Must-see on Mianshan Mountain: Daluo Palace Scenic Spot

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Mianshan Mountain in Jiexiu, Shanxi Province not only has beautiful scenery and cliff-side structures but is also a famous cultural heritage area known for its integration of Buddhism and Taoism. The Daluo Palace is the main Taoist temple on Mianshan. The 13-story, 110-meter high temple complex is built into the mountain.. The complex covers more than 10,000 square meters, each pavilion rising one higher than the next, their painted and carved beams ascending to the mountaintop, their tiled roofs splendid and glittering. Tourists have compared Daluo Palace to Potala Palace in Tibet, and it is known as the "No. 1 Taoist Temple in China"

In Taoist cosmology, heaven has 36 levels. The Three Pure Ones, the three highest gods in the Taoist pantheon, reside in the highest level of the heaven, Dailuo Heaven (All-Embracing Heaven), which lies beyond heaven’s 36 levels. The temple complex was thus named Daluo Palace because it is the “highest” palace.

Visitors to the Daluo Palace should start their tour at the bottom of the temple complex and ascend to the top, level by level. The deities in the shrines on the lowest level are those who have a close relationship with people. As one climbs higher and higher in the temple, the deities one sees will be those of higher and higher rank.

The very first floor is the Hall of the Gods of Wealth, which hosts many worshipers. The hall enshrines three gods of wealth. In the middle is Bi Gan, the god of wealth. On Bi Gan’s left is Fan Li, the civil god of wealth, and on his right is Zhao Gongming, the warrior god of wealth. All three gods hold different divine objects in their hands: Bi holds a ruyi scepter while Fan holds jewelry and Zhao holds an iron rod.

The second floor is the Hall of the Heavenly Lord of Salvation from Misery. It was said that during the period of the Three Kingdoms, there were too many wars that made people suffer, and ghosts took the opportunity to imperil the world. When the Heavenly Lord of Salvation from Misery found out about people’s suffering, he waved his magical whisk and gave them relief them from disasters. After this, it was said that the Town God was sent on three inspection tours to deal with the ghosts and help people gain peace.

In the center of the hall, the Heavenly Lord of Supreme Oneness and Salvation from Misery sits on nine green lions. The statue is flanked by five spiritual guide boys. It is said that the Heavenly Lord of Salvation from Misery will follow the sounds of prayers whenever people are in need, so he is sometimes also called the Voice-Seeking Heavenly Lord of Salvation from Misery. He has the power to emanate billions of auspicious rays of light to light up hell and help the dead be released from the underworld to be reincarnated. On the right wall of the hall is a painting of the god using his power to save people in need. On the left wall is a painting showing the god incarnating himself as a doctor in order to save the sick. The nine guides surrounding the god’s statue hold Five-colored Prayer Flags, which connect and guide all the people who are predestined to meet in the world.

The third level of the Daluo Palace is the Hall of Three Celestial Officials, which enshrines the statues of three officials: the Heaven Official, Earth Official and Water Official, who are also known as the Three Great Emperor Officials. Heaven Official can give blessings to people; Earth Official can help people solve problems; and Water Official can absolve people from guilt.

According to legend, during the Eastern Han dynasty, a dragon created a huge flood and harmed people in all the corners of the country. The Three Celestial Officials used their powerful tools to still the flood and trap the dragon in a ravine, where they turned it into a giant rock. It is said that since that time, the water in Mianshan's ravine has flown underground inside the ravine, and only flows above ground when it runs out of the ravine. This prevented the dragon from doing evil things again, and ensured that the people had clean water to use. The villagers in the vicinity of Mianshan then built this hall to thank the Three Celestial Officials for exterminating the dragon.

The three wooden sculptures of the celestial officials that are now housed in the hall are from the Ming dynasty. The governor of Fenzhou commissioned them to be carved by artists in his town before they were transferred to Mianshan. The mural on the left side of the hall depicts the Three Celestial Officials making an inspection tour, and the lower part of the painting shows evil people being punished. The mural on the right depicts Heaven Official bestowing blessings on all the people on earth.

The fourth and fifth levels of the Daluo Palace together form a single shrine dedicated to the worship of the Tai Sui. There are 30 statues of Tai Sui on each level for a total of 60 statues, which represent 60 years. According to the Chinese sexagenary cycle, also known as the Stems and Branches, the Sixty Heavenly Generals – the Tai Sui –each take charge of the well-being of the world for one year every 60 years. Every Tai Sui has a unique name, and each one will administer the well-being and misfortune of the world for one year in a 60-year cycle that goes on forever. The Tai Sui in charge of a particular year is referred to as the Annual Emissary on Duty or the Annual Tai Sui on Duty.

The Tai Sui are also tasked with protecting the people born during the years in which they each oversaw the world. Paying tribute to one’s own protective god will help you receive blessings to be safe and happy. According to folk custom, people should wear a red vest and red belt when the year of their own Chinese Zodiac sign recurs every 12 years. During such years, people should also pay homage to the Tai Sui of their birth year, praying to avoid disasters and gain more luck and longevity.

The sixth level of Dailuo Temple is the Hall of the Mother of the Great Chariot (a constellation known in the West as the Big Dipper or Ursa Major). The Mother of the Great Chariot is the mother of the stars who is in charge of all the stars in the sky. The mural on the wall in her shrine depicts all the stars in the sky paying tribute to her. Worshipping in the hall will not only bless one with greater luck and longevity but can also help students make achievements in their studies. It is said that during the Eastern Han dynasty, a scholar once prayed here and was enlightened by the Mother of the Great Chariot. He then achieved so much after his studies that he built this hall to thank and worship the Primordial Sovereign of the Great Chariot. If students want to make progress in their studies, they shouldn’t miss this hall! Whenever you pray here, your prayers will be answered!

The seventh level of the temple is the Hall of the Heavenly Emperor, which is a shrine to the Jade Emperor of folk legends. The Jade Emperor is generally thought of as the supreme god in China's folk belief system – he rules all the creatures, deities, immortals and ghosts in the mortal world, hell and the heavens. The two murals on the sides of the hall depict a panoply of gods and generals led by the Heavenly Lord of Supreme Oneness and Salvation from Misery on the right and the Xuantian Emperor on the left paying homage to the Jade Emperor.

The eighth level of the Daluo Palace hosts the Hall of the Three Pure Ones and two other small halls: the Hall of the Medicine King and the Hall of the Five Heavenly Lords. The Three Pure Ones of Taoism are the Jade Pure One, the Supreme Pure One and the Grand Pure One. The three Pure Ones are the supreme gods of heaven, and they live in the highest level of heaven. The Lord of Tao and Virtue also enshrined in this hall is Laozi, the author of the Taoist classic the “Daodejing.” The structure housing the Hall of the Three Pure Ones is actually a compound to which gates and the Hall of Constellations were added to form a four-sided courtyard.

The Hall of the Three Pure Ones holds three statues: the Heavenly Lord of Primordial Beginning in the center, the Heavenly Lord of the Numinous Treasure on the left, and the Heavenly Lord of Tao and Virtue on the right. The murals on the interior walls of the temple depict the Jade Emperor, the Queen Mother of the West and all the deities in the sky paying homage to the Three Pure Ones.

The deities enshrined in Mianshan have close relationships with regular people's lives. The Hall of the Medicine King on the temple’s eighth level records a mythical story that the Medicine King, known in the story as Shennong, personally tested out various herbal medicines for people despite the possibility of being poisoned. In some folk legends, Shennong was actually the Yan Emperor. The hall enshrines Shennong in the center, while statues of four outstanding doctors in Chinese history – Zhang Zhongjing, Hua Tuo, Bian Que and Sun Simiao – stand on both sides of him.

It is said that the mother of Fu Shan, an important scholar who lived during the Qing dynasty, was seriously ill and his wife had no breast milk after giving birth to their child. Fu was enlightened by Shennong and used Mianshan’s sacred water to cure his mother and to cause his wife to produce breast milk. To express his gratitude, Fu Shan built the Hall of the Medicine King here. Subsequently, word that sacred water from Mianshan could heal diseases and help new mothers produce milk spread throughout the country for thousands of miles, and many people came to Mianshan just to obtain some of this water.

The ninth floor of the Daluo Palace is a museum about the history and art of Mianshan. There, tourists can view statues that date back to the Tang dynasty (A.D. 618-907). When you walk into the museum, you will feel that you have gone back to the Tang dynasty more than a thousand years ago to witness the spectacular historical events of that time.

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