The Caves are of a Scale Be­yond Com­par­i­son

Vision Magazine - - Destinations -

The Mo­gao Caves, also known as the Thou­sand Bud­dha Caves, are lo­cated 25 km south­east of the Dun­huang oa­sis, in Gansu Prov­ince, China. The caves are renowned for its beau­ti­ful wall paint­ing and sculp­tures, the craft­ing of which be­gan dur­ing the For­mer Qin pe­riod of the Six­teen King­doms and con­tin­ued through the dy­nas­ties, cul­mi­nat­ing in the world’s largest, most sa­cred cen­tre of Bud­dhist ar­ti­facts.

Ac­cord­ing to his­tor­i­cal texts, in 366 C.E. Bud­dhist Monk Yue Zun crossed the Shan­wei moun­tain pass. Sud­denly, the light turned iri­des­cent and from the ra­di­ance emerged thou­sands of Bud­dhas, smil­ing, laugh­ing and singing. In­spired by this prov­i­den­tial scene, Monk Yue Zun de­cided to ded­i­cate the moun­tain as a place of wor­ship. There­upon the cliff­side, the first of the Mo­gao caves was dug out. As the re­gion pros­pered from thriv­ing trade along the Silk Road, Bud­dhist cul­ture sim­i­larly flour­ished, il­lus­trated by the scores of Bud­dhist art­work that pro­lif­er­ated through­out the caves. The artistry of the Mo­gao Caves reached its zenith in the Sui and Tang dy­nas­ties, how­ever when the Silk Road fell into dis­use dur­ing the Yuan Dy­nasty, the caves grad­u­ally faded from the world’s aware­ness. It was only un­til 1701 dur­ing Em­peror Kangxi’s reign dur­ing the Qing dy­nasty that a re­newed at­ten­tion was given to the Mo­gao Caves and its for­got­ten mas­ter­pieces.

The Mo­gao Caves en­com­pass some of the finest paint­ing, sculp­ture and ar­chi­tec­ture of the Ori­ent. Some mu­rals are grand, some in­tri­cate, each are vivid reflections of the civ­i­liza­tion from which the art­works have come to pass. The mu­rals pro­vide il­lus­tra­tions of pro­found con­tent, mostly of Bud­dha por­traits, Bud­dhist his­tory and sto­ries, as well as scenes de­pict­ing ev­ery­day life, art, pol­i­tics and eth­nic re­la­tions. The caves there­fore bear ex­cep­tional wit­ness to the lives of the an­cient Chi­nese.

Mo­gao Caves are un­par­al­leled in scale, with 735 cur­rently ex­ist­ing caves, mu­rals span­ning 45,000 square me­ters and 2,415 coloured clay sculp­tures. The aes­thet­i­cally adorned mu­rals are so ex­ten­sive that at an ar­range­ment of 2 me­ters in height, they would oc­cupy 25 kilo­me­ters of gallery space.

Re­cently, more hid­den caves are found con­tain­ing Bud­dhist su­tras with over 50,000 pieces of arte­facts. How­ever, the Mo­gao Caves have sus­tained man-made da­m­ages dur­ing re­cent decades re­sult­ing in de­struc­tions of the caves’ outer wooden tem­ple struc­tures, pas­sage and plank walk­ways, as well as loss of many an­cient relics.

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