The monastery at the foot of Wuru Peak on the northern slope of Shaoshi Mountain was originally built in 495 during the Northern Wei Dynasty (386-534). It is known as the “most famous temple under heaven, ” for it was here that, in 527, the Indian monk Bodhi Dharma (or Dharma) founded the Chan sect of Buddhism in China. Since Dharma was regarded as the ancestor of the Chan sect, the Shaolin Monastery was called Zuting–the Ancestor’s Home. The existing buildings today date mostly from the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties. The temple occupies an area of thirty thousand square meters. Its principal building, Thousand Buddha Hall (Qianfodian), contains colorful murals, one of which, depicting five hundred arhats engaged in martial arts, is said to have been painted by the great painter Wu Daozi of the Tang Dynasty (618-907).
During the early years of the Tang Dynasty, the monks in Shaolin Monastery helped Emperor Tai Zong, Li Shimin, to establish his rule in China. They practiced a style of martial art that took its name from the temple–the famous Shaolin Boxing.