Bezeklik Thousand Buddha Caves

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Bezeklik Caves
Bezeklik caves
Map showing the location of Bezeklik Caves
Map showing the location of Bezeklik Caves
Location of Bezeklik Caves in China
Coordinates 42°57′21″N 89°32′22″E / 42.95583°N 89.53944°E / 42.95583; 89.53944Coordinates: 42°57′21″N 89°32′22″E / 42.95583°N 89.53944°E / 42.95583; 89.53944

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. They are high on the cliffs of the west Mutou Valley under the Flaming Mountains,[1] and most of the surviving caves date from the West Uyghur kingdom around the 10th to 13th centuries.[2]

Bezeklik murals[edit]

Pranidhi scene, temple 9 (Cave 20)

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 Turks, Indians and Europeans. The quality of the murals vary with some being artistically naive while others are masterpieces of religious art.[3] 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.[4]

Professor James A. Millward described the original Uyghurs as physically Mongoloid, giving as an example the images in Bezeklik at temple 9 of the Uyghur patrons, until they began to mix with the Tarim Basin's original eastern Iranian inhabitants.[5]

The Buddhist Uyghurs of the Kingdom of Qocho and Turfan were converted to Islam by conquest during a ghazat (holy war) at the hands of the Muslim Chagatai Khizr Khwaja.[6]

After being converted to Islam, the descendants of the previously Buddhist Uyghurs in Turfan failed to retain memory of their ancestral legacy and falsely believed that the "infidel Kalmuks" (Dzungars) were the ones who built Buddhist monuments in their area.[7][8]

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 use as fertilizer by the locals.[9] 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.[9] 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.

A digital recreation of the Bezeklik murals removed by explorers was shown in Japan.[2][10]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Bizaklik Thousand Buddha Caves". Retrieved 2007-09-21. 
  2. ^ a b Reconstruction of Bezeklik murals at Ryukoku Museum
  3. ^ "Bizaklik Thousand Buddha Caves". Retrieved 2007-09-21. 
  4. ^ The Lost Murals of Bezeklik Thousand Buddha Caves
  5. ^ Millward, James A. (2007). Eurasian Crossroads: A History of Xinjiang (illustrated ed.). Columbia University Press. p. 43. ISBN 0231139241. Retrieved 10 March 2014. 
  6. ^ James A. Millward (2007). Eurasian Crossroads: A History of Xinjiang. Columbia University Press. pp. 69–. ISBN 978-0-231-13924-3. 
  7. ^ Hamilton Alexander Rosskeen Gibb; Bernard Lewis; Johannes Hendrik Kramers; Charles Pellat; Joseph Schacht (1998). The Encyclopaedia of Islam. Brill. p. 677. 
  8. ^ [1][2][3]
  9. ^ a b Whitfield, Susan (2010). "A place of safekeeping? The vicissitudes of the Bezeklik murals". In Agnew, Neville. History and Silk Road Studies Conservation of ancient sites on the Silk Road: proceedings of the second International Conference on the Conservation of Grotto Sites, Mogao Grottoes, Dunhuang, People's Republic of China Check |url= scheme (help) (PDF). Getty Publications. pp. 95–106. ISBN 978-1-60606-013-1. 
  10. ^ Ryukoku University Digital Archives Research Center

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]