Gifts of the Tang Emperors

Hidden Treasures from the Famen Temple

Famen Temple is located in Fufeng County. 118km (73 miles) west of Xi`an and was built during the Eastern Han dynasty (25-220AD) to store a relic of Sakyamuni Buddha`s finger bone. In 1987 the largest Buddhist underground palace in China was discovered beneath a13-tiered pagoda that had collapsed in 1981.

Famen Temple was the royal temple during the Sui Dynasty (581-618) and Tang Dynasty (618-907). It was believed that the pagoda should be opened to the public once every 30 years so that the country would be blessed with peace and prosperity.

Many royal treasures as offerings to the Buddha were found in the underground palace -- more than 2.000 pieces surrounded the Mandala (geometric designs. usually circular. symbolizing the universe). The treasure consisted of numerous precious gold and silver objects. rare porcelain and glass. and fragile silk textile. Most of the unearthed relics are now exhibited at Famen Temple Museum.

Imperial Power in the Afterlife

01. Underground Palace

The excavation of the underground crypt at the Famen Temple in Shaanxi Province is one of the most important archaeological undertakings in modern China. Sealed after a major Buddhist ceremony in 874. the crypt was not reopened until its excavation in 1987. The palace is 21.2 meters long with an area of 31.84 square meters and is the largest of this kind ever discovered

02. Finger Bones of Sakyamuni (Buddhist Relics)

About a century after the death of Sakyamuni. the founder of Buddhism. the ancient Indian King Ashoka decided to distribute a selection of Sakyamuni`s relics to many places in the known world where Buddhism had gained adherents. The Famen Temple was awarded a finger bone. Among the four discovered so far. the third was kept in a five-layered marble chest. which was retained in a secret niche in the back room is tubular-like. 37millimeters long. white and yellow in color. It has been authenticated a bier stone. which means it is the only authentic original. The other three were ``shadow bones.`` imitations of identical color and shape. to protect the real one. The first one was kept in an eight-layered chest in the back room.

The first one in the photo is the real relic bone of Buddha. while the rest three are ``shadow bones``

Layers of boxes containing the bone relic.

The relic. worshipped by Buddhists around the world. is a part of Buddha`s remains that were preserved after he achieved nirvana and was cremated. and it is the world`s only finger bone relic of Sakyamuni.

06. Silk Textiles
Embroidered Jacket with Gold Threads

The underground palace also boasts a treasure trove of silk products from Tang Dynasty. covering almost all categories and weaving techniques.

Among the 700 pieces of silk textiles. an embroidered skirt of the first-and-only Empress Wu Zetian (r. 690 C705) is her extraordinary gift to the Buddha. It is also the only personal belonging of the empress discovered so far.

The exquisite patterns were made out of gold threads. only 0.1 millimeter thick each. finer than a hair and inter-twisted with silk thread. It reveals the superb technique of gold brocade of the Tang dynasty.

07. Gilt Silver Ball-shaped Incense Burner

Of all the gold and silver wares. the most marvelous are two ball-shaped incense burners that were put in the quilts to warm and perfume the bed. Delicate mechanics inside the burner ensured that no matter how it rolled. the incense inside would remain horizontal. and there was no danger of it falling out. Modern navigation devices on planes and compasses in ships use the same mechanical rules.

08. Silver and Silver-gilt container for a relic of the historical Buddha. dated 871CE and presented by the emperor to the Famen Temple.

09Colored Glaze Wares

A total of 20 pieces of colored glaze wares were unearthed from the crypt. Among them. 18 were exported from Islamic countries.