Famen Temple is located in Famen Town 120 kilometers northwest of Xi'an. Although this Temple is a fair distance from Xi'an, it is a fascinating place with an intriguing history and it is worth making the effort to get here. Legend has it that in 147 AD King Asoka of India traveled throughout Asia, distributing Buddhist relics as atonement for his sins and war-like attitude. In China, he built this Temple and left the fingers of Buddha to be enshrined here.
The Tang dynasty Emperors revered this sacred relic and regularly walked through the streets with the fingers followed by a huge worshipping procession. The Tang Emperors offered wonderful gifts to the fingers in an attempt to better their predecessors offerings. This legend was actually dismissed until 1981 when heavy rains revealed the crypt, shrine and underground palace completely by accident. The crypt contains the Buddha's fingers and gifts from the Emperors. The site is still seen as an important place of pilgrimage for Buddhists today.
The museum here is excellent and contains various objects from the Tang dynasty including sacrificial offerings and royal gifts. On April 1987, the outer gate was opened, revealing a series of three chambers of black stone. They were partitioned by stone gates each of which was decorated with relief sculptures, the most graphic motifs being phoenixes and lotus blossoms. to their astonishment, the archaeologists found that the objects inside tallied exactly with the inventory engraved on the stele at the entrance. But what of the sacred remains?
The first relic or sarira was found in an exquisitely executed container of eight interested cases in the back chamber of the underground shelter. It was taken of Fufeng County Museum and opened there at a ceremony presided over by the abbot of Famen Monastery at 1.15 in the morning on May 5, coinciding with the eighth day of the fourth month of the lunar calendar and the 2, 553rd anniversary of the birth of Sakyamuni.
Abbot Cheng Guan chanted prayers as an archaeologist carefully unsealed one case after another, each of which was secured by a silver top, but this was already very rotten when it was found. The seven interior cases were either gilded or inlaid with silver, pearls or gems, all very magnificent and elegant. Some of them were incised or carved with Buddhist tales in linear strokes. The innermost container was a four-door miniature pagoda with single-tier eaves, topped with a pearl. The hollow sarira was set on a silver pillar inside the gold mini-pagoda. Finally from the mini-pagoda the archaeologist extracted the ivory-white object 40.3 millimeters long, said to be a section of Sakyamuni's middle finger.