|Dunhuang Art in the Last Phase...
Paintings of StoriesNarrative paintings of the
H¢nay¡na stories had been in vogue during the early periods. After their
disappearance for over 200 years, three or four such narratives appeared once again in the
niches of the Buddha altars on the screen paintings during the period of the Tibetan
occupation. During the period of Zhang Yichao, stories from Xianyu jing appeared in
screen forms. The Art Academy of the Cao government inherited this practice and painted
the same themes on large canvases. In a single cave there could be as many as 30-odd
independent stories illustrated in a very different format very different from the story
paintings of the earlier periods.
For example, in Cave No. 98, the story of Ga´g¡datta's conversion to Buddhahood which is based on the chapter on Ga´g¡datta of Xianyu jing appears on the south wall.22 According to the S£tra, a minister who had no son went to the temple and prayed before the deity: "If I am granted a son, I will decorate your body with gold and silver and apply scent all over your temple. If I am not granted one, I will destroy the temple and desecrate your body with excrement." The temple god was frightened and Indra informed Buddha about this incident through Devar¡ja Vai¿rava¸a. Precisely at that time there was a king who was about to die. Indra ordered that he be reborn in the house of the minister. The minister got his son and christened him Ga´g¡datta. As the years went by, the son grew up and was inclined to enter Buddhahood. His parents did not grant his wish saying: "We are an affluent family with extensive property and you are the only son. You must inherit the family occupation." Ga´g¡datta was deeply disturbed and wanted to die and be reborn in a new world. He first jumped from a high cliff, then flung himself into water, and then drank poison, but he was not harmed in the least. Then, he contemplated of violating the law and of being put to death. One day when the Queen and her maids were bathing in the pool after having hung their clothes and ornaments on the trees, Ga´g¡datta slipped into the wood and stole their clothes and ornaments. The King was furious and took up his bow and arrows to kill Ga´g¡datta. Thrice, the arrows failed to reach their target, turning back instead in the King's direction. Frightened, the King threw the bow to the ground and allowed Ga´g¡datta his wish to enter the holy order. He even took him to the abode of Buddha. In the screen painting of Cave No. 98 we have the scenes of the minister visiting the temple and praying for a son, of the son growing up, of Ga´g¡datta jumping from a precipice, jumping into the water, of the Queen bathing in the pool, of Ga´g¡datta stealing the clothes, of the King's indignation, of the King shooting at Ga´g¡datta, of the King leading Ga´g¡datta to the temple to be initiated into monkhood and so on. Although this theme is to be seen in Cave No. 85 of the Late Tang, the later painting shows a richer and livelier depiction.
Another new theme is the story of the adventure of Taneja (Xianyu jing, Chapter on Taneja).23 Taneja was a poor Brahmin who lived from hand to mouth. He borrowed an ox to till the small plot of land that he owned. He returned the ox to its owner, but left the animal without informing him that his work was through. The owner saw the ox but thought Taneja was still using it. Thus, no one took care of the ox, until it was finally lost. The owner took Taneja to the King to claim compensation. They had just stepped out of the house when they saw the King's groom chasing a runaway horse. The groom asked Taneja to block the path of the horse. Taneja threw a stone at the horse and broke its leg. The groom also joined the owner to take Taneja to the King. They came to the banks of a river, but did not know where the ferry was. Just then, a carpenter was wading through the river with an axe in his mouth leaving his hands free to lift up his clothes. Taneja approached the carpenter and enquired about the ferry. The carpenter opened his mouth to reply and dropped the axe into the river. The carpenter too joined the other accusers. On the way, Taneja felt hungry and thirsty. He went to the wine shop and begged for wine. When he sat on the cot to drink, he accidentally killed a baby sleeping under bedsheet. The mother of the child cursed Taneja and joined the party headed for the King's office. Taneja saw that he was in great trouble. He climbed a wall trying to run away. When he landed, he killed an old weaver who had been sitting on the other side. The son of the weaver also joined the crowd to go to the King for demanding compensation from Taneja. When the group passed the wood, a bird on the tree asked Taneja, "Please go and ask the King why I cannot sing as I should when I perch on other trees. It is only when I am on this tree that I can sing as sadly or merrily as I wish." The accusers produced Taneja before the King. After finding out what had happened, the King pronounced his judgement. He ordered that Taneja should lose his tongue because he did not tell the owner of the ox about the return of the latter's animal, but the latter should lose his eyes for seeing his ox but not keeping it under proper custody; Taneja should lose his hand for breaking the leg of the horse, while the groom should lose his tongue for calling out to Taneja for help; Taneja should lose his tongue for inquiring from the carpenter, while the carpenter should get his teeth broken for dropping the axe. The King thought that the mother of the baby was guilty for putting the baby under the bedsheet of a cot meant for the customers of the wine shop to sit while Taneja was also guilty for causing the baby's death. He wanted Taneja to become the husband of the woman to give her another baby. The King also ordered Taneja to be the father of the weaver's son to compensate the latter's loss. Upon his judgement, all the accused withdrew their charges and worked out a reconciliation. Taneja was happy with the result. He also witnessed another dispute being resolved by the King. Two women were scrambling for a baby, both claiming to be the real mother. The King ordered that each woman should take a hand of the baby and pull it. He would award it to the winner. The woman who was not the real mother pulled hard, while the real mother did not, lest the baby be hurt. Thus the King recognized the real mother and restored the baby to her. Seeing that the King was so sagacious, Taneja told him about the bird's query. The King replied: "Under the tree on which the bird could sing well lies a big pot of gold. Since you are poor, you can go and get the gold." Taneja dug up the gold, bought land and became rich.
This is a story with many twists and turns, but the illustration in Cave No. 98 shows only five scenes, among which are the carpenter dropping the axe while trying to answer Taneja; Taneja crushing a baby to death while drinking in the wine shop; and the two women disputing over the mothership of a baby.
Another new story about "Xianghu" (Protection of Elephant) and a golden elephant is also based on Xianyu jing, according to the story in the "elephant protection" chapter of the S£tra.24 The story says that an elder of Magadha had a son born to him at the same time as a golden elephant. His parents christened him "Xianghu". The golden elephant grew with the boy and moved along with the boy. Whatever the elephant excreted landed on the ground as gold. Xianghu often talked about this elephant with his five hundred companions when they shared with each other their family secrets. Prince Aj¡ta¿atru was among the exalted companions. He thought, "When I become the King I will seize the elephant." Soon after he was enthroned he summoned Xianghu and his golden elephant to the palace. Xianghu's father warned his son, "Aj¡ta¿atru is a cruel, ruthless and covetous person who even ill-treats his own father. He will not be kind to others. His aim in asking you to go to the palace is to grab your elephant." To this Xianghu replied, "No one has the power to seize this elephant of mine." Thereupon, father and son rode on the elephant and went to the king's palace. They were treated by the king with food and drinks. Then, Xianghu took leave of the king who asked him to leave his elephant behind. Xianghu agreed and walked out with his father on foot. After a while, the elephant disappeared into the ground and emerged out of the gate of the palace from the ground to carry his masters home. Later, Xianghu left home and became an ascetic in the jungle to escape the persecution of the king.
This is a story with a profound moral. The illustration of this story in Cave No. 98 has seven scenes: (1) the elder had a son born to him and the golden elephant comes to the house; (2) Xianghu and the golden elephant become inseparable companions; (3) Xianghu tells his companions about the golden elephant; (4) King Aj¡ta¿atru plots to grab the elephant; (5) Xianghu and his father ride the elephant to the palace; (6) Xianghu takes leave of the king and leaves the palace, the golden elephant disappears underground and reappears outside the palace; and (7) apprehensive of the king's persecution, Xianghu becomes a monk. Finally, we have Buddha narrating Xianghu's story.
Apart from the new J¡taka and karma stories, the last phase of Dunhuang murals produced a special illustration about the story of Buddha in Cave No. 61. One hundred and thirty-one scenes appear on the lower portion of the south, west and north walls which include: Meghakum¡ra appreciating flowers; D¢pa´kara Buddha giving instructions; a hunter shooting a deity by mistake; Prabh¡p¡la being reborn on earth; M¡y¡dev¢ going on outing from the palace; Buddha born under the Pal¡¿a tree; kings and princes coming to congratulate the holy birth with bands; Prince Siddh¡rtha creating a lotus in every step after his birth; N¡gar¡jas spraying water to bathe Siddh¡rtha; Devap¡las escorting the Prince back to the palace; Prince Siddh¡rtha'smother passing away seven days after his birth; the Prince being brought up by his aunt; the Prince studying under a teacher; the Prince practising fighting skill on horse; the Prince inspecting the countryside; the Prince meditating under a tree; the King building palaces of three different seasons for the Prince; singing and dancing in the palaces to amuse the Prince; princes of different states contesting fighting skills; Prince Siddh¡rtha piercing seven drums with his arrow, and his arrow piercing through seven pigs and falling into Hell; Siddh¡rtha throwing an elephant across the rampart; Siddh¡rtha selecting his spouse within the kingdom; Siddh¡rtha marrying the daughter of a minister; maids of the palace attending and entertaining Siddh¡rtha; Siddh¡rtha witnessing sufferings of old age, sickness and death outside the palace; Siddh¡rtha leaving the palace at midnight; the chariot driver returning to the palace with Siddh¡rtha's crown; Siddh¡rtha being tonsured; Siddh¡rtha exchanging dress with a hunter; Siddh¡rtha practising aesticism in the jungle for six years; the daughter of the village chief offering milk to Siddh¡rtha; Garu·a snatching Siddh¡rtha's begging bowl and flying away; Bodhisattva (Siddh¡rtha) crossing the river Nairaµjan¡ and subjugating M¡ra Papiyan; five hundred birds flocking around á¡kyamuni; two merchants offering curd and honey; á¡kyamuni preaching dharma among the fairies; á¡kyamuni preaching at G¤dhrak£ta; Sudatta spreading gold on the ground to build an ¡¿ram for Buddha; á¡kyamuni preaching to the N¡gar¡jas; á¡kyamuni's nirv¡¸a under the s¡la trees; Subhadra (the last disciple of Buddha) burning himself to death; mourning by all his devotees and animals; Up¡li sending a message to Buddha's mother; Buddha coming out of the golden coffin to preach; the golden coffin being taken around the city; Buddha's jhapita (cremation) with aromatic wood; distribution of raka (relics) among the states and building of st£pas.... This is a gigantic composition among mural paintings of the last phase. We see new details which had not been shown earlier in the illustrations of Buddha stories. Moreover, every episode has an inscription written in ink. This demonstrates the influence of the Chinese painting style from the heartland as well as the profound tradition of Chinese culture and art.
of Donors During the rule of the Cao family there
was a tremendous increase in the painting of the donors' portraits. In the first phase,
they left the unimportant spots above the doors or below the altars to occupy the
corridors. During the Five Dynasties and Northern Song Dynasty the portraits began to
appear on both the spacious walls of the corridor which eventually became the preserve of
the portraits of the cave donors and the nobility. The most typical of such paintings is
on the south wall of the corridor of Cave No. 98 where the portraits of father and sons of
the Cao family are beaming at the Zhang family (their relatives through matrimonial
alliance) on the opposite north wall.
In the main room on the east wall is a portrait of the King of Khotan, his queen and their attendants. Towards the northern side of the wall we have the Princess of Uighur together with members of the Cao family. Below the screen paintings on the south, west and north walls are drawn miniature images/dunhuang in a row. They are the officials of different ranks of the Military Command of the Cao regime. Never before had such a wide range of portraits been drawn at Dunhuang.
|The content of the portraits exceeded
the original intention of showing the patrons paying homage to Buddha. In Cave No. 220 on
the north wall of the corridor are the portraits of Zhai Fengda's family tree which is in
a class by itself, although the number of portraits is not large. This was originally the
"Cave of the Zhai family", built in the sixteenth year of the Zhenguan Era (642)
of Early Tang. Below the main altar is the portrait of "Priest Zhai Siyuan" and
"Reverend Daoku of Dayun Monastery" (lay family of Zhai). During the Five
Dynasties in the third year of Tongguan Era (925) of Late Tang, his ninth generation
descendant, Zha Fengda, painted the portraits of his entire family when he was engaged in
painting a new version of Maµju¿r¢. The former included his deceased father Zhai
Huixin, uncle Zhai Shende, deceased elder brother Zhai Wenzi, younger brother Zhai
Wenzheng, deceased son Zhai Shankou and his deceased grandson Zhai Dingzi. These figures
represent the Zhai family of three generations. The portraits of these donors converted
the caves into a two-in-one institution of both a clan temple and a Buddhist church.
Donors, Cave No. 220, Five DynastiesThe paintings are numerous and large, but mostly stereotyped. The male figures generally wore turbans showing corners, loose-sleeved robes, leather belts, black boots, with a tablet stuck in the belt. The female Chinese figures have their hair tied in a high bun with jewel hairpins, faces adorned with paper-cut decorations. They wear large sleeves and skirts with embroidered capes around their shoulders, and rounded high-heeled shoes on the feet. Because of the matrimonial alliances between Cao family and the Uighur rulers of Khotan, the images/dunhuang of the Uighur princesses appear in quite large numbers. The wife of Cao Yijin painted on the southern side of the east wall of Cave No. 61 is described in the inscription as "Madam Li from Longxi being the celestial princess of Qin whose King is the son of the sacred ruler of Great Uighur in the north". She has a high bun on her head tied with silk ribbons at the back, and wears a long gown with open collars and narrow sleeves, and embroidered shoes on her feet. This is the ceremonial dress of Uighur ladies. Because Cao Yijin claimed fraternal relations with the ruling brothers of Uighur and Ganzhou, some of Cao Yijin's daughters were also entitled "Celestial Princesses", and they don Uighur costumes. Generally speaking, the positions and sizes of the portraits are arranged according to the position and seniority of the individuals concerned.
The portraits of the King of Khotan, his queen and the attendants in Cave No. 98 make up a fine group of portraits with considerable historical and aesthetic value. The King of Khotan wears a crown adorned with the symbol of Great Bear. At the back of his head hang thin strips of red silk. He has a long nose, large eyes and tadpole-shaped moustache. He wears the dragon robe with a waist belt covering the knees. There are dev¢s supporting his feet. This is obviously emulating the style of Devar¡ja Vai¿rava¸a. In the notification of the earlier lamp festivals on the eighth day of the twelfth lunar month, this portrait was described as "Devar¡jas of huge portraits". Some other images/dunhuang were called "Devar¡jas of small portraits". In a similar position on the east wall of Cave No. 454, there is a portrait with identical shape and costumes. The inscription beside the painting reads: "The sacred and enlightened Son of Heaven of the great dynasty and Mah¡ratna of Khotan Kingdom....owner of this cave." Here, the term "owner of this cave" is figurative.
Li Shengtian (King of Khotan), Cave No. 98, Five Dynasties
The real owner was Cao Yijin, but he had this cave cut in order to accumulate merit for his son-in-law, the King of Khotan. The attire of the King of Khotan is the fafu (ceremonial dress) of the Chinese emperors. In his Shi Yutian ji (My embassy to Khotan) Gao Juhui had observed, "The dresses of sacred rulers there are the same as in China."25 This proves that there were close ties between Khotan, and the Cao government of Guazhou and China. The Queen wears a bejewelled headgear and costumes which are half Uighur and half Chinese. The inscription reads: "The celestial Queen Madam Cao of the heavenly empowered absolutely filial emperor, the grand politician and grand enlightened, one of the great dynasties of the Kingdom of Khotan showing her dedication to Buddha." Madam Cao was the daughter of Cao Yijin.
|In Cave No. 100 we find pictures of Cao
Yijing and his wife, the Uighur Princess, on their journeys, which are similar to the
painting describing the journeys of Zhang Yichao and his wife of Late Tang. The
illustration of Cao Yijing's journey is painted on the south wall with Cao Yijin wearing a
turban showing corners, a brown robe and black boots. He is riding on a white horse and
waving his whip. In front of him there is a band dancing and playing music and at the rear
are the attendants, maids and slaves and the cavaliers of various nationalities of Uighur.
The illustration of the Uighur Princess' journey is painted on the north wall with the
princess occupying the central place, flourishing her whip as she rides on horseback. She
wears a conical fur hat with broad brim, and robe with open collar and narrow sleeves. In
front of her, there is a procession of music and dance; behind her are the maids and
slaves, carriages, horses, and squarish pavilion-shaped palanquins. Through these
paintings which exhibit the grandeur of the Cao family's entourage we see that after
replacing the regime of the Zhang family, the Cao government enjoyed a fairly stable rule.
Besides political and religious factors, the popularity of portrait paintings during the Five Dynasties and early Song Dynasty was due to the existence of a large group of portrait specialists under the Art Academy of the Cao family. Among the Dunhuang Manuscripts we find a number of writings praising the artist's skill in portrayal. Cao Liangcai's portrait is praised as: "Colours in drawing which preserve the true appearance of historical figures",26 emphasizing the demand for realistic portrayal. But most of the portraits extant in Cao family caves are stereotyped, excepting for the few which give expression to individual personality.
4. Paintings of Buddhist History
The Art Academy of the Cao family composed pictures around stories of Buddhist miracles in the first half of Tang along with the auspicious symbols of the second half of Tang. As in Cave No. 454, the paintings centre around Mount Go¿¤´ga with the upper portion illustrating a stone statue floating in the river, and Gao Li's obtaining the metal image. The paintings in the lower portion show the Nepal fire-tank, the ancient well of Gu¸·a, the deity covering the sky with one hand, and Buddha subjugating the poisonous N¡ga, all of which form a large-scale composition, painted on the ceiling of the passage. On the western slope are auspicious figures in groups of tens. The artists have worked on the subject of Mount Go¿¤´ga with great industry. The painting shows a very high ladder coming out from the ox's mouth leading straight to the shrine on top of the mountain. In Xuanzang's Da-Tang Xiyuji, Mount Go¿¤´ga is described thus: "Two peaks rise with precipices on every side; a shrine is built in the valley in between. The Buddha image often emits light."27 The painting agrees well with this account.There are auspicious figures and portraits of "monks of magical power" (Shenseng) forming an integral part of the s£tra illustrations. Like the legendary monk, Liu Sahe, he either appears in a single image or in a story painting, or even in a giant canvas of story painting. In Cave No. 98, below the image of a large standing Buddha at the back of the rear screen-painting is a cavalier with bow and arrow, a red turban partially covering his forehead, chasing a deer in the mountain. Another warrior leads a horse; before him is a deer, with a monk standing next to it. This painting shows that Liu Sahe was originally a non-believer with a ferocious character, he was later captured by the spirits while he was hunting the deer. The Dunhuang Manuscripts have the following account:
Cave No. 98, Western Xia
|He then told that a Buddha statue
would come out from the cliffs. If the statue was intact, the world would be peaceful. If
there were defects in the statue the world would be chaotic and people would suffer. After
87 years, the first year of the Zhengguang Era (520) a thunderstorm shook the rocks and an
18 chi high [approximately six metres] statue emerged, exquisite in every way but
headless. Masons were ordered to fit the head on the statue but did not succeed in doing
so. So the monk's prediction came true. During North Zhou a miracle occurred a few miles
away from Liangzhou city. Suddenly the rocks were brilliantly lit and people discovered
that it was the Buddha head of the statue emerging which then took its place on the statue
perfectly. For more than 40 years the head had been lying about a hundred kilometres away
from the incomplete statue and in an instant they became one. Just then there appeared
lamps and bells flying in the air. In the first year of the Baoding Era (561) of Northern
Zhou, the Ruixiang (Auspicious Statue) Monastery was established here."29 This
account more or less tallied with the painting in the cave. But one cannot but notice that
the stories of Liu Sahe in the texts, whether in Gaoseng Zhuan (Biographies of
Eminent Monks), or in Xu gaoseng zhuan (Supplementary Biographies of Eminent
Monks), or in Fayuan zhulin (Jewel Forest of the Garden of Dharma), or in the
hand-written manuscript of "Liu Sahe heshang yinyuan ji", are not comparable to
this illustration in richness. Perhaps the illustration was an improved version of bianwen
literature on Liu Sahe. The merit of the painting is reduced for want of the highlighting
of the main theme; it looks like a gathering of various isolated scenes devoid of its
integral harmony although it is very rich in content and every detail is vividly depicted.
Interior of Cave No. 61, Five DynastiesMount Wutai is regarded as the abode of Bodhisattva Maµju¿r¢. Beginning from Northern Wei it had already been visited with great reverence by Buddhist devotees. Many famous historical monuments had been built on the mountain. The "Map of Mount Wutai" is also a part of the paintings of Buddhist historical developments. The "map" first came up during the Tang Dynasty. During the Longsuo Era (661-663) of the Tang Emperor Gaozong, the monk Huiyi created a miniature sample of the "Map of Mount Wutai" which was quickly popularized in the country.30 The first appearance of the Map of Mount Wutai in Dunhuang murals was during the Tibetan period on the west wall. Below the illustration of Maµju¿r¢ in Cave Nos. 159 and 361 there are screen paintings of the "Map" which must have been created during the Kaicheng Era (836-840). This should not be viewed in isolation from the fact that in the fourth year of the Changqing Era (824) the Tibetan government sent a mission to China for the "Map of Mount Wutai".31 The size of the "Map of Mount Wutai" on the west wall of Cave No. 61 is exceptionally large, totalling forty-five square metres. On the map we see unending hills and peaks, with the five main peaks (the literal meaning of wu tai) standing out from the rest. The peak in the centre is the highest, with the inscription "The apex of Central Peak" flanked by "The apex of Southern Peak" and "The apex of Eastern Peak" and the other two peaks. In between the Five Peaks large and small monasteries, temples and pagodas numbering about sixty-seven dotted all over the place, including the monasteries of Dafahua (Mah¡-Saddharma-pu¸·ar¢ka), Dafoguang (Mah¡-Buddhaprabha), Dafusheng (Great Sage of Fortune), Dajian'an (Great Construction of Peace), Daqingliang (Mah¡navatapta), Dawangzi (Great Prince), a total of sixteen main shrines. On the Central Peak there is the magnificent "Wan pusa lou" (Mansion of ten thousand Bodhisattvas) and the "Dasheng wenshu zhensheng dian" (Hall of the Real Body of Great Sage Maµju¿r¢). At the site of Mount Wutai is still preserved the great hall of the Mah¡-Buddhaprabha Monastery built in the eleventh year of the Dazhong Era (857) of the Tang Dynasty which is a precious monument of historical architecture in China.
Dhrtarastra: Guardian of the East, Cave No. 100, Five Dynasties
©1994 Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, New Delhi