters, boasts a variety of plants and animals and is abundant in mineral resources, but it is only accessible to celestial beings. This is the origin of the "one pond surrounded by hills" design in classical Chinese garden layout.

1.2 Openings and Passages

"Openings and Passages" reflects the habitation mode of primitive people in China. The layout is featured by a space not completely enclosed; in fact, there are some openings leading to the outside world and the openings are often extended into passages along rivers or streams in the valley.

Located in the passage through the valley between Jijin Peak and Damao Peak, Huayang Cavern faces the distinguished Perfect Tranquility Temple, with Ravine of King Chuin the front and the Tiger Hillock of the Damao Peak against its back. With densely scattered caves around, the cavern is surrounded by fantastic rock formations in a picturesque landscape. Therefore, Huayang Cavern is considered as the blissful land in the First Place of Blessing, namely Maoshan Mountain (Fig. 3).

Xiandu Cavern is next to Lianxi Stream, a passage which connects Xiandu Mountain with the outside world (Fig. 4). This type of passage through the valley is not only endowed with a pleasant microclimate, but also makes it easier to obtain food and defend against various natural disasters. In this way, the passage offers security to followers who dwell in the mountain for cultivation.

2 Landscape Layout of Interior Buildings

2.1 Courtyard-style, symmetrical by the axis of "cavern - palace"

The interior architecture is generally of a rectangle layout where structures are arrangedon three sidesor four sides of a row of courtyards in a symmetric manner along the central axis. Meanwhile, the courtyards are of different sizes and structures around different courtyards are in different shapes and heights, which creates an architectural space with structures neatlyarranged in different rows.

The DayouPalaceTemple near the Weiyu Cavern is built in this layout. The major halls and pavilions are all arranged in the central axis according to their respective importance. The cavern of heaven is located in the center of the axis in a commanding height, which creates a solemn atmosphere for religious rituals. The less important halls like the abstinence hall and living rooms, etc., are arranged on two sides of the axis. In this way, structures are built along parallel axes in a rigorous while varying pattern (Fig. 5).

2.2 "The pilgrim's progress" style, cavern as "the shrine"

Pilgrimage to Heaven is a unique layout in Taoist sacred mountains, and it is a real simulation of the "earth to heaven" layout of the legendary Kunlun Mountain. Most of the Caverns of Heaven and Places of Blessing are constructed with the theme of "pilgrimage to heaven" and thus structures are progressively arranged in the sequence of the three realms of man, earth and heaven.

The "pilgrimage to heaven" route in Cavern of Mount Tianmu starts from the Tongzhen Gate (literally Gate to the Truth), and extends to Dadi Cavern across Jiusuo Mountain through a "heavenly path", with a total length of about 20km. Dadi Cavern is the end and also the climax of the pilgrimage. In this long route, 5 gates, 10 pavilions, 8 bridges, 55 Taoist temples and towers and numerous sacred stones and steles are scattered (Fig. 6).

2.3 "Cavern and palace integration" style, built along the cavern

Caverns are of great significance in Taoism, since mountains are regarded as the condensed forms of qi (literally breath or air), the essential life force in Taoism, and caverns are the outlets and inlets of qi in mountains. In this way, a cavern is the embodiment of the most primitive Taoist structures. In the early stage, various Taoist activities including cultivation, rituals and sutra-preaching, etc., were conducted in natural caverns.

This layout manages to integrate Taoist structures and natural caverns into a whole. In Yujing Cavern of Chicheng Mountain, the structures are located inside the cavern. The Sanqing Temple (literally Temple of Three Immortals), the Hall of Avalokitesvaraand the wing rooms on one side are hidden in red cliffs, and the wing rooms on the other side are built vertical to the opening of cavern; in this way, the cavern is enclosed on three sides with its opening on the fourth side (Fig. 7, 8). The cavern faces domineering precipices and steep cliffs, and at its opening, one can get a bird's eye view of the picturesque landscape of cottages and farms in Tiantai County. In a sense, the cavern is really an earthly fairyland which embodies harmony between Taoist followers and nature.

2.4 "Geomantic and admirable cavern" style, fronting water and with hills on the back

The location of Caverns of Heaven and Places of Blessing in the regions south of the Yangtze River is closely related to the traditional fengshui theory. Typically, the cavern is featured by a location with waters in the front and mountains against the back, a location where it faces the yang (the sunny side) and lean against the yin (the shadowy side). On its north, there should be undulating mountains to serve as its shield (indicating the deity Xuanwu in Taoism), on the east and the west, the cavern should be surrounded and protected by rolling ridges (indicating deities Qinglong and Baihu, literally Black Dragon and White Tiger), and to its south, there should be waters at the foot of the mountains (indicating the deity Zhuque). Besides, the cavern is often on a flat terrain and relatively isolated from the surrounding environment, and it is connected to the outside world through narrow openings and passages on its side. In this way, the cavern is in an optimal location according to fengshui theory.

The Tongbai Temple in Tongbai Mountain faces winding rivers in the front and is embraced by mountains on four sides (Fig. 9). The nine surrounding peaks are respectively Yunü, Zixiao, Lianhua, Yuquan, Cuiwei, Hualin, Xianglin and Yuxiao, and together they form a location that meets the requirement of "Qinglong on the left, Baihu on the right, Zhuque in the front, and Xuanwu at the back" according to the fengshui theory. Besides, with rolling streams (Zhuque) in the front, undulating mountains on the left and the right (Qinglong and Baihu) and domineering peaks against its back (Xuanwu), the cavern is in an ideal location for earthly fairylands in Taoism.

3 Conclusion

In a word, Caverns of Heaven and Places of Blessing, as recorded in Taoist scriptures, are by no means limited to physical caverns or mountains. In Taoism, a cavern is only an external "gas opening" of a mountain. The concept of Caverns of Heaven and Places of Blessing actually encompasses the integral area with caverns and Taoist temples in the center and mountains and rivers in the surrounding.

(Editor / LI Min)


MIAO Shi-qi, female, born in 1991 in Anhui, Master's degree student (Year 2013) in the College of Landscape Architecture, Zhejiang Agriculture & Forestry University (Hangzhou 311100)

JIN He-xian, female, born in 1964 in Zhengjiang, Ph.D., professor of Zhejiang Agriculture & Forestry University, CHSLA Undersecretary General (Lin'an 311300)

WANG Xin, male, born in 1973 in Zhengjiang, Ph.D., professor of Zhejiang Agriculture & Forestry University (Lin'an 311300)

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