Trade routes have always been more than just the means of transporting goods and services to neighboring regions. These routes serve as a way to spread culture, art, religion, and many other things amongst countries. One of the most outstanding trade routes in the past was the Silk Road found in China. It was a route used by many people to travel and transport goods such as silk, paper, livestock, jewels, and much more, from East to West China. It consisted of land and sea routes, which made transportation and traveling convenient for man in that time period.
There were many items traded along the Silk Road that had a profound impact on the development of the cultures, religions and other components. Religion was one thing that was successfully spread amongst those who lived and traveled along the Silk Road. One religion that had a profound impact on the Silk Road was Buddhism. Most religions have a belief in a higher power and a founder, which made Buddhism no different from others. Buddhism is based on the teachings of Gautama Buddha. It is impossible to discuss Buddhism without mentioning its impact on the development of Asian Artwork.
As Buddhists traveled along the Silk Road they would leave their lessons behind in the shape of artwork for others to follow and worship the Buddha. Buddhist art followed believers as the dharma spread and adapted to new countries. The religion of Buddha spread quickly along the Silk Road and with the help of the artwork, allowed its followers to be comfortable worshipping while traveling. The art created by these Buddhist people left the world the most pristine and beautiful monuments, which includes Buddha Statues, monasteries, shrines, paintings, murals and cave paintings along the Silk Road area.
Religion is an important factor of inspiration for designing artwork everywhere, and much of the art found along the Silk Road, was religious in some shape or form. There were many pieces of artwork that had an impact on the Silk Road and those who traveled along it. One gift that Buddhists and artists left for people today to gaze upon was The Cave of the Thousand Buddhas. To the southeast of the main oasis of Dunhuang, lies the valley of the Thousand Buddhas, which forms a system of 492 temples, 2000 statues and 45,000 murals, .
It gained its name from the legend of a monk who dreamt he saw a cloud with a thousand Buddhas floating above one side of the valley . This area had become a busy desert crossroads on the route of the Silk Road. Traders, pilgrims and other travelers were known to stop at this oasis to stock up on supplies, pray for the journey ahead or give thanks to current survival status. Wandering Buddhist monks carved the first caves into the long cliffs that stretched along the oasis near the Daquan River.
From the fourth century AD until the Yuan Dynasty, this valley was a center for Buddhist pilgrims and many caves that were used as shrines in this time period had been carved from the gravel conglomerate of the slopes. From the time of the Northern Liang in the early fifth century, the caves were decorated with wall painting, and by the Tan dynasty, more than a thousand caves had been completed . The Caves of a Thousand Buddhas consisted of shrines and temples that were carved out of the very stone to provide a sacred haven in which to lodge and meditate while following the teachings of the Buddha.
The caves were used and decorated with hand painted clay figures, and murals on the cave walls depicted scenes of different incarnations Buddha. Many of these caves were living quarters to massive worship halls for monks and Buddhists of that time. The caves contain some of the finest examples of Buddhist artwork throughout the Silk Road time period. Many sacred texts have even been found within the caves. A vast collection of thousands of paper manuscripts and printed documents dating from five to eleven AD were discovered. The Caves of a Thousands Buddhas had a profane impact on the Silk Road and those who traveled along it.
Buddhist artwork that has been found within the caves has assisted in the spread of Buddhism and allowed the artwork to be seen by all. Much of these artworks were created during the Tang Dynasty, in the seventh century when trading along the Silk Rode increased. The art developed during the Tang generation provided all with valuable insight into the art. It was reflection of the cultural changed and the political power of the Tang empire and the importance of Buddhism in Chinese culture. Buddhism began to spread along the Silk Road and as it traveled it was accepted by those who lived in neighboring communities.
Monks who practiced Buddhism found many of these caves, and would paid artists to create murals and paintings of the Buddhas’ teachings. Many of these caves had colorful wall painting and Buddha images, which often were sponsored by travelers who sought protection for their journey ahead or gave thanks for having their life. There were numerous murals that portrayed the preaching scenes of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas that were reminders to believers of the religion to obtain their ultimate goal of rebirth. By the late seventh century and early eighth century, Buddhism had reached its highest point in China.
With Buddhism reaching its peak, entire walls of the caves were devoted to historical and legendary events, which allowed pilgrims to learn and practice the religion. Throughout the Tang Dynasty artists traveled to The Caves of the Thousand Buddhas to paint teachings of Buddhism, which included many portraits of the Bodhisattvas and Buddha. There were thousands of travelers who stopped at these caves for refuge and found these magnificent pieces of art. Many of these travelers had followed Buddhism and stopped at these caves to worship and reach nirvana.
There have been many recent discoveries of Buddhist artwork along the Silk Road that has been hidden for decades within the caves. The Cave of a Thousand Buddhas was the main discovery that had a huge impact on the Silk Road because it gave travelers the opportunity to learn more about Buddhism as religion, which included practice of the religion and the way of life. This cave stretched for miles and stored thousands of pieces of art from the Buddhists that traveled along the Silk Road and some still remain today. One piece of artwork that has been talked about throughout history was The Bodhisattvas.
There are hundreds of paintings of the Bodhisattvas that have found their places on walls within the caves, which have been very inspiring for pilgrims who pass along the road. This painting was seen as portraying perfect peace and gave the travelers a sense of calmness when being worshipped and peace was the main thing that Buddhists wanted to attain. Xuanzang, a Buddhist monk, traveled along the Silk Road and came across this piece of artwork while stopping to worship at a sanctuary with a stupa or a figure of the Buddha at one end.
He thought that this piece of artwork was portraying a way of perfect peace and the face of the sculpture showed tranquility, which he believed would allow an endless stream of pilgrims to witness. The Buddha portraits within the caves had striking posture and facial expressions. Each of these types of paintings have a variety of Bodhisattvas, some small and other large and make a statement to passer goers. There are thousands of these paintings based on scriptures or sayings, and on just the scriptures alone, there are over ten thousand Bodhisattva images within the caves.
It is known that Bodhisattvas have the highest spiritual realms and have cultivated and enlightened to a realm slightly lower or equal to Buddhas. Many of these Bodhisattvas were often at the sides of Buddhas, assisting the Buddha to spread his immense Buddha Law and to save sentient beings. Buddhism has spread for many centuries amongst countries around the world. The art of Buddhism left the world with the most powerful and beautiful pieces of art along the Silk Road. Many of these artworks included sculptures, paintings and murals of the Buddha himself.
The contact with the Hellenized Gandharan culture resulted in the development of a new art form, the famous Buddha statues. Before Buddhism reached the Silk Road in the third century, there had been no representation of the Buddha, and it was in the Gandharan culture that the use of the Buddha images had began. Although it was largely as a result of Greek influence that Gandhara became the center of development in Buddhist sculpture, it was on the Indian land from which Buddhist architecture evolved.
The creation of Buddhism along the Silk Road was a result of monasteries, grottoes, vishanas and stupas throughout the entire Buddhist communities. However, the cave temples hold the most unique Buddhist architecture. The Buddhists’ devotion was deeply reflected by the wall painting of its rock-cut caves, which includes The Caves of the Thousnand Buddhas. The Silk Road served as a way to spread culture, art, religion, and many other things amongst countries. The road enabled the spread of religions, goods, languages and many other items.
The Silk Road was the key factor to how Buddhism was spread within China during the Tang Dynasty. This road stretched from east to west China and allowing the spread of Buddhism to become a key religion practiced. Buddhism began to take an affect on the artwork that was being created during the time, which then became a key factor within monasteries. As Buddhists traveled along the Silk Road they would leave their lessons behind in the shape of artwork for others to follow and worship the Buddha. The Buddhist religion of Buddha spread quickly along the Silk Road and with the help of the artwork. The art reated by these Buddhist people left the world the most pristine and beautiful monuments, which includes Buddha Statues, monasteries, shrines, paintings, murals and cave paintings along the Silk Road area. Religion is an important factor of inspiration for designing artwork everywhere, and much of the art found along the Silk Road, was religious in some shape or form. Beckwith, Christopher. Empires of the Silk Road a history of Central Eurasia from the Bronze Age to the present. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2009. Gray, Basil. Buddhist cave paintings at Tun-huang . Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1959.
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