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Bizaklik Thousand Buddha Caves

thousand-buddha-caves As Buddhism was the first religion from abroad introduced to this area, Xinjiang witnessed the earliest development of Buddhist cave art in China.

Sooner after the religion's establishment in the region, Turpan became the Buddhist center on the Silk Road, owing to its geographic location. Among the Buddhist caves found in Turpan, the Bizalkik Thousand Buddha Caves are considered most valuable.

Bizalkik Thousand Buddha Caves stand high on the cliffs of west Mutou Valley under the Flaming Mountain, 45 km (28miles) east of Turpan. Of the 83 original caves, 57 caves currently remain. The murals cover an area over 1, 200 square meters (12,917 square feet) in more than 40 caves.

thousand-buddha-caves01Beginning in the Southern and Northern Dynasties, the construction experienced the Tang dynasty, the Five Dynasties, Song and Yuan. The caves were the Buddhist center of Gaochang. Near the end of the 13th century, the royal family of Gaochang moved to Yongchang, Gansu. Around this time, Buddhism in Turpan began to decline in popularity with the introduction of Islam. Subsequently, the religious importance of The Bizalkik Thousand Buddha Caves became less apparent. Many of the caves were destroyed during the ensuing religious clashes. Vandals dug out the eyes of many of the human figures contained in the murals. Later, at the beginning of the 20th century, foreign explorers robbed the caves of much of the treasures. Despite all the destruction, the surviving parts, such as the delicate Buddha seat and the bright color of the murals, give us some idea of its past glory.

Bizaklik Caves was the royal temple of Huihu (the predecessor of today's Uygur) State and the existing caves were enlarged or renovated during that time. The murals take us back to the ancient Huihu State, where we can see the king and queen and people from all walks of life. The inscriptions, written in ancient Uygur, Chinese, and other languages, provide authentic reference for valuable historic research.

The most exceptionally rare mural topics in Bizaklik Caves are found in Caves No.16 and 17. Cave No.16 depicts a musician playing Xiao Hu Lei-- a lute-like instrument originating from southern China's Yunnan province. This strengthens the belief that cultural exchange between northern and southern China was unprecedented during Tang Dynasty.

The mural, Transformation in Hell, in Cave No.17 supports the notion that Huihu Gaochang was the center of Manicheism from the 9th to the 12th century.

Buddhist Disciples Wailing in Mourning and Bhikku Wailing in Mourning, in Cave No.33, are also highly praised for their vivid depiction.

In addition to the murals and inscriptions, a piece of gold foil wrapping paper found at the caves is also intriguing. A stamp on it revealed the address of the shop on the south side of Tiahelou Street, Hangzhou, Zhejiang of Song Dynasty. It also advised clients to examine their goods carefully before purchase to avoid being cheated. As an apparent piece of advertisement, the foil shows that Gaochang Huihu kept close economic ties with Song Dynasty as the trade extended as far as to the East China Sea.