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Kizil Thousand-Buddha Caves

Legend :“Thousand Drops of Tears Spring”

Long time ago, the king of Qiuci country has a very beautiful and intelligent only daughter, the apple of the king’s eye. One summer, the young princess went into the forest to hunting, she got lost among the remote forest, and met a handsome young man, they fell in love at first sight. The young man proposed to the princess, but the king was not happy with this and get in their way by requesting the young man to dug one thousand grottos on the cliff within 3 years. The young man, spelled by the magical power of love, kept digging carvings among cliffs day and nights, when he finally carved out 999 grottoes, he died, for over exhausted. This news reached the princess as a thunder from blue sky, she cried over the body of the young man, and turned into a rock, and her tear turns into spring which pours out continually, which become a scenic spot called “Thousands drops of Tears spring”. The 999 grottoes, is said to be the former Kezier Grottoes. This spring nourishes the dessert land, and brings life into it.
kizil thousand buddha cave map

Brief of Kizil Thousand-Buddha Caves

Kizil Thousand-Buddha Caves, also known as Kizil Caves or Kizil Grottoes, situated 7km Southeast of Kizil Town, Baicheng County, Xinjiang Autonomous Region, is one of the key national cultural protection sites. The caves are dug along the cliffs of Mingwu Dage Mountain in the north bank of Muzhadi River, extending thousands of kilometers.

It ranks as “top four stone grottoes” in China like Mogao Grottoes. By now, a number of 80 grottoes and 10,000 square meters of murals, remain intact. It is the earliest big scale stone statue grottoes in China, with a history dating back to the 3th century. The construction was completed in the 8th to 9th century, a project with so long period is rare seen even in the world.

 Facade of Kizil Thousand-Buddha Caves and Kumarajive Statue

Qiuci Kingdom and Kizil Thousand-Buddha Caves

Today’s Baicheng County is part of the ancient Qiuci kingdom, where the Qiuci stone grottoes art emerges. Its architecture, sculpture and murals art in the stone grottoes play a critical role among the Middle Asian and Middle East areas’ Buddhism art. Qiuci ancient kingdom was the key traffic route along Silk Road, the political, economy and cultural center of western China, and the bridge for transmitting Buddhism from India to Xinjiang. Buddhism took root in this area initially, and then transformed into the “western area Buddhism” before introduced into center and other areas of China. Stone grottoes are very important approaches to embody Buddhism, while architectures and murals facilitate the spreading Buddhism doctrines to a large extent.

Qiuci stone grottoes are very concentrative, and their murals are blessed with rich content, ranging from Buddha stories to secular life. Just as the experts put, Qiuci is an encyclopedia to study the ancient Qiuci culture, and among the numerous Qiuci stone grottoes, Kizil Thousand-Buddha Caves is the king among the mass.

Kizil Thousand-Buddha Caves fall into two categories

The first is the dwelling place for the monks, and the second is the Buddha Temple for the pilgrims to worship and hear the Buddhism preaches. Buddha Temples have several varieties and among them, it is the grotto with center column differentiates Kizil One-Thousand Buddha Carvings from others. They are usually divided into master room and rear room. It is recommended to tour the interior Kizil Thousand-Buddha Caves clockwise, that is, view the Sakyamuni Buddha in master room first, and then go into the rear room, to see the Buddha’s Nirvana figure, and then return to the master room, to see the murals above head.

History of Kizil Thousand-Buddha Caves

Kizil Thousand-Buddha Caves shelter coded 236 grottoes, and can be divided into Gudong area, Guxi area,Gunei area and Houshan area, and their construction period is distinguished by four stages.

The Emerging Period (the late 3th century to the middle 4th century)

Caves with murals include No118, 92,77,47,48 and 117; most of them are square grottoes. In the late stage of this period, grottoes are fashioned like Bamiyan Buddhism Grottoes in Afghanistan, front chamber with giant Buddha statues outside. (No 47 grotto has the biggest statue), No 473 boasts the biggest scale and is the representative grotto. There was a 16-meters-high statue here, the biggest one in Qiuci area.

The Developing Period (the middle 4th century to the late 5th century)

Grottoes include No 38,76,83,84,114,13,32,17 and 172 belong to this period. The grotto with center column emerged in this period. The Buddhism temples become more comprehensive and multi-functional, consisting of the monk’s Living Room, Buddhism Preaching Room and Worship Room. The murals of this period adopts the color blurring effect and prismatic composition (Diamond lattice composition), mainly themed with shakyamuni had endured many test and done many good deeds before he became a Buddha (also called Benshen Story), unlike Mogao Grottoes’s Buddha stories which are depicted in sequence , in here each story are highlighted by one paint.

The Flourishing Period (the 6th century to the 7th century)

Half of the grottoes were constructed during this period, and the statues are coated with golden powder. The murals mainly depict Shakyamuni touring around to spread Buddhism (also known as Yinyuan story)

The Declining Period (the 8th to the 9th century)

Grottoes 129,197,135,227,180,229 boast murals intact till today. Their long time of abandonment can be perceived from the scratches and marks left by the tourists on the wall. Its deserted status is related to the war happened in the 8th century, according to the record it was the battle field at that time. Grotto 47, 107 and 117 have long history, but their murals are repainted by people later.

Highlights of Kizil Thousand-Buddha Caves

The Exquisite Murals

In Kizil Thousand-Buddha Caves, there are about 10,000 square meters of murals remain intact. According to experts, this treasure house of murals and can be honored as “the second Mogao Grottoes”. Furthermore, it turned out the earliest murals depicted here are 300 years earlier than that of Mogao Grottoes, and there is a saying goes: “the key to study Mogao Grottoes’ murals lies in Kizil Thousand-Buddha Carves”. Murals inside are depicted with unusually extensive content, from the Buddhism theme like flying fairy, dancing fairy, Buddhism Pagoda, Buddha, Buddhism stories (Jingbian stories) and Shakyamuni’s stories to the secular theme like the daily life of people, landscape, donors and animals.

These masterpieces painted by Qiuci artists highlight the Buddhism’s evolvement and the secular life spanning the 3th century to the 13th century in Xinjiang province, are of extremely high scientific and artistic value, and they embrace various aspects such as the political, economy, culture, military, ethnic, fork customs and the cultural exchange, which are precious materials for people to study.

Flying Fairy in the Dome

No 17 Grotto: The Kingdom of Story Murals

No 17 Grotto is the ocean of story murals. They scatter everywhere, as far as your eye can catch. Among them, one is eye-catching: a cameral loaded with commodities is staring at the horizon, while the two men was waving excited at the sight of a monk who is holding his burning hands to show the road for them. The monk and merchants are closely dependent on each other, the merchant need the monk to prey for them, to bring them good luck, and the monk need the merchants’ charity and accompany to go to India to study Buddhism or to capital to spread it.

No 38 Grotto: The Musical Grotto

No 38 grotto is famed as the Music Grotto; it depicts the Qiuci band’s performance. 20 musicians on two sides were playing the instrument, from their hand gestures, they halted at the same beat. From this mural, we can imagine the prosperous scene at that period.

Prismatic Composition (Diamond lattice composition)

What is the most impressive part of Kizi Thousand-Buddha Carves? The answer is definitely their unique murals with prismatic composition. Inside of each frame, depicts the most representative scene of a long Buddhism story, centered on the key figures or animals, and complemented by other relevant figures, animals as background. The sophisticated and intriguing story is successfully concentrated into one scene, such as the Monkey King’s story (Shakyamuni was the monkey king in his former life, he saved other monkeys at the cost of his life and became a Buddha.) in Buddhism, there are 200 pages devoted to tell it, while in Kizil Thousand-Buddha Caves, this long story is depicted vividly in one scene, this is amazing. Each painting mirrors the spreading process of Buddhism, is the rare and precious source for we to study Buddhism’s history.

And on the murals, the lotus petals symbolize purity in Buddhism, the mountain is Xumishan Mountain (the king of all mountains and the center of universe) and the tree is Buddha tree, all three elements have auspicious association in Buddhism.

 Prismatic Composition

 Half Naked Buddha: murals under Greek influence

Buddhism’s Story Murals (Benshen story Murals)

Benshen story murals mainly focus on Buddha’s (such as Shakyamuni) good deeds to save others before he or she become a Buddha. Experts from home and abroad reach a unanimous opinion. The Benshen story murals are the essential part of Kizil Thousand-Buddha Carvings, the marvelous rare masterpieces in the world. They boast outstanding quality and overwhelming quantity, twice the number of Mogao Grottoes, Longmen Grottoes and Yungang Grottoes’s murals in total.

Kizil Thousand Buddha Murals, the Key to Study Mogao Grottoes' Murals

 the Earliest Eye-dazzling Murals here are 300 years Earlier than that of Mogao Grottoes

 Buddhism’s Story Murals (Benshen story Murals)

 Flying Fairy

The unique painting skills: “Bump Painting Method”

Murals here are depicted on the clay walls directly, rather than on the white-painted one. Mineral pigment as well as transparent pigment are adopted, with unique coloring technique which make use of the water in pigment to create blurring effect, which is known as “wet painting technique” or “Bump painting method”. History authority holds that it is the innovation creation of Qiuci people, the most dazzling flowers among the stone statue grottoes’ Garden.

The Foreign Influence on Kizil Thousand-Buddha Caves

Kizil Thousand-Buddha Caves’ eye-dazzling murals are the results of cultural assimilation and blending brought by the coexistence of multi-nationality and multi-ethic. Legends, myths, and arts from ancient India, Greece, Rome, Persia and Central China melted here to a new Buddhist art. Flying fairy in murals are depicted so romantic and skillfully that can match even succeed the angels in western painting. Scholars home and abroad have discovered a very important clue of these murals: as early as 1th century AD, India and Greek Buddhism art had spread to Xinjiang already. Under the influence of Greek art, nude and half nude figures prevailed in murals. One can perceive this from the murals depicting the nude young girls dancing.
The preservation

In western area of China, Xinjiang in particular, three forms of culture boasts distinctively local flavor: the relics of ancient city, the grottoes and the treasures among the king’s tombs. Grottoes embody Buddhism art through architecture, murals and sculptures. Kizil‘s earliest murals can be traced back to the 3th century, 300 hundred years earlier than that of Mogao Grottoes. Kizil One-Thousand Buddha Carvings site is the largest and best preserved among Xinjiang. It is said the key to study Mogao Grottoes’ murals is Kizil One-Thousand Buddha Carvings. However, kizil is threatened by wind erosion, flood, and earthquake. What is worse, it suffered damage caused by Red Guard in China and the crazy robbery of foreigners. A large quantity of Buddha statues and murals were stolen by the archaeologists or adventurers from Germany and Japan during the early 20th century. Most important were the four German expeditions between 1903 and 1913 by Grünwedel (1856-1936) and Albert von le Coq (1860-1930). At the Museum für Indische Kunst (Museum of Indian Art) in Berlin Dahlem, 328m2 of murals, 395 different fragments of the wall paintings, are archived. And there are also ancient documents written on birch bark and wooden slips. All together 470 square meters of wall paintings were removed at Kizil. Massive protection movement was launched since the middle of 1980s.

King Kong Statue, the 4th century


Grotto 171, the Music Godness (the Fifth Century)

Author: Sophia   Posted on Sep 10,2012
Yuanyang Travel Tips
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