Yuantong Temple is the most famous Buddhist temple that can be found in the Chinese city of Kunming. It is also Kunming’s largest Buddhist temple. Among the reasons for its fame is the rather unusual structure of its old temple. It is low at the back and high at the front. Also of particular interest is the Buddhist hall that is surrounded by water. You won’t find another one like it in all of China.
Graceful Yuantong Temple was originally built between the years of 780 and 807 AD. During the reign of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), it was rebuilt. The temple combines elements from several different Buddhist traditions–including Mahayana Buddhism, Hinayana Buddhism, and the Buddhism practiced in Tibet. Its original purpose was to provide a place where people could worship Avalokitesvara. This original male Buddha was eventually transfigured under the Chinese Mahayana Buddhism tradition, becoming a female bodhisattva known as Guanyin. In the English language, Guanyin is commonly referred to as the "Mercy Goddess" or the "Goddess of Mercy."
One of the most important Yuantong Temple attractions is its main hall. Exhibiting tendencies of the Yuan Dynasty style of architecture (1271-1368), this main hall features two carved dragons that are quite large. One of the dragons is blue in color, while the other is yellow, and they face each other in stances that make it appear as if they are ready to battle. Also of particular interest when it comes to the main hall of the Yuantong Temple are the stone staircases that can be found on both sides of the structure. They are carved right out of the mountainside and lead up to the top of a hill. Along the path to the top of the hill, ancient inscriptions can be seen. These inscriptions figure among Kunming’s most significant historical relics.
The Yuantong Temple is very much a working temple. It attracts Buddhists from around the world, though you don’t have to be a Buddhist if you wish to pay the complex a visit. An admission fee applies, and on most days, the visiting hours are 8 am to 7 pm. Bus transportation is available for those who need transportation to the site from Kunming proper. You will find it located a bit north of the airport and to the northeast of Lake Dian. On the other side of the lake is Huating Temple.