The Caves are of a Scale Beyond Comparison
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.