Gilt bronze statues unearthed in Changan City inscribed with Kharosthi letters

2016-6-1 12:00| 发布者: 武子| 查看: 382| 评论: 0|来自: IICC Newsletter 20th Issue

摘要: A Silk Road relic -- gilt bronze statues unearthed in Changan City inscribed with Kharosthi letters(Photographed by Li Wenbo. Translated by IICC-X. See on the 20th Issue of the Silk Roads Nomination N ...

A Silk Road relic -- gilt bronze statues unearthed in Changan City inscribed with Kharosthi letters

(Photographed by Li Wenbo.  Translated by IICC-X.  See on the 20th Issue of the Silk Roads Nomination Newsletter, IICC-X)
During the sixteen kingdoms period, different ethnic powers engaged in continuous wars and natural disasters happened frequently. This brought tremendous impact to the whole society and the people's life and psyche. The cruel reality and the void atmosphere then provided a favorable opportunity for the spread of a foreign religion, and Buddhism enjoyed its first heyday of independent development. Bronze Buddhas, which are major mediums of the Buddhist culture, played an important social function in their special form in this period.

In 1979, Xi'an Burea of Culture Relics bought back a gilt bronze Buddha from a Changan County recycling shop. This Buddha is 13.4cm tall, with a base 8.8 cm wide, weighs 851 grams, and is gilt all over its surface. The Buddha sits in the lotus position, lowers his head slightly, has ushnisha in a hair bun style. The Buddha has a round face, long eyebrows and eyes, a wide nose, and not-too-big earlobes. He is very composed and smiles warmly. There are two holes at the back of his head that are intended for a head halo but is now lost. The folds at the chest are carved out symmetrically along the central axis of the body, and have trapezia cross-sections. His hands are held together in the Dhyana Mudra. The base is very low and in a half moon shape. The front of the base is decorated with a continuous triangle and diamond pattern. The base is engraved with a row of foreign letters at the back. At the right bottom of the base is a slit, and the gilt here is gone too. In the corresponding interior, a 2.5cm long 0.5cm wide copper sheet is used to reinforce the outside. This repair shows that the Buddha had been worshiped for a long period.

According to the study by Mr. Lin Meicun of the Peking University, the inscription shows late features of Kharosthi and dates to around the end of the 4th century. Lin believes that the inscription says "the Buddha is made (or gifted) by Zhimeng, to honour the descendant of Molykar(tone), Fostokar(tone) Huiyue." and that ‘the Buddha belongs to a Yuezhi national who lived in Chang’an without any doubt’. The author thinks that Zhimeng is a Buddhist name. A monk named Shan Zhimeng gifted this Buddha to Fostokar Huiyue, who is a descendant of Molykar.

This figure, although its exact unearthed location is unknown, is without doubt discovered in Chang’an. Since Zhou and Qin dynasties, Chang’an and its surrounding Guanzhong area, had been the economic and cultural center of China. It connects west to west regions, south to BaShu, east to the central plain and south Yangzi river area, and north to the Mobei grasslands. Chang’an has mountains and rivers as natural barriers to guard against invaders and serves as the capital for the most number of dynasties in the Chinese history. Chang’an is also at a strategic position connecting the East and the West. Buddhism came into China with the opening of the Silk Road. Whether at the initial phase of the spread of Buddhism in China or the most prosperous period, Chang’an stayed important and that this Buddha was unearthed in Chang’an is by no means accidental.


Chang’an is the starting point of the Silk Road, and the most famous metropolis along the road, where moving melodies of cultural exchanges were created and played. However, as time goes by, all these exciting happenings are blown away and forgotten. The Kharosthi inscription on this Buddha reveals to us traces of Western expatriates’ life in Chang’an. 

Kharosthi originated in Gandhara, and became the most important language in most of central Asia between the 2nd and the 4th century. After fourth Century it slowly died out. Kharosthi is sometimes found in Xinjiang Yutian, Shule, Qiuci and Dunhuang Han great wall ruins, but very rarely in the inner-land. Over the years, only in Luoyang Han Wei city ruin was one Kharosthi inscription discovered on a well. This Buddha also presented the first discovery of Kharosthi in Chang’an.

According to Mr. Lin Meicun’s research, Molykar family in the inscriptions was a prominent Yuezhi clan often seen in Loulan Kharosthi documents. When did they arrive in Chang’an? One possibility is that in the late Eastern Han period, they moved to Chang’an along with the great east-ward migration of the Kushan Da Yuezhi. Another possibility is that the family briefly settled in Loulan during the great migration and later somehow continued moving eastward until finally settling in Chang’an. Based on the Loulan Kharosthi documents, the second possibility is bigger. Relevant documents show that during the Western and Eastern Jin Dynasties, Yuezhi gathered at the Guanzhong area, often forming settlements. Yuezhi leaders were conferred on as "Qianzhang" "Suizhang" "or" "Yizhang", to manage the settlements. But the documents say little about Yuezhi nationals living in Chang’an. This Buddha bearing Kharosthi letters is testimony to the existence of a Da Yuezhi Molykar family who lived in Chang’an.

From the robe, the Dhyana Mudra, the flat overlapping expressions of the folds and the continuous triangular and diamond patterns on the base, this Buddha displays prominent Gandhara features. The Buddha's face is round and flat, with long eyes and wide nose, typical of a Mongolian face. It lacks the typical Indo European characteristics such as a high nose and deep eyes. Therefore, this Buddha should have been made by an assimilated Da Yuezhi and then imported into Chang’an.


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