The 8th International Conference Buddhism & Australia
Chinese Buddhist Encyclopedia Illustrations
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Bezeklik Thousand Buddha Caves
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The Bezeklik Thousand Buddha Caves (Chinese: 柏孜克里千佛洞; pinyin: Bózīkèlǐ Qiānfódòng) is a complex of Buddhist cave grottos dating from the 5th to 14th century between the cities of Turpan and Shanshan (Loulan) at the north-east of the Taklamakan Desert near the ancient ruins of Gaochang in the Mutou Valley, a gorge in the Flaming Mountains, China.
There are 77 rock-cut caves at the site. Most have rectangular spaces with rounded arch ceilings often divided into four sections, each with a mural of the Buddha. The effect is of entire ceiling covers with hundreds of Buddha murals.
Some murals show a large Buddha surrounded by other figures, including Indians, Persians and Europeans. The quality of the murals vary with some being artistically naive while others are masterpieces of religious art. The murals that best represent the Bezeklik Thousand Buddha Caves are the large-sized murals, which were given the name the "Praņidhi Scene", paintings depicting Sakyamuni’s "promise" or "praņidhi" from his past life.
The murals at Bezeklik have suffered considerable damage. Many of the murals were damaged by local Muslim population whose religion proscribed figurative images of sentient beings, the eyes and mouths in particular were often gouged out. Pieces of murals were also broken off for other uses by the locals. During the late nineteen and early twentieth century, European and Japanese explorers found intact murals buried in sand, and many were removed and dispersed around the world. Some of the best preserved murals were removed by German explorer Albert von Le Coq and sent to Germany. Large pieces such as those showing Praņidhi scene were permanently fixed to walls in Museum of Ethnology in Berlin. During the Second World War they could not be removed for safekeeping, and were thus destroyed when the museum was caught in the bombing of Berlin by the Allies. Other pieces may now be found in various museums around the world, such as the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Tokyo National Museum in Japan, the British Museum in London, and the national museums of Korea and India.