The Dunhuang Caves have long been one of the most important architectural sites in the world, not only as a monument of cultural heritage, but also as memorial to the only religion to ever be universally accepted throughout the vast empire of China. While the sheer number of caves is an impressive accomplishment, it is the architectural design and spiritual relevance that truly makes these caves stand out. The obvious Buddhist references within the paintings inside are complemented by a structural design called stupas built atop the caves that mirror Buddhist symbolism. Intrigued not only by the symbolism, but also by its long-standing history in India, Chinese leaders fully embraced Buddhism, and nowhere is it more evident than in the lasting memorials at Dunhuang. Although the caves currently resemble ghost towns, frequented only by tourists and researchers, it is inspiring to remember that these caves, hollowed out of mountains, once housed Buddhist monks -- spiritual leaders for hundreds of years, spanning the rule of countless emperors. The caves are rich with history, and their exteriors as well as interiors, have countless stories to share with those who visit.
[...] Finally, setting atop the stupa is the circle which represents wholeness; it is neither the beginning nor the end, much like the Buddhist belief of the never-ending life of the soul. This symbolism can also be found throughout the paintings and sculptures filling the interiors of the Dunhuang Caves. Symbolism ever important to the Chinese and Buddhist philosophy, resulted in the construction of the caves actually began after a monk saw what he perceived to be a symbol guiding him to begin excavation of the first cave. [...]
[...] The largest remaining site containing the most diverse examples of Chinese Buddhist art is the cave- temple complex Mogaoku (Mogao caves), more popularly known as the Dunhuang caves.” While the impact of the Dunhuang caves remain impressive even today, it is important to remember that at the time they were created, religion was unchallenged by science, thus making the impact these caves had on the people of their time phenomenal. is . one of the most powerful expositions of Buddhist ideology ever created by man.” To understand why these caves were built, and how Buddhism swept through such an expansive empire, it is necessary to understand the principles of Buddhism and why they appealed to Chinese society. [...]
[...] The main chamber of these caves could be either square or oblong, and the ceilings were typically flat or recessed. Named after the centrally located stupa mound, Central Pillar or Stupa Caves were the most popular of the time period. These caves can be easily identified by their ceilings; in front of the stupa, a gabled ceiling stood out from the flat interior stupa. The style is likely taken from that of Han architecture. Like it's name suggests, in the center of the square formation, a pillar is constructed connecting ceiling to ground. [...]
[...] Zhang Wenbin, ed. Dunhuang: A Centennial Commemoration of the Discovery of the Cave Library, (Beijing: Morning Glory Publishers, 2000) Ibid., 8-9. Ibid Ibid Ibid. Sarah E. Fraser, Performing the Visual: The Practice of Buddhist Wall Painting in China and Central Asia, 618-960, (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2004) Zhang Wenbin, ed. Dunhuang: A Centennial Commemoration of the Discovery of the Cave Library, (Beijing: Morning Glory Publishers, 2000) Sarah E. Fraser, Performing the Visual: The Practice of Buddhist Wall Painting in China [...]
[...] Much like the Paronirvana Caves, pedestals became a popular structural addition, and in the case of revised Assembly Caves, stairs made their first appearance in the Dunhuang Caves. Unlike the more simplified caves of the past, these new Assembly Caves more closely resembled the main hall of a temple or palace, rather than a place of meditation. Despite being a far cry from the Chan Caves that were specifically designed for meditation; caves of this time were actually a representation of the expanding popularity of the Buddhist religion. [...]
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