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This paper highlights mechanisms of cultural and material transfer across the Tarim Basin through the study of interrelations between the two major nodes of Khotan and Dunhuang (敦煌), as reflected through the presence of so-called Khotanese themes in the arts of Dunhuang.

Here, Khotanese themes identifies specific visual imagery found in the Mogao Caves (Chin. Mogao ku 莫高窟) and Yulin Caves (Chin. Yulin ku 榆林窟) that appeared mainly in the span of time from the 9th century to the early 11th century. This imagery includes: The Auspicious Statues (Chin. ruixiang 瑞像), the Khotanese state tutelary deities known as the Eight Protectors (Kh. haṣṭä parvālā), the legend of the founding of Khotan, and depictions of Mt. Gośīrṣa/Gośṛṅga (Chin. Niutou shan 牛頭山/Niujiao shan 牛角山)—the most sacred place in Khotan. These themes emerged from the Khotanese Buddhist and cultural milieux and found their way to Dunhuang through the close relations that developed between the two oases during that period. These themes were most likely promoted by a (semi-)permanent Khotanese community living in Dunhuang.

Attention to Khotanese themes in Dunhuang has grown in the past years, increasing the availability of material that has been seldom studied or, so far, gone unnoticed. This paper presents an overview of the topic and an up-to-date assessment of the material, with an eye toward the archaeological data recent discoveries in the oasis of Khotan brought to light.

Open Access
In: Buddhism in Central Asia II
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Textual evidence indicates that Buddhism in Khotan received strong support from royal families during its prime (5th–10th centuries). References to Khotanese kings who founded important monasteries are abundant in Tibetan texts on Khotan. Local legends preserved in the literature of Chinese Buddhism underline the constant involvement of the royals with Buddhist miraculous events.

If local and religious literature is explicit about royal patronage and depicts the ruling family as the guarantor of the country’s existence as an established Buddhist kingdom, what does the art-historical material from Khotan tell us about such patronage? How were patronage (and legitimation) expressed in images, or through the sculptural and painted decorations of supported monasteries? Generally speaking, although figures of donors appear on wall paintings, it is difficult, given the poor state of the sparse dedicatory inscriptions, to ascertain their exact identities and the nature of their support. This chapter studies pictorial evidence from the Buddhist remains of Khotan related to two famous, local legends: the story of the Silk Princess and the story of the founding of the Gomatī Monastery. This study demonstrates that—despite the absence of explicit depictions of donors and inscriptions—a specific way of communicating patronage can be detected in the art-historical material. Ultimately, these paintings provide telling evidence of the ‘language’ used to express patronage through visual media in Khotan.

I underscore here the importance of a systematic survey of archaeological sources (both from old and new excavations) in the study of Central Asian Buddhism. This study provides evidence of the productive methodological combination of archaeological and art historical sources vis-à-vis textual and philological ones, in clarifying understanding the many gaps in the historical developments of Buddhism in Central Asia.

Open Access
In: Buddhism in Central Asia I
Author:

Abstract

Textual evidence indicates that Buddhism in Khotan received strong support from royal families during its prime (5th–10th centuries). References to Khotanese kings who founded important monasteries are abundant in Tibetan texts on Khotan. Local legends preserved in the literature of Chinese Buddhism underline the constant involvement of the royals with Buddhist miraculous events.

If local and religious literature is explicit about royal patronage and depicts the ruling family as the guarantor of the country’s existence as an established Buddhist kingdom, what does the art-historical material from Khotan tell us about such patronage? How were patronage (and legitimation) expressed in images, or through the sculptural and painted decorations of supported monasteries? Generally speaking, although figures of donors appear on wall paintings, it is difficult, given the poor state of the sparse dedicatory inscriptions, to ascertain their exact identities and the nature of their support. This chapter studies pictorial evidence from the Buddhist remains of Khotan related to two famous, local legends: the story of the Silk Princess and the story of the founding of the Gomatī Monastery. This study demonstrates that—despite the absence of explicit depictions of donors and inscriptions—a specific way of communicating patronage can be detected in the art-historical material. Ultimately, these paintings provide telling evidence of the ‘language’ used to express patronage through visual media in Khotan.

I underscore here the importance of a systematic survey of archaeological sources (both from old and new excavations) in the study of Central Asian Buddhism. This study provides evidence of the productive methodological combination of archaeological and art historical sources vis-à-vis textual and philological ones, in clarifying understanding the many gaps in the historical developments of Buddhism in Central Asia.

Open Access
In: Buddhism in Central Asia I