The Buddha that calmed the seas

With 18 feet eyebrows, a 20ft nose and a pair of ears that could hold two people inside, the 233ft high Leshan Giant Buddha in China has been towering over the Min River in the Sichuan Province for 13 centuries.

In 713 AD a Chinese monk called Hai Tong lamented the number of ships falling victim to the fiercely flowing rivers that met at an intersection below a cliff face. He believed that if a giant Buddha was carved into the cliff it would watch over the sailors and appease the angry river gods. For years he begged for funds to begin the project. So committed was he that when no one came forward with funding, he is said to have gouged out his own eyes to show piety.

Fortunately, some 70 years after the monk’s death, a jiedushi (military governor) decided to sponsor the project and the construction was completed by Hai Tong's disciples in 803.

And the Buddha did eventually calm the seas. In fact, so much stone fell into the rivers below the statue during the Buddha's construction that the turbulent currents, that once beleaguered passing ships, were altered, making the water safe.

Today, the world’s tallest pre-modern statue stands as tall and as timeless as ever. With a sophisticated drainage system incorporated into the original design that is still in working order, water is carried away after the rains so it can truly stand the test of time.

The Leshan Giant Buddha is one of 12 locations captured by photographer, Steve McCurry as part of the Overseas Tour for Vacheron Constantin. View the exclusive behind the scenes photography.

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