The Qutan Temple (Qutan si), a state-level protected religious complex, is a typical reflection of the ancient Ming Dynasty (1368-1644 AD) temples, now rarely seen in Qinghai. This site, after establishment in 1387, was one of the most important Buddhist temples in China and today, although lacking much of its original prestige, it is still an interesting way to spend a few hours.
Qutan, or Gutama, is the family name and honorific title of Sakyamuni. According to the historical record and records of events inscribed on the tablet, the Qutan Temple was built during the Hongwu reign of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). Zhu Yuanzhang (the first emperor of the Ming Dynasty) named it Qutan Temple and appointed Lama San Luozang responsible for it in the 26th year (1393) of the Hongwu reign. In the Yongle reign of the Ming Dynasty, Zhu Di (an emperor of the Ming Dynasty) ordered the nephew of San Luozang to be the Empowerment Pure Mind Hongji Great Master, and gave him farms, gardens and livestock as provisions to expand the temple. The temple was further expanded in the Hongxi reign and the Xuande reign.
The temple was built within a quadrate earthen altar in front of the Qutan River behind Luohan Mountain. It occupies 1.5 hectares with a construction area of 10,000 square meters and is composed of the front, the middle and the back yards. The main constructions of the temple are arranged in the middle of the temple, such as the Jingang (Buddha's warrior attendant) Hall, the Qutan Hall, the Baoguang (treasured light) Hall, and the Longguo (prosperous country) Hall, etc. Other buildings such as the Imperial Stele Pavilion, the Fresco Corridor, the Small Bell and Drum Tower, the Big Bell and Drum Tower, the Stupa, the Small Buddha Hall, the Sutra Hall and so on are located on both sides symmetrically. All the halls in the temple features a compact layout, and retain the characteristics of the architecture of the early Ming Dynasty.
The temple gate is three-bay wide and more than 150 square meters in area. It has a single-eave gable and hip roof and bulky dougong (wooden square blocks inserted between the top of a column and a crossbeam). There are two imperial stele pavilions on both sides of the front yard. With an area of about 110 square meters, the Jingang Hall is the dividing line and aisle of the front and the middle yards. It has a single-eave gable and hip roof made of girder-column structure with no dougong. The Qutan Hall lying in front of the middle yard has an area of about 170 square meters. It has a double-eave gable and hip roof. The plane layout of the palace is somewhat special. The front eave is three-bay wide, and there are hidden corridors in the left, right and back. Rebuilt in the 37th year (1782) of the Qianlong reign of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), it follows a typical layout of Lama temple.
The Baoguang Hall, covering an area of 400 square meters, is located behind the middle yard. It has a double-eave gable and hip roof,with brick wall in the left, right and back, and visible corridors around. The Longguo Hall, also called the Dachi Jingang Hall, is located in the back yard. It is the highest and the most imposing construction in the temple, and has an area of 900 square meters. It has a double-eave hip roof with visible corridors around. The hall is built on a spacious pedestal, with a platform extending in front and stone railings around. Colored huge frescos are painted on the wall inside. The Big Bell Tower and the Drum Tower lie on both sides in front of the Longguo Hall, confronting each other. Looking down from the upper floor of the building, one can have a panoramic view of the temple. There are four Xiangqu Towers located at four corners of the Qutan Hall, with 9 meters in height and a square base of about 5 meters in length and width.
The Fresco Corridor starts from both sides of the Longguo Hall, surrounding the middle and the back yard. The huge colored frescos of the Fresco Corridor are the most valuable artworks of the Qutan Temple and have an area of about 400 square meters. The frescos tell the life story of Sakyamuni. The colors are still fresh and dazzling even after over 500 years. There are the sun and the moon, stars, clouds and rains, mountains and rivers, trees, flowers, people, animals, halls, pavilions and terraces, towers, flags and weapons, vehicles, etc., on the frescos. The frescos of such a large area and magnificent skill provide invaluable materials for the research into the history, archaeology and fine arts.