Sixty kilometers (37.2 miles) east of Baicheng County, the Kizil Thousand-Buddha Caves sit on the cliffs on the northern bank of the Muzat River, 7 kilometers (4.34 miles) southeast of Kizil town. Cut the third century to eight or ninth century, the Kizil Thousand-Buddha Caves is the earliest Buddhist art treasure trove in China, even one century earlier than the famous Mogao Grottoes. Currently there are 236 coded caves in the Kizil Thousand-Buddha Caves, which are divided into west and inner valley and rear mountain areas extending to over 3 kilometers (1.86 miles).
The Kizil Thousand-Buddha Caves are corridor of murals surpassing other existing caves in China in its abundance in content, quantity and long duration. The Caves are significant in Buddhism as well as in the history of Qiuci. Baicheng County, where the Kizil Thousand-Buddha Caves are located, used to be under the reign of ancient Qiuci (today's Kuqa). As a communication hub of the ancient Silk Road, Qiuci was the political and economic center of the West Region as well as the focal point of Central Asian and Indo-European cultures. Several facts support these in the Kizil Thousand-Buddha Caves. The earlier caves took the shape similar to Bamian Caves and the murals suggested the influence of Gandhara arts, a Buddhist visual art prevailing in today's Northwestern Pakistan and Eastern Afghanistan in First Century B.C. and Seventh Century A.D. The written documents from the Kizil Thousand-Buddha Caves were composed in Tocharian B language, a branch of the Indo-European language family that originated in central Asia during the first millennium.
Qiuci's geographic location became to be the center of Buddhism in the West Region as well as a key point for propagating Buddhism in the Central China. Before it was taken place of by Islam in 13th century, Buddhism prevailed in Xinjiang for more than one thousand years. This explained why caves or grottos, an important medium of Buddhist arts, which illustrated sutra by architecture and murals, have been found in Xinjing.
The Kizil Thousand-Buddha Caves come in two forms, one as living quarters with earthen bed and simple facilities, and the other one as temple for worshiping. Caves of different form and function were combined into one unit. It is assumed that one unit was one temple. This is to say that temples stood shoulder to shoulder in the Kizil Thousand-Buddha Caves at that time.
The murals in the Kizil Thousand-Buddha Caves are reputed as "The most beautiful murals in Central Asia". They are found in 81 caves with a total area of more than 10,000 square meters (11,960 yards). The diamond grid pattern is the most impressive feature in the caves. There is a story about Buddha's reincarnation in every gird. Each story was portrayed by a single picture instead of a series of pictures as in Mogao Grottoes.
Besides the themes of Buddha, Bodhisattva, Arhat, Flying apsaras, and Buddhist fables, a variety of depictions on production and daily life, farming, hunting, pastures, riding, mountains and rivers in the West Region, animals, birds and ancient architectures can also be seen in the Kizil Thousand-Buddha Caves. The styles were not limited to the local arts. Traditional Central Chinese painting styles were also popular. All these revealed advanced art achievements in Qiuci. The No. 38 Cave (Music Cave) murals of the Kizil Thousand-Buddha Caves proved this as a case in point sufficiently. The murals depicted a scene of Qiuci band with20 musicians playing their respective instrument, on both sides of the cave. Amazingly, it was found out that looking closely into the gestures and position of the musicians' hands on the instrument, all stopped at the same meter.
Undoubtedly, the Kizil Thousand-Buddha Caves are considered to be art crystallization of the local tradition and of the central Chinese culture as well as foreign ones. This priceless encyclopedia of Qiuci culture depicted in the caves surely deserves worthwhile reading!
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