Situated at a strategic point along the Silk Route, at the crossroads of trade as well as religious, cultural and intellectual influences, the 492 cells and cave sanctuaries in Mogao are famous for their statues and wall paintings, spanning 1,000 years of Buddhist art. Carved into the cliffs above the Dachuan River, the Mogao Caves south-east of the Dunhuang oasis, Gansu Province, comprise the largest, most richly endowed, and longest used treasure house of Buddhist art in the world. It was first constructed in 366AD and represents the great achievement of Buddhist art from the 4th to the 14th century. The caves are strongly linked to the history of transcontinental relations and of the spread of Buddhism throughout Asia. The settlement of Dunhuang was one of the places where Buddhism reached China, via a stream of monks and merchants who moved north and east from India along the Silk Road. Mogao is sometimes known as Caves of the Thousand Buddhas.
The Mogao Caves are of unmatched historical value. These works provide an abundance of vivid materials depicting various aspects of medieval politics, economics, culture, arts, religion, ethnic relations, and daily dress in western China. The unique artistic style of Dunhuang art is not only the amalgamation of Han Chinese artistic tradition and styles assimilated from ancient Indian and Gandharan customs, but also an integration of the arts of the Turks, ancient Tibetans and other Chinese ethnic minorities. Many of these masterpieces are creations of an unparalleled aesthetic talent.
The grottos of Dunhuang are an emblem of an exceptionally powerful cultural cross-current that had, for centuries, threaded the Indian and Chinese civilisations. Geography, and specifically the ancient Silk Road, indeed played a foundational role in bringing about the India-China cultural confluence in the past. It was the monks, scholars and travellers frequenting the Silk Road who brought the essential message of Buddha to China. In terms of art, it was the Greco-Buddhist Gandhara School, known for depicting Buddha in human form, that finally reached China, heavily influencing the emergence of what became known as Serendian art, embodying a powerful Chinese artistic tradition as well.

For a cautious revival of India-China cultural ties, rooted in a common Buddhist heritage, there was an agreement between India and China, following Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to China, to establish a sister city relationship between Dunhuang and Aurangabad. the arrangement is a statement of intent by the two countries to leverage culture as a major strand for building India-China ties.
                   The Silk Route or Silk Road refers to a network of ancient trade routes connecting Asia, Europe and Africa. Extending more than 6,500 kms, the Silk Route was majorly used to transport Chinese Silk to Europe through Central Asia from 2nd Century BC. Silk Route’s greatest contribution to world history was not mere trading of few commodities but exchange of ideas, art and science between Asia, Europe and Africa. It was the world’s first information superhighway. Greek art from Europe flowed into India whereas Buddhism from India reached out to the world through the Silk Route. Chinese travelers like Fa Hein (Faxian), Hiuen Tsang (Xuanxang) and others visited India through these ancient routes and Marco Polo witnessed the grandeur of the Chinese civilization while traveling through the silk route. The Arabs took the knowledge of mathematics and medicine from India and China and worked on it to bring up new sciences like Algebra, which were adopted by Europe in due course.
                   Gandhara art, style of Buddhist visual art that developed in what is now northwestern Pakistan and eastern Afghanistan between the 1st century BCE and the 7th century CE. The style, of Greco-Roman origin, seems to have flourished largely during the Kushan dynasty. One of the most enduring elements of Gandharan art besides the Buddha is the Bodhisattva, which is essentially the state of the Buddha before he attained his enlightenment. Multiple Bodhisattvas from the various previous lives of the Buddha are depicted in Gandharan art with Avalokatishvara, Matrya, Padmapani and Manjsuri being prominent. Compared to the austerity of the Buddha images, the Bodhisattva sculptures and images depict a high degree of luxury with many variations on the various elements such as jewelry, headdress, loincloth, sandals and so on and the various incarnations of the Bodhisattva are recognisable from their clothing and postures, mostly of the hands in the seven mudras. the King Kanishka during the 1st Century CE who deified the Buddha and arguably for the first time introduced the Buddha image which went on to become so prolific as to define the entire Gandharan culture. Thousands of these images were produced and were scattered across every nook and cranny of the region ranging from minute hand held buddhas to giant monumental statues put in place in the most sacred worship sites.
Indeed it was during Kanishka’s time that Buddhism saw its second revival after Asoka. The life story of the Buddha became the staple subject matter for any and all aspects of Gandharan art, and the sheer number of Buddha images ensrhined in chapels, stupas and monasteries continue to be found in great number to this day. The artwork was solely dedicated to the propagation of religious ideals to the extent that even items of everyday use were replete with religious imagery. The focus was on the life story of the Buddha and each piece of sculpture has something to say about the life of this personage.
GANDHARA ART                                                                                  MATHURA ART
Greek/Hellenistic indo Greek                                                                      Indigenious
Blush grey sandstone type                                                                          spotted red type
Influenced mainly by Buddhist                                                         Jain/Buddhism/Hinduism influence
Promotion Kushans/Saka’s                                                                                Kushan’s
Area north west frontier                                                                                      Mathura
Spiritual Buddha/sad                                                            Delighted Buddha images but not spiritual
Bearded moustache in Images                                                               Shaven images of Buddha
Having wavy hair.                                                                      yogi position Padmasan,abhay mudra


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