The Eight Great Temples is a traditional name given to eight Buddhist temples nestled among the clouds on Cuiwei Hill and Lushi Hill in Western-Hills district in Beijing. It is also called Badachu, the Eight Great Sites. The sites were restored during the 1980's and have since become a popular destination, both for pilgrims and tourists.
The Badachu Park is notable for its eight ancient temples, nunneries and a cave set amidst beautiful scenery on the southern slopes of the Western Hills. With an area of 250 hectares, this "flashback in time" is 464 meters above sea level at its highest point. The ancient temples and nunneries were built at the end of the Sui Dynasty (581-618) and the beginning of the Tang Dynasty (618-907), and were renovated during the Song, Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties. The early 1990s saw the Badachu cable car and one of China's first chute slides brought into operation.
The individual temples and nunneries are as follows:
Temple of Eternal Peace (Chang'an Si)
The Temple of Eternal Peace is situated on the plain at the foot of Cuiwei Hill. Constructed in 1504 during the Ming Dynasty, the temple is comprised of two courtyards, the first containing the Sakyamnuni Hall and the second the Niangniang (a female deity) Hall. The Sakyamuni Hall houses a bronze statue of Guan Yu, a hero of the Three Kingdoms period who was later worshiped as the God of War. Chinese Buddhists worshiped guan Yu as a temple guardian. In the south corner of the covered corridor in the rear part of the hall is a bronze bell cast in 1600 by imperial command. It is perfectly preserved. In front of the Sakyamuni Hall there is an urn-shaped bell struck as part of Buddhist rituals, which also dates from the Ming Dynasty. In the rear courtyard there are two white pines (also known as dragon-claw pines) reputed to date from the Yuan Dynasty.
Temple of Divine Light (Lingguang Temple)
This is the most prominent of the temples, though not the largest. Originally built from 766 to 779 in the Tang Dynasty, it is best known for its Dabei courtyard, a water-lily festooned gold-fish pool and pagoda. A gold-coated copper statue of the Sakyamuni Buddha, bequeathed by a Thai head monk, is enshrined in its main hall. A relic of the tooth of this Buddha was found in the ruins of Zhaoxian Pagoda, built in the Liao Dynasty, which was razed by foreign invaders. A replacement pagoda now houses the tooth.
Three-Hill Convent (Sanshan' an)
A short distance from the Temple of Divine Light stands the Three-Hill Convent, which derives its name from the fact that it is situated between Cuiwei Hill, Pingpo Hill and Lushi Hill. Though the convent is not large and consists of only one courtyard, it is of rather exquisite construction. At the doorway of the main hall there is a rectangular "Cloud and Water Stone, "carved with images of scenery, human figures and animals. To the east of the main hall is a small kiosk with an inscribed plaque which reads "Cuiwei Hill is part of a painting." Looking out from here, one can see many peaks covered with pines and cypresses. The temple is set in the midst of a dense forest that provides a cool and pleasant place for a stroll. During the dog days, a visitor will find it an excellent place to escape the heat.
Temple of Great Mercy (Dabei Temple)
Built before 1033 and with three courtyards, the Dabei Temple sits on a mountain slope that faces east. Emperor Kangxi wrote an inscription over the entrance door, through which stand four heavenly kings. In front of the Daxiong Hall, green bamboos planted during the Ming Dynasty still thrive.
Temple of Dragon King (Longwangtang)
The Temple of Dragon King, located to the northwest of the Temple of Great Mercy, is also known as Dragon Spring Convent. It was built in early Qing Dynasty. Entering the temple, one first notices the sound of a bubbling spring breaking the stillness. The spring bubbles up from beneath a cliff behind the second courtyard and flows through the first courtyard and out of a carved stone spigot in the shape of a dragon's head into a pond. The water of this eternally flowing spring is clear and sweet and never freezes in winter. The Pavilion for Listening to the spring stands nearby. Behind the pond is the Hall of the Dragon King, which according to a local legend, is the residence of the Dragon King. The hall is surrounded by luxuriant green bamboo.
Xiangjie Temple (The Temple of the Fragrant World)
Largest of the temples, Xiangjie Temple was built on Pingpo Hill around the year 760 during the Tang Dynasty. Its three doorways lead to five courtyards. One entrance displays an inscription, on a stone slab, written by the Emperor Qianlong. One courtyard contains an ancient pine which resembles a reclining dragon, thus attracting the name of "Dragon Pine".
Temple of Buddha hood
The Temple of Buddha hood, one of the older and large temples in the area, was first built in the Sui and Tang period more than 1,200 years ago. The name was changed several times during the ages, yet each of these changes reflected the temple's close association with Lu Shi and his auspicious dragons. The present name of the temple was fixed in 1460 during the Ming Dynasty, and many of the buildings that remain show evidence of Ming architectural style.
Following the winding path from the western gate of the temple past another pavilion, one comes to the last of the Eight Great Temples, the Mysterious Devil's Cliff. The main feature of the cliff is a large over-hanging rock which, when seen from afar, suggests the image of a roaring lion. On the stone are carved the words, "Natural Secluded valley" and a number of inscriptions by visitors cliff is reputed to have been the home of the monk Lu Shi, who in the seventh century traveled from southern China to the outskirts of the capital in a rowboat. The legend has it that a pair of dragons he had accepted by ending a terrible drought, whereupon the hill was dubbed Lushi Hill Cave. Down through the ages, the two dragon-disciples have been the subject of numerous folktales and the object of respect and worship for their good deeds.