California's Bowers Museum opens tombs of China

Fri Sep 30, 2011 5:34pm EDT
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By Jordan Riefe

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The closest one may ever come to being touched by a deity may be at southern California's Bowers Museum when "Warriors, Tombs and Temples: China's Enduring Legacy" opens this week showing off an ornate case that holds a bone from the Buddha's finger.

The treasure trove, residing at the Bowers from October 1 through March 4, was excavated from a key area near Xian in Shansi Province, the end point of the Silk Road and capital of the three great unification dynasties, Chin, Han and Tang.

"It is actually the cream of the crop," grins guest curator Suzanne Cahill at the Bowers, which is located in Santa Ana, about an hour south of Los Angeles and near the Disneyland theme park and other tourist attractions.

Sadly, the Buddha's bone itself didn't make the trip to the Bowers as it rarely travels. But the new show is enough to bring out a parade of Buddhist priests to bless the case that holds the holy relic.

"Buddha was cremated and they harvested whatever was left," explains Bowers President Peter Keller. The bone was found in the Famen Temple built in the Tang Dynasty (618-907 A.D.), an era of opulence and greater exposure to the outside world.

"When they build a temple, they have what's called a founding deposit, which is a holy object they bury under the temple," explains Cahill. "And in this case, it's probably the holiest relic in all of Asia, which was supposedly the Buddha's finger bone."

The finger was associated with miracles and drew many pilgrims. Occasionally Tang emperors went to the temple, dug up the finger and marched it around villages in elaborate processions. Upon returning, an emperor would deposit treasures with the finger -- priceless items of gold and silver he had especially made including the case bejeweled with a Sri Lankan sapphire.

NEVER BEFORE SEEN   Continued...

<p>Two Chinese terracotta warriors are shown on display at the Bower Museum in Santa Ana, California, in this publicity photo released to Reuters September 30, 2011. The warriors are part of an exhibition called "Warriors, Tombs and Temples: China's Enduring Legacy". REUTERS/Bowers Museum/Handout</p>