Reactions to Nirvana
Buddhist theory has been visualised in some of the caves – extensive infographics handpainted onto the walls from right to left. The parables and narrations are rich with colour and visual detail, yet meaning is not lost in the saturation.
Paintings of Buddha’s disciples can be spotted in the background of certain caves, each with a different reaction at the precise moment of attaining nirvana. Some wear a look of sadness, pondering the end of mortality; yet others were radiant with everlasting joy.
The Paradise of Amitabha
We also gleaned a fascinating wall of paradise, bustling with afterlife and staged in the flat, vertical format reminiscent of Chinese art.
This was in association with Pure Land buddhism, which grew in popularity during the Tang dynasty. The intricate imagery conjured up by the painters provided a powerful focal point for the worshippers, enabling them to visualise their promised future should they remain faithful to the Buddha of the West.
A white monitor has now been placed in every cave to measure levels of carbon dioxide and other intangible elements in the air. Human life is emptied out of the caves should the delicate balance be disturbed, until the air has returned to a favourable state for preservation.
Spared from destruction by the Red Army during the Cultural Revolution thanks to its geographic proximity from the free trains they travelled on, floods are now the biggest threat to the longevity of the caverns. The paved roads in front of them were smashed a previous summer, in a bid to prevent the floodwaters from reaching the caves.
Lucy tells me that from 2014 onwards, advanced booking would be a requirement for visiting the ancient treasure trove of Buddhist art, that is the Mogao Grottoes.
– The End –
Part 1 can be found here: A Thousand Years in the Mogao Grottoes: #1
Part 2 can be found here: A Thousand Years in the Mogao Grottoes: #2
Part 3 can be found here: A Thousand Years in the Mogao Grottoes: #3
Part 4 can be found here: A Thousand Years in the Mogao Grottoes: #4
Part 5 can be found here: A Thousand Years in the Mogao Grottoes: #5
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