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Chinese Buddhist cave shrines

This video explores ancient Buddhist cave shrines in China, including why the sites were created and the major sponsors and patrons. Created by Asian Art Museum.

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Video transcript

among the familiar landmarks of early Buddhist art in China are the cave shrines at Dunhuang young gong and lung one why were these sites created who were the major sponsors and patrons Dunhuang was located along the Silk Roads at the far western edge of China merchants local rulers landowners and travelers support of the local monastic community by excavating hundreds of caves along the nearby cliffs over a period of a thousand years some patron sought protection from the hazards of desert travel others wish to give thanks by commissioning statues such as these kings and queens were depicted bearing offerings many paintings and sculptures were created as a way to gain spiritual merit the caves at Young Gong were begun in 460 by the rulers of the Northern Wei dynasty the way rulers and their families who commissioned these colossal buddhas and other deities in fact considered themselves to be living buddhas their exalted position promised salvation to the people they now ruled this was political art on a grand scale in 494 the way court started work on another set of caves at lumen several thousand caves were carved into the cliffs over the next 400 years processions of royal donors and their attendants can be seen on the cave walls but inscriptions tell us that people from all walks of life contributed to the creation of these cave shrines some inscriptions proclaim the spread of Buddhism while others speak of more personal wishes for the health and safety of loved ones for ancestors and for a happy afterlife the largest shrine at lumen was commissioned in the 600's by the tang dynasty emperor gaozong the central figure represents Verona the cosmic Buddha who embraces all worlds past and present it is believed that the features were modeled after Galton's Empress wootsat Tien who later seized the throne flanking the main figure are Bodhisattvas monks and guardian figures visitors to the cave sites can appreciate the many circumstances under which early Buddhist art in China was produced and how the remoteness of some of these sites has helped to preserve them over time you you