Buddhist Arts



Three-Handled Vase and Reliquary

Three-Handled Vase   Reliquary

Three-Handled Vase and Reliquary

Left: Pottery, H. 45.0 cm. Said to have been found at Borazan near Khotan, 5th-6th century
Museum fur Indische Kunst (MIK III 7665)
Right: Wood, H. 13.4 cm. Toyok, Manuscript Room, 8th -9th century
Museum fur Indische Kunst (MIK III 6115)

Left: This clay vase, discovered by von Le Coq and said to come from near Khotan on the southern Silk Route, is evidence for the penetration of classical models as far as Central Asia.

Fashioned on the wheel from a very dense, reddish brown clay, the vessel is a wide-girthed, three-handled vase, the upper half of which, below the broad rim, is richly decorated with ornaments borrowed from classical antiquity. On each of the handles is a small female head in the antique style (one has broken off). Eleven rosettes are impressed in the rim, and there is a frieze around the shoulder. The bulbous part of the body bears the most important decoration, namely seven circular medallions in relief, about 10 centimeters in diameter, which clearly betray their classical origins. Each medallion is bordered by two concentric circles, separated by a beaded ring. Three different designs appear in the medallions: four have a female figure attired like an Indian goddess, standing and facing right, with a pitcher and hemispherical goblet; in two there is a seated man facing left, portly, bearded, and shaggy-haired, though bald on top, with a nimbus, rhyton, and goblet; the third motif, a lion's head, occurs only once. All the ornaments were mold-made or stamped with dies and applied to the vase before it was fired.

Right: Southeast of Khocho, carved in the bare sides of a range of mountains, lie the extensive complexes of Toyok. One of its many caves, the site of this find, was filled with hundreds of manuscript fragments, hence the name Manuscript Room. Apparently someone once tried to destroy these manuscripts by fire, fortunately without success. This small, lathe-turned, wooden reliquary is in two parts: the lower half is in the form of a bowl standing on a large round foot, while the upper half acts as the lid, terminating in the form of a stupa. The reliquary is primed white, painted, and lacquered. Its decoration consists of lotus leaves arranged in rows, pointing down on the lid and up on the bowl.

Votive Stupa

Votive Stupa   Votive Stupa

Votive Stupa

Left: Red sandstone, H. 66.0 cm. Khocho
Museum fur Indische Kunst (MIK III 6838)
Right: Stone, H. 27.7 cm. Probably Khocho
Museum fur Indische Kunst (MIK III 610)

Left: This votive stupa was found among the debris of the "Khan's Palace" (Ruin E). It consists of an octagonal base, a cylindrical central portion, and a crown with eight niches surmounted by a lotus. These niches contain Buddha figures, most of them mutilated, in the attitude of meditation; as far as we can make out, one of them has a garment around his shoulders leaving his chest bare, while the other seven are fully clothed. The pointed arches of the niches ascend to form the dividing lines between the lotus leaves. The stupa is topped by an octagonal cap with stepped ornamentation on its faces.

The central segment is engraved all round with thirty-five columns containing the twelve Nidanas ("Links in the Chain of Existence") in Chinese. Bodhisattva figures are incised into the eight faces of the base.

Alexander Soper has compared this votive stupa with others found in the cave temples of the Northern Wei style in Kansu, which are dated between 420 and 430, and suggested that it also originated in the middle of the fifth century a.d. (Soper 1958).

Right: Though considerably smaller and possibly less attrac- tive at first glance owing to damage and blackening by fire, this stupa is more completely preserved than No. 7, as far as the upper part and the text are concerned. Like the other it consists of an octagonal base, though without incised figures, a cylindrical midsection, and a crown of eight niches surmounted by a lotus. Seven of the figures seated in the niches have survived in various states of preservation. The only image of a bodhisattva here is that of Maitreya: he sits with his legs crossed on a draped lotus pedestal. Above the waist he is naked, with a shawl hanging over his upper arms; his hands are laid one in the other. Below the waist he is clad in a pleated garment. Maitreya's ornaments consist of large round earrings, a necklace with a gem in the center, and bangles on the arms. His hair is arranged in tresses, and a high, three-point crown on a circular base rests on his head.

The figure next to him is a Buddha sitting on a lotus pedestal. He wears a robe that leaves the right half of the chest free, and a shawl that completely covers both shoulders and arms; even the hands are hidden by one end of the garment. After this is a Buddha seated in the attitude of meditation, who differs from the preceding one in his clothing: he, too, has a shawl around his shoulders, but it leaves the right forearm and the hands exposed. The next Buddha wears a pleated garment leaving only the hands visible, followed by a figure identical with the Buddha seated in the niche beside Maitreya. The next niche has been broken off. Then comes a Buddha whose shoulders are covered but whose right forearm and hands are exposed; and the last one is again fully clothed, with his hands uncovered. Thus, each type of Buddha occurs twice, along with a no-longer-recognizable figure and the bodhisattva Maitreya.

As this votive stupa closely resembles No. 7 (image on the left) in its conception and style, it dates in all likelihood from the same period.


Two Lions

Two Lions 

Two Lions

Wood, 23.9 x 18.2, 23.9 x 17.7 cm. Achik-ilek near Kirish, 7th century(?)
Museum fur Indische Kunst (MIK III 7667a,b)

Found near the village of Kirish, these two realistically carved lions, which at first sight are almost identical, were most probably part of a throne. With wide-open mouth, revealing fearsome fangs and a throat in naturalistic color, they were meant to ward off unwelcome visitors.

Death Mask (?)

Death Mask (?) 

Death Mask (?)

Stucco, H. 16.0 cm. Kizil, Cave of the Red Dome, ca. 600
Museum fur Indische Kunst (MIK III 7930)

One of the most important sites in Kizil is the Cave of the Red Dome, which consisted of an almost square cella surmounted by a bright red dome. The paintings in the cave were of extraordinary interest, though many were in a poor state of preservation when they were found. Not far away, hewn high up in the mountainside, a small, flat-ceilinged chamber was discov- ered, which must have served as a library. It contained quantities of manuscripts written on palm leaf, birch bark, or paper in many different scripts and languages — one of the few libraries of Central Asia to present us with texts in such great numbers and of such superb quality.

This head from the Cave of the Red Dome is remarkable in being shaped not out of clay, the usual material, but out of stucco, a material that is hardly known on the northern Silk Route. Moreover, it may not be the head of one of the standard figures in the Buddhist pantheon, but the actual death mask of a man who lived in Kizil around A.D. 600.

The face has an extremely naturalistic expression, and in comparison with the mold-made heads of the clay figures it reveals not a trace of artificiality or mannerism. The hairstyle is also freer and less conventional than that of comparable devata heads.


Buddhist Arts Depicting Believers

Uighurian Princes and Princesses

Uighurian Princes   Uighurian Princesses

Uighurian Princes and Princesses

Left: Wall painting, 62.4 x 59.5 cm. Bezeklik, Temple 9, 9th century
Museum fur Indische Kunst (MIK III 6876a)
Right: Wall painting, 66.0 x 57.0 cm. Bezeklik, Temple 9, 9th century
Museum fur Indische Kunst (MIK III 6876b)

Left: The two narrow faces of the east wall of Temple 9 at Bezeklik bore pictures of princes on each side. In this well-preserved painting are portraits of three princes of East Asian aspect, who seem to be striding forward on a carpet. All three are dressed alike, in differently patterned, long red robes with a round neckline. It is difficult to make out how these are fastened; perhaps they are sewn together in the middle. Over the right leg, the side facing the spectator, the robes fall open to reveal high, dark boots. The princes hold their hands, hidden by fairly wide sleeves, above the belt, which was evidently made of plaited leather studded with metal disks. Some of its thongs hang down without any apparent function, while to other thongs or cords are attached a dagger, flint-pouch, awl, knotted kerchief, and other objects; these were perhaps meant not so much for everyday use as to denote the rank of their bearer.

The darker-skinned prince on the right precedes the other two by a couple of paces and appears to be of higher rank. All three wear high tiaras, which are fastened by ribbons under the chin. In contrast to the common people the aristocrats wore their center-parted hair in long tresses, hanging down the back and cut square at the ends. The flower that each holds seems to have been added at a later date. Anne-Marie von Gabain believes that this flower must have had a special significance: she quotes a Uighurian text translated from the Chinese, which in its many prayers for the dead expressly mentions "those who hold the flowers."

        In our branch of Buddhism we venture the hypothesis that the lotus bud in the hands of worshipers denotes the hope of rebirth as an Aupapaduka, i.e., in Amitabha's paradise, while a different kind of flower symbolizes some other desirable reincarnation. This would explain why the Buddha does not carry a flower, as he has already attained perfection, and why his immediate followers are not distinguished by the flower symbol either — the presence of the Enlightened One assures his pupils of the best possible prospects of nirvana — As the long-stemmed flower without hands to hold it occurs quite often in pictures, we cannot speak of an oversight on the part of the painter; such a contravention of the laws of statics must have had its significance. We believe we have found a clue in a picture from Tun-huang dating from 971 : the accompanying text identifies the mem- bers of a group of worshipers as the deceased parents and several family members. The father bears a stemless flower on his hands, the mother too, though her hands are covered. The other persons, whom we may suppose to be still alive, as their death is not mentioned, have no flower. Hence our postulation that the bereaved showed their reverence for a dead relative by commissioning a portrait of him with the flower, to show that they wished him a joyous rebirth. Living persons, however, were painted without a flower. But when after the completion of a picture the person died, this symbolic flower was then added, painted in across the breast. (Gabain 1973b, text vol., pp. 165f)

There is a cartouche at the head of each prince. Only that of the foremost bears a complete inscription, in which von Le Coq has identified the name of a well-known Uighurian family. His reading is: "The Tutuq Bugra [from the house of] Sali." This family is reported to have flourished in Khocho for a long time.

Right: Two Uighurian princesses with East Asian features walk solemnly toward the left over a wave-patterned carpet with borders on each side. They are wearing wide, sand-colored robes without a pronounced waistline. The V-shaped neckline is edged by a collar embroidered with red spiral lines. The fastening in the middle and the seams on the upper sleeves and the knee-line of the garments are marked with red-and-white braid, which may — as von Gabain believes — indicate the width of the material, here 35 centimeters (Gabain 1973b, p. 124). The red crosshatched ma- terial of the undergarment can be seen at the neck and wrists. The elaborate coiffure, which marks its owners as members of a privileged class, shows two wings of hair at each side fastened with ornamental pins; a magnificent crown is worn on top. From the hair at the back, a rust-red sash hangs nearly to the floor and is tied in a decorative bow at hip level. Like the princes of No. 108 (Image on the left), each woman has been given a flower. According to von Le Coq, the inscription on the cartouche preserved next to the right-hand figure reads: 'This is the picture of Her Highness Princess Joy."

Uighurian Prince

Uighurian Prince   Uighurian Prince

Uighurian Prince   Uighurian Prince

Left: Wall painting, 57 x 37.5 cm. Bezeklik, Temple 19, 9th century
Museum fur Indische Kunst (MIK III 8381)
Right: Painting on ramie, 142x52 cm. Khocho, 9th century
Museum fur Indische Kunst (MIK III 4524)

Left: This picture of a prince was part of the painting on the pedestal of the cult image, which had, according to Grunwedel (1912, p. 271), the sermon of Benares depicted on its front side.

The prince stands before a door or window opening, between red curtains which have been tied back on either side. He wears a long, belted robe; his head is crowned with a high tiara fastened under the chin with a red band. Unlike the princes of No. 108 he has a thick beard. Von Gabain's research indicates that young men generally went clean-shaven; only on attaining full manhood did they wear a thin mustache, slightly drooping at the sides of the mouth (Gabain 1973b, p. 117). A beard, though less common, could also be worn, as this portrait shows, framing the cheeks rather than covering them completely. Prince Alp Arslan ("brave lion"), whose name and tide can be read on the cartouche located below the elbow, holds the stem of a flower in his hands, unlike the figures of Nos. 108 and 109; if von Gabain's hypothesis is correct, all those represented with flowers were deceased at the time.

Right: As seen already in several examples, portrayals of princes and their families are an extremely interesting feature of the art of Central Asia. In the form of wall paintings they were placed in locations that would catch the eye, on the entrance ways or passages in the cave temples or on the pedestals of statues. Where the hangings with portraits were displayed cannot be accurately deduced from where they were found.

The finest painting on cloth in the Berlin collection is this large banner, possibly a votive offering, with the portrayal of a Uighurian prince on both sides. Like all votive banners it consists of three parts: the long, narrow, rectangular banner itself, the triangular segment at the top, which here depicts a seated Buddha, and rectangular strips of material at the bottom with a wooden stick to weigh it down. The subject has an aristocratic bearing and is getting on in years. Unlike men of lesser standing, he wears his long white hair parted in the middle and falling in individual tresses squared off at the ends. On his head is a three-pronged cap, held by a strap under the chin; a shoulder-length veil hangs down behind. As well as an attractively curled mustache he has a beard covering his chin and framing his cheeks.

The prince's fine robe, patterned with a large floral design, is modeled on the typical dress of the country. It is a long-sleeved, round-necked garment reaching to the feet. There is a belt fastened in front, with rectangular decorative pieces containing a slit from which to hang straps with objects of daily use, such as sheaths for chopsticks and reed pen, flint-pouch, awl, and amulets. A slit in the side of the garment reveals a black knee-length boot. In his hands the prince holds a stem with several blossoms, perhaps intended to win him a joyous reincarnation.

The Uighurian inscriptions are very difficult to de- cipher. On the side with the prince facing left a line of writing can be seen at the level of his hat on the right. At bottom left we can read: "For the soul of my father (or: our father) [Tangri?] m Xan Totoq." The other side, with the prince looking to the right, bears a similar inscription. M This(?) (is) for the [soul of my father] [//] tym (or: Tangrim?) X[an] T[otoq]." This reading, for which we are indebted to Dr. Peter Zieme, would if correct confirm von Gabain's hypothesis that flowers held in the hands or laid across the arms indicate that the bearers have died.


Two Female Donors

Two Female Donors  

Two Female Donors

Painting on silk, 9.5 x 25 cm. Toyok, 8th -9th century
Museum fur Indische Kunst (MIK III 6341)

This modest fragment of a large silk painting gives an idea of the sumptuousness and artistic quality of the original work. On the right are the half-figure and the head of two Chinese noblewomen of the T'ang dynasty, portrayed in three-quarter profile. They probably formed part of a group of donors represented below a Buddha or bodhisattva to the left. The two women have their hair up and their cheeks and eyelids powdered a fashionable pink. The woman on the left, wearing a red shawl over a violet dress, has her hands joined in front of her breast. Both women originally stood or knelt before and to the right of a multicolored lotus pedestal. Parts of its leaves have survived, painted in the traditional range of colors, blue, red, green, and violet, and the lower end of a white shawl hangs down over it.

Donors and disciples of Buddha

Group of Donors   Kizil mural depicting disciples of Buddha

Group of Donors   Disciples of Buddha

Left: Wall painting, 150.5 x 208 cm. Kizil, Cave of the Sixteen Sword-Bearers, 600-650
Museum fur Indische Kunst (MIK III 8199b)
Right: Kizil mural depicting disciples of Buddha.

Left: No other relics of the culture of Central Asia tell us so much about the various origins of its inhabitants in the second half of the first millennium A.D. as the portraits of donors in the murals. Here are four rep- resentatives of the race under which Kucha's art flourished. They are Tocharian knights, of undeniably Indo-European origin. With their short, reddish brown hair parted in the center, their light-colored eyes, and what looks like Iranian apparel, they form a marked contrast to the Uighurian princes of No. 108. Over their tight-fitting, Parthian-style trousers they wear splendid lapelled coats in the fashion of Sasanian nobles, differing only in color and ornamentation. Each of the four has a dagger and a sword with an unusually long hilt hanging from his belt, which is made of metal disks. Their faces are badly damaged.

Portrayals of donors were usually to be found in the caves on the walls of the side passages to the left and right of the niche for the cult image. The Cave of the Sixteen Sword-Bearers takes its name from the four donors depicted on each wall of the left- and right-hand passages.

Right: Kizil mural depicting disciples of Buddha.



Buddhist Arts Depicting Non-Believers

Head of a Brahman

Head of a Brahman  

The brahmans, as representatives of the group of non-believers in the Buddha's teachings, seem often to have been exposed to ridicule by Buddhist artists. Such, at any rate, is the impression conveyed by the brahman images of Central Asia, an impression confirmed by this head. Very individualistic in his physiognomy, the brahman expresses anger in his wide, staring eyes and the pronounced wrinkles of his forehead. The eyes protrude from their sockets as in the depictions of demonic figures; the mouth appears small and compressed. The beard, modeled in strands, fans out to the ears. The coiffure is a curious one; the hair may originally have lain close to the head and perhaps been tied up on the brahman's right-hand side.

Half-Figure of a Brahman

Half-Figure of a Brahman 

Half-Figure of a Brahman
Clay, H. 51.9 cm. Shorchuk, 7th- 8th century
Museum fur Indische Kunst (MIK III 8721)

Modest in execution and conventional in dress and ornaments, the figure wears his hair in the typical as- cetic style, originally tied on top, which distinguishes him as a brahman.


Seated Brahman

Seated Brahman   Seated Brahman

Seated Brahman

Left: Clay, H. 16.5 cm. Shorchuk, Kirin Cave, 7th -8th century
Museum fur Indische Kunst (MIK III 8199b)
Right: Clay, H. 42.4 cm. Shorchuk, Kirin Cave, 7th- 8th century
Museum fur Indische Kunst (MIK III 8199a)

Left: This seated brahman, in his panther skin, knee-length stockings, and shawl in the form of a mandorla, cuts an almost comical figure. His hair is tied up in the ascetic style, but on his forehead and in his beard bushy ringlets hang down like snakes. He gives the impression of participating in a lively discussion.

Right: The brahman is encompassed by a mandorlalike shawl and wears a loincloth and knee-length stockings. The ear ornaments have been broken off; he has a necklace with a round floral pendant, and on his chest two decorative chains, crossing at the navel under a rosette. Like No. 75, he appears to be taking part in a disputation (his missing right hand was originally raised). The craggy, lined face with its prominent eyes and bushy beard gives the figure its special character, that of the typical, grumpy brahman as the Buddhists visualized him.

Head and Half-Figure of a Brahman

Head of a Brahman   Half-Figure of a Brahman

Head and Half-Figure of a Brahman

Left: Wall painting, 20.0 x 15.5 cm. Bezeklik, Temple 9, 7th- 8th century
Museum fur Indische Kunst (MIK III 6756)
Right: Wall painting, 65x52 cm. Bezeklik, Temple 9, 9th century
Museum fur Indische Kunst (MIK III 6891)

Left: Among the most important excavation sites in the Turfan region are the temples of Bezeklik (in Eastern Turkish, "place where there are paintings and ornaments"), situated to the south of the village of Murtuk. They are reached by following the gorge of Sengim northward as far as the point where the Murtuk brook flows into the Sengim River. The high cliffs on the right bank have to be climbed in order to find a narrow, winding path that leads along the cliff top to the great monastic complexes of Bezeklik. They cannot be seen from the path until the visitor is on top of them, for the monks endeavored, here as everywhere else, to build their temples and settlements as far away as possible from the profane world. The path opens out and ends in a wide flat area; here there is a terrace cut into the bank where it forms a horseshoe bend, about ten yards above the bed of the stream (Fig. m).

Altogether several hundred temples have been preserved. The majority were built in the open and were originally joined together by means of wooden porches; there are also cave temples hewn in the rock. A whole row of temples was completely buried in the sand or covered by loess dust; as was to be expected, they yielded many well-preserved relics of early cultures. Other temples, used as temporary accommodation by the goatherds who tended their animals there in the summer, were damaged and black with soot from their campfires.

This head of a brahman was found in the rubble of Temple 9, the source of many of the most important and interesting murals — the very large Pranidhi scenes. The brahman seems agitated, as if taking part in a discussion. His long strands of hair, apparently wind- blown, the thick beard, and the slighdy opened mouth in which a few teeth are visible, all strengthen the impression of a heated argument.

This fragment, unlike most of the other paintings found at the site, shows the influence of the Indian school.

Right: The annex of Temple 9 is entered from the porch through a doorway over six feet high. Two brahmans and sixteen female demons riding various animals were painted on its walls. One of the brahmans — or at least a fragment of him — was brought back to Berlin.

Notwithstanding its lack of subtiety, this is an amusing and lively portrayal. The hair is tied up in the ascetic style; the exaggerated mustache and beard heighten the grotesque effect. The eyes are like those of demonic figures. A band of tiger skin crosses the upper part of the brahman's body, while ends of a scarf flutter behind him. Above his right shoulder we see the point of a vajra, which was probably held in his right hand; the symbol in this case does not identify its bearer as Vajrapani.