Famous as the caves of a thousand Buddhas, Mogao Grottoes are located along a strategic point on the old Silk Road close to Dunhuang in Gansu Province China. A complex of 492 temples, the grottoes offer a look into 1,000 years of Buddhist art, culture and civilization.
The first cave here is said to have been carved into the hillside above the Dachuan River in 366 CE and caves continued to be constructed until the 14th century, sponsored by a long line of patrons that ranged from emperors to ordinary folk. The richly decorated grottoes and their contents provide some of the best examples of architecture, stucco sculpture, wall paintings, silk painting, calligraphy, wood blocks prints, embroidery, music, dance, literature, trade and entertainment to have come down through the ages. Constructed in clusters according to their period of construction, many of the caves appear to have had multi storied wooden and mud brick fronts while others appear as holes carved into the mountain. They were the meditation chambers, living quarters and burial sites of the monks who lived there.
Although the 490,000 sq ft of murals that decorate the caves are mainly Buddhist in theme, they also depicted secular scenes such as dancers, farmers, warriors, various rulers, their consorts and attendants, battle scenes, bandit attacks and scenes from popular stories. Stylistically different ways have been adopted to express the secular and religious content. Artistic techniques used throughout the ages are also very much in evidence. These murals amazing in scale, content and richness show Indian and Central Asian influences and display the transition into more Chinese style paintings. The progress of Buddhism in China is also clearly displayed in the murals. It is believed that the artistic development reached its height during the Tang Dynasty. Other interesting surviving features include 2,400 painted clay and plain stone sculptures in various sizes of the seated and standing Buddha and bodhisattvas, over a thousand religious paintings on silk, silk banners, altar hangings, monk’s robes and embroidery dating from the 7th century and woodblock prints of rare texts. From the more than a thousand caves that occupied two kilometers of the hillside approximately 735 grottoes survive.
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Pushpitha Wijesinghe is an experienced independent freelance writer. He specializes in providing a wide variety of content and articles related to the travel hospitality industry.