Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Crossroads of cultures

A journey through Afghanistan, Uzbekistan and Kalmykia in Russia, along the Silk Route, where Buddhism spread in ancient times.
From: Frontline by Benoy K. Behl

The range of hills out of which the ancient Bamiyan site is carved, in Afghanistan.

It was a wonderful experience to travel across Afghanistan, Uzbekistan and the Kalmykia province in Russia and photograph Buddhist and other cultural sites. With me were my colleagues Sanghamitra Ghosh and Sujata Chatterji.

The way Indian philosophy spread across the continent of Asia in ancient times is amazing. There was a time when there was no country in South and South-East Asia, East Asia and Central Asia where Indic deities, the Buddha, Siva, Vishnu and others, were not revered.

Much of this history has been forgotten. One of my projects in recent years has been to document Buddhist sites all over the world. I had until last year photographed the Buddhist sites in Siberia, Mongolia, China, Tibet, Japan, Vietnam, Lao PDR, Indonesia, Myanmar, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan and India.

Afghan women in the courtyard of the Blue Mosque in Mazar-i-Sharif, Afghanistan.

In July-August this year, my colleagues and I travelled across Afghanistan, Uzbekistan and the Buddhist province of Kalmykia in European Russia to document Buddhist sites and art there. Kalmykia is the only part of Europe which has a Buddhist tradition: it dates back to 400 years.

In Afghanistan, a war zone, it was terrible to see the effect of man's inhumanity towards man. All the trappings of modernity have collapsed. There is tension, violence and hatred everywhere, and insecurity reigns supreme. It is time we learnt some lessons from the spiritual traditions of the past.

Afghanistan is situated around the midpoint of Asia. It is at a crossroad on the famous Silk Route. Owing to its geographical position, Afghanistan was the meeting point of different people and civilisations, including Aryan, Achaemenian, Greek, Kushan and Buddhist.

Buddha from Fayaz-Tepe, 1st-2nd century. Collection, Tashkent National Museum.

Greek culture found its path into Bactrian art in the fourth century B.C., when the country was a part of the vast Macedonian empire. In the third century B.C., during the reign of Emperor Asoka of India, Buddhism found its way into Afghanistan. It was in Afghanistan that Greek realism in art intermingled with Indian mysticism, giving birth to a new school of art now known as the Gandhara School. In Afghanistan, Buddhist worship focussed on the “Manushi” Buddhas. Their images became the focus of worship and veneration.

The Jatakas, or stories of the previous lives of the Buddha in the form of different men and animals, were the subject matter of earlier art. These were based on the Indic philosophic view, which saw the unity of all creation and the cycle of births in the world of forms. The population of the Gandhara region was not deeply versed in this philosophy and would have found it simpler to relate to the life of the individual Gautama Buddha.

Here, the emphasis became more on the drama of life in the ephemeral world. Human life, personified in the Buddha before and after his enlightenment, became the vehicle of the message. Depictions in the Gandharan region significantly dramatised the events of the Buddha's life and presented them with charged emotions.

Fayaz-Tepe, stupa near Termez, Uzbekistan. It is wonderful to recall the time when stupas dotted the landscape from Central Asia to South-East Asia.

In the second century A.D., during the time of the Kushana king Kanishka, Afghanistan became a seat of Buddhist learning. It was from this pivotal centre that Buddhism reached Xinjiang, other parts of China, and Mongolia.

The Chinese pilgrim monk Xuanzang visited Afghanistan in the seventh century. He writes that there were many monasteries and Buddha images in Bamiyan. Bamiyan was on the route linking India and Balkh through which spices, pearls, ivory and raw cotton were traded.

Bamiyan's Buddhas

The Bamiyan valley is cradled between the mountain ranges of the Hindu Kush and the Koh-i-Baba. The town is the cultural centre of the Hazara ethnic group of Afghanistan. Bamiyan is 233 kilometres north of Kabul on a motorable road. However, the road is unsafe because it is occupied by Taliban militants. Little is left of the ancient city, but what is left is enough to evoke the images of a glorious past. There was a time when people from several Asian countries rubbed shoulders with Europeans here.

Siva, 7th century, Farghana Valley, Tashkent National Museum. As this was found at a Buddhist site, it carries the label "Buddha" in the museum. Now the world seems to have forgotten the fact that there were no lines dividing the adoration of different Indic deities.

On a cliff face next to Bamiyan town, three colossal statues were carved 1,200 metres apart. One of them, 52.5 metres high, was the world's tallest standing statue of the Buddha. It was carved in the sixth century. Once upon a time, nearly 2,000 monks might have meditated in the caves here among the sandstone cliffs.

The caves were a big tourist attraction before the long series of wars in Afghanistan. The world's earliest oil paintings have now been discovered in the caves behind the place where the destroyed statues once stood. The statues were destroyed by the Taliban in March 2001 on the grounds that they were an affront to Islam. It was unnerving to stand at the Bamiyan site and look at the niches that held the sixth century Buddhas. These were called Brhad Buddhas in the Indic tradition.

Larger-than-life figures, as seen in the caves of Maharashtra, began to be expressed in the Indian spiritual tradition in the fifth century. The tradition spread across the faiths of Buddhism, Hinduism and Jainism, and this was seen as an expression of the grandeur of the spirit within.

Shah Jehan Mosque, Bagh-e Babur, Kabul, Afghanistan. The emperor Shah Jehan built this mosque in the 17th century. Kabul was a favourite visiting place for the Mughals owing to its climate.

As we stood before the vast, or brhad, image of the deity which represented a quality within ourselves, we were awed by its grandeur and magnificence. Worldly cares and other thoughts were dispelled as the spirit was far greater than our material bodies or concerns of the world.

From the fifth century onwards, this tradition spread all over India, including Kashmir and Ladakh, as well as further north, to Afghanistan, China and other places.

The earliest example I can think of about using guns to ruin statues of Indic deities is when Portuguese cannons disfigured and destroyed stone figures in the caves of Elephanta in India. How grand and wonderful would the sixth century Buddhas have been when they stood at Bamiyan!

Recently excavated Buddha from the Mes Aynak site in Afghanistan. In the past, spiritual thoughts deeply pervaded the lives of the people who were touched by Indic culture. There must be many sculptures of the Buddha still lying buried in Afghanistan.

New Buddhist sites are excavated in Afghanistan even today, including the site at Mes Aynak, where beautiful Buddha figures have been found. Amidst a world of violence, these peaceful figures have an inward look, which reminds us that all that is important is to be found within us.

The Buddha figures at Bamiyan are gone, but there are considerable remains of the old Bamiyan and the many rows of shops that were once there.

Sher-Dor-Madrassa, Registan, Samarkand, Uzbekistan. It was built in the 17th century. Registan, literally meaning desert, was in the heart of ancient Samarkand.

Bamiyan was at the crossroads of culture. This was a place which saw the influence of the great Zoroastrian tradition and the great Persian empire as well as the impact of the Greek and Roman civilisations. It is Indic philosophy that finally prevailed, and the people here built many caves and monasteries (literally hundreds of them) to honour the Buddhahood, which is deep inside everyone.

It feels wonderful for an Indian to visit the tomb of Babur in Kabul. The history of Afghanistan is very closely linked with that of India. From Kabul, we travelled to Mazar-i-Sharif. The Blue Mosque there turned out to be one of the finest Islamic monuments anywhere in the world. Besides India, the most beautiful Islamic architecture I have seen is at Esfahan in Iran, Samarkand in Uzbekistan and Mazar-i-Sharif in Afghanistan.

Mural, The Buddha, from Fayaz-Tepe, 1st-2nd century, Tashkent National Museum. There was a wonderful tradition of Buddhist mural paintings, with its roots seen at Ajanta, from the 2nd century B.C. onwards, which spread across Central Asia and China.

From there we went to Balkh, once a very important place on the Silk Route. Here was a marvellous, though ruined, structure of an ancient Zoroastrian temple. Further on the Silk Route, we travelled through Uzbekistan. The people of that country are amongst the most friendly, warm and hospitable people I have found. Nobody we met there seemed to speak English, so we managed mainly with sign language. Fortunately, a few people we came across knew German, which Sujata is familiar with.

The trade routes that ran from north-western India to northern China not only took Buddhism to Central Asia but also nourished the faith and its culture for many centuries. Indic faiths never had a missionary movement. Nor were they spread by the sword. However, Buddhism spread far and wide on the Indian subcontinent and from there throughout Asia. In every new land it reached, Buddhist ideas were modified to fit the local culture without compromising the essential philosophical points of wisdom and compassion.
Shai-I-Zinda, Samarkand. This complex has many mausoleums, mainly of the 9th to the 14th centuries. It was in Uzbekistan that the dramatic use of coloured tiles reached its zenith.

It seems that wherever a few Indian traders settled, the local people began to take a deep interest in their philosophy. Such a process occurred in the lands along the Silk Road in Central Asia during the two centuries before and after the time of Christ. As local rulers and their people learned more about this Indian faith, they invited monks from the merchants' native regions as advisers or teachers. The Buddhist faith spread in this manner and was accepted with open arms.

Stupas in Termez

Al Khakim At-Termizi Complex, Termez. This is the mausoleum of Al Khakim, a great Islamic scholar and Sufi of the 8th/9th century.

Buddhism in the south of Uzbekistan came from north-western India. Some researchers trace the initial period of Buddhism in Uzbekistan to the time of Kanishka. Others date the beginnings of Buddhism here to an earlier period. Greek coins of the second century B.C. found in this region have Indic deities and motifs.

The Buddhist stupas in Termez have a great significance in the history of Buddhism in the south of Uzbekistan. From the early stupas of this area begin the study of Buddhist monuments in Central Asia.

Golden Abode of Buddha Shakyamuni, Kalmykia. This recently built temple has become a great symbol of the Buddhist traditions of the constituent republic of the Russian Federation.

The town of Termez, just across the border from Afghanistan, has the sites of two very major stupas, Kara-Tepe and Fayaz-Tepe, dated between the first and third centuries A.D. The ruins show that both would have been major monastic centres. Kara-Tepe has vast and extensive ruins and must have housed a large number of monks. This was about the same time as the journey of the great Indian pandit Kumarayana on the Silk Route from Kashmir via Termez to Xinjiang, where he married Princess Jiva of Kucha. Their son Kumarajiva went on to become one of the greatest names in Buddhism in China.

Travelling through Uzbekistan reminded us of the great exchange of philosophic and aesthetic ideas in ancient times. The mosques and tombs of Samarkand are among the most beautiful in the world. It is said that Timur, when he came to India, was struck by the beauty of the historical cities here. In Malfujaate Taimoori, his autobiography, he says that he took many artisans from India to be employed in the construction of the Jami Masjid at Samarkand. In times gone by, there was a most wonderful cultural exchange, which is still evident on the Silk Route.

Buddhist Stupa at Zurmala, Termez. The stupas at Termez are among the earliest surviving after those in India.

There is a fine Siva head, a few Buddhas and some remains of mural paintings at the National Museum in Tashkent, which preserve memories of the culture of ancient Uzbekistan as well as its links with India.

Buddhism in Russia

Kalmykia, in European Russia, on a northern branch of the Silk Route, is a place where Buddhism was revived after the Soviet times. It is just wonderful to see Ladakhi lamas teaching the people of European Kalmykia. Interestingly, the few senior lamas of Kalmykia studied Buddhism in India. From ancient times to date, India is where some of the finest philosophical thoughts of mankind have been nurtured and taught.

Pagoda with prayer wheel, Elista, Kalmykia. The blend of European culture and the Indic culture of Buddhism here is quite fascinating.

A great new Buddhist temple called the ‘Golden Abode of Buddha Shakyamuni' was built in Elista, the capital of Kalmykia. It has today become a symbol of the identity of the people of Kalmykia. It is crowded every day with worshippers. Around the temple are seated statues of 17 acharyas of the Nalanda University who developed the philosophical traditions of Buddhism. It was at the Nalanda and Vikramshila universities (in what is present-day Bihar) that the Vajrayana form of Buddhism practised in Kalmykia was formed and developed. The best known among these great acharyas are Nagarjuna, Asanga, Aryadeva, Gunuprabha and Atisa. Atisa is one of the great teachers who visited Tibet and established a tradition of Buddhism that continues to date.

Two Kalmyks posing in front of the image of an acharya from Nalanda.

Benoy K. Behl is a film-maker, art historian and photographer. Over the past 32 years, he has taken over 35,000 photographs of monuments and works of art that are part of Asia's heritage, and made a hundred documentaries on art history. His exhibitions have been warmly received in 24 countries. Behl has been invited to lecture by several universities and museums around the world that have departments of Asian art. Exhibitions of his photographs on Buddhist monuments and art heritage have been held at more than 150 major cultural institutions around the world.

Behl's journey to Afghanistan, Uzbekistan and Kalmykia was on a fellowship of the Maulana Abul Kalam Azad Institute of Asian Studies.

Monday, 28 November 2011

Digging for treasure in the Nan'an Temple Pagoda from the Liao Dynasty

The Nan'an Temple Pagoda was built by China's northern nomads in the Liao Dynasty some 10 centuries ago. For more than a thousand years, the underground palace had been undisturbed.
But Wang Zhendong was an unexpected visitor. It took him and others nine months to dig a ten-meter tunnel to the buried treasure. But it took much less time for him to go to jail.
The tower is located in a residential area, and it was one of those residents, Zhang Hu, who called the police. The hole was in his house, with more than 500 bags of earth piled around.
Xie Yan, police officer, said, "There are tools and bags of earth at the scene. The hole goes directly into the palace, nearly no deviation. It is very professional."
The hole is 1.3 meters in width, big enough for a man to crawl into. It went down three meters before crossing the street underground, directly linking to the palace. However, in 9 months of digging, no one had any suspition of illegal activity.
A local resident said, "Nothing unusual ever found. Nothing. Even the dog never barked."
By keeping the earth inside the house, the robbery remain unnoticed. According to Wang Zhendong confession, two groups of robbers participated in the course of nine months, investing a total of 4,600 US dollars.
Wang Zhendong, crime suspect, said, "I heard they were digging, but nothing had been found. But I kept on and wanted to try my luck."
In the end, however, luck was not on his side. Zhang Hu was afraid someone would discover the four tons of earth in his house, so he called the police. Otherwise, there's no telling when the robbery would have been discovered.
Zhang Hu, crime suspect, said, "They gave me 4,600 dollars to keep quiet. But how could I deal with the dirt? So I called the police."
Unfortunately, Zhang's phone call still came too late for the relics that were damaged.
Source: CCTV News Channel

Archaeologists discover smelting furnaces dating back to Liao Dynasty in Beijing

Smelting furnaces dating back to Liao Dynasty (907–1125) have been excavated in Beijing. The discovery has filled a blank in the research of smelting history in Liao Dynasty.

After years of survey and analysis, relevant archeological protection department has announced that the ruin of smelting furnaces, which was accidentally found by local villagers in 2005, is an intact smelting site tracing back to Liao Dynasty.

From four smelting furnaces in the 150 square-meter site, archaeologists have unearthed a variety of historical relics using for smelting, such as raw material, fuels, and fire-proofing materials.

"Some of the furnaces were built by stones, but there were some fire clay between the stones to protect the furnace," acknowledged Chen Jianli, associate professor at the School of Archaeology and Museology in elite Peking University.

"A furnace like this could produce more than one ton of smelted products in Liao Dynasty and that means 200-300 people were needed," Chen added.

The products from the ruins may be Iron weapons as the Beijing region then belongs to battlefield in Liao Dynasty. It also can serve as a piece of evidence to prove that the smelting skill spread from Central Plains to surrounding areas.

For more information and a video, click HERE

Hidden Treasures and Intercultural Encounters: Studies on East Syriac Christianity in China and Central Asia

Hidden Treasures and Intercultural Encounters: Studies on East Syriac Christianity in China and Central Asia (Orientalia - Patristica - Oecumenica)
by Dietmar Winkler and Li Tang

Dietmar W. Winkler is a professor of patristic studies and history of Christianity at the University of Salburg, Austria.
Li Tang is a senior research fellow and lecturer of the department of biblical studies and ecclesiastical history at the University of Salburg, Austria.

East Syriac Christianity spread outside the Roman Empire as a result of the missions carried out by the "Church of the East", formerly known as "Nestorian Church." This volume contains the most recent cutting edge research on this very Church in China and Central Asia. World-renowned scholars from universities and institutions in China, India, Europe, and North America contributed to the study of this fascinating chapter of the history of Christianity.

This volume is a collection of expanded papers presented by a variety of international and interdisciplinary scholars at the second international conference on early Christianity in Central Asia and China. The conference was held in Salzburg in 2006 and focused on the so-called "Nestorian" churches that grew up in the sixth to fourteenth centuries, and especially the Jingjiao church of China. The presenters are linguists of Syriac, Chinese, and other Central Asian languages; archaeologists from China and the West; historians, experts of Buddhism, and the like. While the papers are of varying quality, those interested in early Christianity in China will find the material here much mre reliable than in the ffew popular books that have come out in English on this subject. Those interested in this volume will also want to consult the papers from the first conference in 2003 (Roman Malek and Peter Hofrichter, "Jingjiao : the Church of the East in China and Central Asia," Monumenta Serica [Sankt Augustin: Institut Monumenta Serica], 2006).

3-D jigsaw puzzle assembles ancient army

XI'AN - More than 2,200 years after the Terracotta Warriors were created to serve the first emperor of feudal China, they now have their own servants - a team of around 30 scientists who restore, repair and beautify them with modern tools and technology.
"When these pottery statues were unearthed, they were mostly in small pieces," said Wang Liang, a scientist at the preservation and storage department of the Museum of the Terracotta Warriors and Horses of Qin Shihuang.
Wang Dongfeng (left) and Lan Desheng are among a team of 30 scientists who restore Terracotta Warriors at the Museum of the Terracotta Warriors and Horses of Qin Shihuang in Xi'an, Shaanxi province. [Provided to China Daily]

"What we do is to bring them back to life," Wang said.
Since sculptures depicting the armies of Emperor Qin Shihuang were discovered in 1974 by farmers in Xi'an, Shaanxi province, the museum has restored about 1,200 Terracotta Warriors and Horses which are now on display in Xi'an, as well as on loan to other Chinese cities.
Ten more have been repaired this year, while an uncertain number remain buried.
Wang said the most difficult job is to preserve and restore the color of a Terracotta Warrior.
"These warriors wear black armor and red straps, and their clothes have various colors - purple, blue, green and yellow," Wang said.
But a large number of unearthed warriors have lost most of their color. At best, some purple remains on their long sleeves, pied yellow on their faces, and a bit of red on their lips.
"After exposure to the air for five to 10 minutes, the paint will crack, curl and peel off," Wang said.
This is because the chemicals in the paint have been preserved in an underground environment for thousands of years with high humidity and little air. So when the relics are brought back to the surface, the paint reacts with the air, said Zhou Tie, chief engineer of the museum.
To keep the remaining color on the sculptures, scientists apply a moisturizer to the surfaces immediately after pieces are unearthed, and then add consolidation agents.
The moisturizer, called PEG200, is commonly used to produce cosmetics. Wang said it is imported from Germany because China has not been able to produce the moisturizer up to the standards required by the museum.

Since 1991, the museum has cooperated with German institutions, including the Technical University of Munich, on various projects and personnel exchanges.
One of the rewards from the job of restoring the Terracotta Warriors is that scientists acquire a knowledge of ancient craftsmanship.
For example, lab tests show that a compound of pigment was applied on a layer of lacquer when the warriors were painted.
Craftsmen of the Qin Dynasty (221-206 BC) used the lacquer to smooth the crude surface of the pottery. If not, they would require more pigment, which was expensive at that time, Wang said.
Usually, one or two warriors are unearthed at a time - in small pieces.
Before the pieces can be put together for restoration, they will undergo a series of lab tests to see at what temperature they were fired and how many layers of paint and pigment were applied, said Yan Sumei, a senior engineer of the museum.
Restoring a warrior usually takes three people 60 to 90 days. Sometimes, they check whether the statues are free from bacteria that can crack their surfaces.
If a hazardous microorganism is detected, scientists will use chemical agents to kill it before sending the relics to a designated storage place, Yan said.
The most boring part of the restoration is piecing them together.
"It is a time-consuming game of jigsaw," Wang said. "It has to be done manually."
"Standing warriors are harder to fix than kneeling ones, because standing warriors' centers of gravity are higher and they broke into more pieces when they fell," Wang said.
Scientists have tried to use three-dimensional computer images to help, but the technology turned out to be unhelpful because matching hundreds of irregular pieces was beyond the capability of regular computer programs.
"In this regard, a professional's expertise works better than computers," Wang said.

Two Great American Collectors of Chinese Ceramics: Morgan and Freer

Two great American collectors of Chinese ceramics: Morgan and Freer
a lecture by James J. Lally, Chinese Ceremics Specialist on June 25, 2011 at the The Freer I Sackler.

Pope Memorial Lecture

Chinese ceramics specialist James J. Lally compares the aesthetic philosophies and acquisition practices of two great American collectors: J. P. Morgan, the so-called king of Wall Street, and Charles Lang Freer, founder of the Freer Gallery of Art. The lecture complements the exhibitions The Peacock Room Comes to America and Chinamania: Whistler and the Victorian Craze for Blue-and-White.

Morgan and Freer were close contemporaries, and despite very different origins, their biographies present many parallels. A century ago both were successful businessmen and voracious art collectors, and both acquired large holdings of Chinese ceramics—yet, their methods and resulting collections diverged in the extreme. While exploring a particular moment in the history of American collectors of Asian art, this lecture suggests how the stories of Morgan and Freer relate to collectors of Chinese ceramics today.

Saturday, 26 November 2011

The Missing Tomb

The Valley of the Khans Project is a nondestructive archaeological survey utilizing modern digital tools from a variety of disciplines, including digital imagery, computer vision, nondestructive surveying, and on-site digital archaeology. The goal of the search is to identify archaeological sites without disturbing them–in the area of Mongolia's most sacred heritage–Genghis Khan's homeland. This maintains respect and reverence for local customs while enabling protective measures through organizations such as UNESCO. With the growing trend of rogue illegal mining in the region, such protective measures will be critical in the preservation of this iconic symbol of world cultural heritage and the rich cultural patrimony throughout Mongolia.

For more information, click HERE

Shipwrecked- Tang treasures and Monsoon Winds

Fot the full exhibition catalogue, click HERE

Take a walk through the Nanyue Tomb Museum

The Nanyue King'sTomb
The tomb is of Zhao Mo, the second king of the Nanyue kingdom. It was discovered in 1983. You can actually explore the chambers of the tomb itself.
Zhao Mo was the grandson of fabled Qin general Zhao Tuo, who the emperor sent south to quell unrest here in 214 BC. Instead, he broke away from the Han Dynasty and founded Guangzhou.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

China Court Service

For once I would like to draw your attention to the most beautiful blog on the web by far: BibliOdyssey
Become a follower and an addict and watch the most beautiful pictures on earth collected by this site.
The following collection is one of so many, so go to this site:BibliOdyssey

Scenes of Service from a small album known as 'Chinese Drawings: Court and Society', hosted by the John Rylands University Library in Manchester.

We are told that these illustrations (scanned from colour transparencies) depict 19th century Chinese society and costumes and that these (slightly cropped) illustrations are bordered by blue silk.

This collection of delicate hand-painted scenes is part of a much larger set of Chinese cultural material owned by the Rylands Library [Chinese Collection description]. About fifty of these items are hosted on the Rylands' Luna Imaging site. Some of these sketches are just exquisite.

The full Rylands Luna Imaging site hosts more than 60,000 items.
The John Rylands University Library homepage.
Previously: China ::: costumes.

China’s Golden Age Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD)

OPENING EXHIBITION Drents Museum, Assen, the Netherlands
China’s Golden Age
Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD)
November 17, 2011 till April 15, 2012

Since August 2010, the Drents Museum has been closed due to large-scale
reconstructions in the existing building, and the addition of a spectacular new
exhibition wing, designed by renowned architect Erick van Egeraat. On Thursday November 17, 2011, the Drents Museum will reopen to the public with completely renewed presentations of the permanent collections, a new Children’s museum, a larger Museum café and a new wing for temporary exhibitions. In this new wing, the Drents Museum will present the major opening exposition ‘The Golden Age of
China’, about the Tang Dynasty (618 – 907 AD), the glorious dynasty with the most open cultural character in all of China’s history.
In the Netherlands, the term ‘Golden Age’ has strong associations with the 17th century, the age of prosperity and unparalleled activity in the fields of architecture, visual arts, literature and science. Historians consider the Tang Dynasty one of the highlights in Chinese civilization; The Golden Age of China, the efflorescence of Chinese culture from the 7th till the 9th century AD. The trade connected with the Silk Road led to an open society with great wealth and tolerance. To the Chinese, this is the most important dynasty in their history; the Golden Age of Chinese culture.
Chang’an (present-day Xi’an) was the heart of the empire, the first city in the Orient from which the Silk Road flowed into the country like a lifeline of culture, religion and merchandise. Changa’an was the largest and most flourishing Asian capital, which at some point had more than a million inhabitants. Merchants and traders from all over arrived in China with luxury articles. New cultures and religions arrived in their wake. Clothing, jewellery, utensils, ethereal oils, food and wine from abroad were popular both in palaces and among a large part of the city’s population. Art and literature flourished.
The exhibition will show spectacular archaeological objects from the Tang Dynasty. Some one hundred and fifty wonderful objects of glass, silver, gold, earthenware and stone show the craftsmanship of China’s Golden Age. The exhibition also shows unique murals depicting Chinese court life, and remarkable terracotta statues of people and animals, glazed in exquisite colours.
The exhibition will be accompanied by a publication, produced in cooperation with Uitgeverij Waanders. A range of extra activities and arrangements will be offered in accompaniment to the exhibition under the heading ‘Taste China’.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Die frühbuddhistischen Handschriften aus Gandhara

Fragment einer Birkenrinden-Handschrift mit einem kanonischen buddhistischen Lehrtext - Bild: FU Berlin

München/Berlin] 2012 nimmt in München die Edition der ältesten buddhistischen Handschriften ihre Arbeit auf. Nach den sensationellen Quellenfunden der letzten Jahre in Pakistan und Afghanistan sind grundlegend neue Erkenntnisse zum indischen Buddhismus zu erwarten. Die Gemeinsame Wissenschaftskonferenz von Bund und Ländern (GWK) hat in ihrer heutigen Sitzung beschlossen, das Vorhaben in das Akademienprogramm aufzunehmen. Es wird von der Bayerischen Akademie der Wissenschaften betreut und unter der Leitung der Indologen Jens-Uwe Hartmann (LMU München) und Harry Falk (FU Berlin) durchgeführt.
In den letzten 15 Jahren sind aus dem Nordwesten Pakistans und den benachbarten Regionen Afghanistans immer wieder Funde buddhistischer Handschriften bekannt geworden. Gandhara ist der alte Name für dieses Gebiet, das seinen damaligen Reichtum dem Fernhandel auf der Seidenstraße verdankte und bei der Verbreitung des indischen Buddhismus nach Zentral- und Ostasien eine Schlüsselrolle gespielt hat. Alter und Inhalt der Handschriften haben die Fachleute überwältigt; in zwei Fällen weisen 14C-Datierungen sogar auf das 1. Jh. v. Chr. hin, und damit liegen hier die bei weitem ältesten Quellen des indischen Buddhismus vor.
Erhaltungszustand, Sprache und Schrift der Manuskripte stellen eine große Herausforderung für jeden Bearbeiter dar. Schon jetzt ist aber deutlich, dass die Erschließung zu einem völlig neuen Verständnis der Frühphase des indischen Buddhismus führt. In dem heute bewilligten Projekt sollen die einzelnen Hand-schriften sukzessive ediert werden, wobei internationale Experten ebenso wie der wissenschaftliche Nachwuchs in die Bearbeitung eingebunden sind. Die sprachlichen, geschichtlichen und dogmatischen Erkenntnisse werden in eine Literatur- und Religionsgeschichte Gandharas, in eine Grammatik der Sprache und in ein Wörterbuch eingehen. Kernstück des Projektes bildet eine Datenbank, in der alle Informationen gesammelt und verknüpft werden. Sie wird die Grundlage für digitale und gedruckte Publikationen bilden und der internationalen Fachwelt den Zugriff auf die laufend erarbeiteten Daten ermöglichen.
Das Projekt mit einer Laufzeit von 21 Jahren und einem Gesamtvolumen von 8,6 Millionen Euro wird von der Bayerischen Akademie der Wissenschaften betreut und in München durchgeführt. Die Projektleitung übernehmen die Indologen Jens-Uwe Hartmann (LMU München) und Harry Falk (FU Berlin).
Das Gandhara-Projekt ist im Rahmen des Akademienprogramms bewilligt worden. Dieses Programm dient der Erschließung, Sicherung und Vergegenwärti-gung unseres kulturellen Erbes. Es ist eines der größten geisteswissenschaftlichen Forschungsprogramme der Bundesrepublik Deutschland und wird von der Union der deutschen Akademien der Wissenschaften koordiniert.
Source: EANN.de

Cultural Relics Recovered in China's Xinjiang

Police in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region have recovered over 3,600 historical relics from China's western region.

[Wu Xinhua, Chinese Academy of Sciences]:
"All the recovered Gandhara-style mural paintings were found in this area, southeast of Damagou. This is the earliest Buddhist monument site in Hetian, with all kinds of mural paintings and Buddhist temples in it. These Gandhara-style mural paintings were found for the first time in China and all over the world."

Over the past few years, grave robbers swarmed into Damagou where archeologists discovered the largest site of Buddhist temples in the Taklamakan Desert.

According to local police, robbers stole the valuable relics and destroyed the site.

Gandhara, the name of an ancient kingdom where Buddhism was quite prevalent, combined the essence of Hellenism and Greco-Roman culture.

Yungang Grottoes, one of the four most famous grottoes in Shanxi Province, is one typical styles of work from Gandhara.

Source: NTD Television

Gandharan Art and Buddhism

Christian Luczanits, a leading scholar of Gandharan art, discusses how changing perceptions of the Buddha and bodhisattvas in Gandhara played an instrumental role in the development of Mahayana Buddhism. (1 hr., 1 min.)

Related exhibition site from the Asia Society

Monday, 21 November 2011

The Grottos of Anyue

Sichuan's Anyue (安岳) County is home to hundreds of thousands of carvings, statues, and scriptures representing the confluence of Buddhism, Confucianism, and Daoism in the region.

Without a UNESCO stamp of approval, Anyue's grottos don't seem to have garnered the international reputation of related sites at Dunhuang and Dazu, but they nonetheless form an important link with the other sites, and their discovery has made significant contributions to the understanding of the region's history.

The caves and grottos were constructed over hundreds of years starting in the year 521 and peaking during the Song Dynasty.
The sculptures they contain are distinguished by their delicately carved details and serve as representative artworks of the Song and Tang Dynasties.

Because of the county's size, visiting without a private vehicle can be tricky. The more than 200 grottos are spread across the county's nearly 3,000 square km, with up to 80 km between points of interest.

Among the most notable sites are Yuanjue Cave (圆觉洞), with nearly 2,000 statues; the nearby Mount Yunju slopes and its three well-preserved, 7-meter-tall statues; the Thousand-Buddha Camp (千佛寨), housing 3,000 statues as well as cliff-side reliefs, tablets, and inscriptions; the early Daoist statues found at the Xuanmiao Temple (玄妙寺); the cliffs at The Sleeping-Buddha Temple (八庙卧佛), home also to a 23-meter-long (and the world's largest) left-reclining Buddha; the relatively small but detailed and well-preserved Pilu Cave (石羊毗卢洞), which houses the finely detailed black-bamboo Guanyin statue (紫竹观音); the Huayan Cave (华严洞), which holds a grotto reflecting the combination of the three religions; the Mumen Temple (木门寺); and the Mingshan Temple (茗山寺).

Anyue County lies approximately 170 km southeast of Chengdu (about halfway to Chongqing) and falls under the administration of Ziyang City.
Today the county is home to a population of 1.6 million and also enjoys a reputation as the country's top lemon-producing region.
Buses depart hourly from Chengdu's Wugui Qiao station to the Anyue bus station until 6 p.m. The ride is approximately 3.5 hours.

What to See in a Buddhist Cave?

The UBC Kameyama Lecture Series, with the UBC Buddhism and Contemporary Society Program, presents a lecture by Dr. Eugene Wang, the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Professor of Asian Art at Harvard University:

“What to See in a Buddhist Cave?”

Date: Wednesday, 30 November 2011
Time: 4:30 – 7:00 PM
Place: C.K. Choi Building, Room 120, 1855 West Mall, UBC Point Grey Campus
University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada

The cave murals in Dunhuang show episodes from the Buddha’s past and present lives: his bodily sacrifices, demon-subjugation, and so on. The pictorial program maps out zones of past and future, and features the images of a sinner emerging from hell and a prognosticator of rebirth who reads human skulls. What is the agenda? Why does the cave need these images? Most confounding of all is the question: why even bother to have a pictorial program there? The lecture will explore the relationship between the physical media (painting and sculpture) and their implied mental dimensions, such as meditation, repentance, and visualization, integral to Buddhist culture.

Professor Eugene Yuejin Wang is the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Professor of Asian Art at Harvard University. He was born in Jiangsu, China, completing his graduate studies at Fudan University in Shanghai (M.A. 1986) and at Harvard (Ph.D. 1997). He is also the Art History associate editor of the Encyclopedia of Buddhism (2004). His book on Shaping the Lotus Sutra: Buddhist Visual Culture in Medieval China (2005) has received the Academic Achievement Award in Japan. His articles have been published in The Art Bulletin, Art History, Critical Inquiry, Res: Journal of Anthropology and Aesthetics, Public Culture, and elsewhere, and cover a wide range of subjects including ancient bronze mirrors, Buddhist murals and sculptures, reliquaries, scroll paintings, calligraphy, woodblock prints, architecture, photography, and films.

UBC’s Buddhism and Contemporary Society Program events are made possible by the generous support of The Tung Lin Kok Yuen Canada Foundation, in collaboration with the Institute of Asian Research and Department of Asian Studies.

Restored Citadel of Herat poignant reminder of past Afghan glory

More than 300 craftsmen labored years shoring up the fortress in western Afghanistan, which opened last month as a museum and cultural center. At the opening, there was hopeful talk of a tourist draw.

November 17, 2011|By Laura King, Los Angeles Times. Reporting from Herat, Afghanistan —
Imperial soldiers once patrolled its battlements. Treasure lay heaped in vaulted storerooms. Prisoners languished in its depths; princes plotted the course of empires. But by late in the last century, the mighty fortress overlooking this western Afghan city had fallen into ruin.

Built on a plateau thought to have been a redoubt of Alexander the Great, the Citadel of Herat has been brought back to life. Reopened last month as a museum and cultural center after a painstaking refurbishment, the 15th century structure serves as a poignant reminder of past glories in a country beaten down by decades of war and deprivation.

More than 300 craftsmen spent nearly three years shoring up the citadel's winding ramps, cavernous chambers and soaring buttresses, rebuilding delicate wooden latticework and piecing together damaged decorative tiles. Before the reconstruction could even begin, they had to clear out piles of fetid garbage and drain off pools of stagnant rainwater.

With the citadel's commanding hilltop position, "it was always a project that quite literally stared us in the face," said Ajmal Maiwandi, director of the Aga Khan Trust for Culture, which carried out the restoration with about $2.4 million in funding from the United States and Germany.

In the 1970s, UNESCO did extensive restoration at the site, working from historical depictions of the original structure. But the 1979 Soviet invasion, the country's wrenching civil war and the reign of the Taliban led to prolonged neglect and destruction. The fortress reverted to its original role as a military encampment, used by Afghan security forces after the fall of the Taliban in 2001. The site wasn't handed over to Afghanistan's Culture Ministry until 2006.

Even before the convulsion of recent conflicts, the citadel had seen centuries of tumult. Through the ages, Herat's Silk Road location was both boon and bane; trade flourished here, as did music, art and poetry. But the city was also a magnet for successive waves of marauders.

At the citadel's formal opening, with foreign and Afghan dignitaries gathered in a sun-dappled courtyard, there was hopeful and perhaps quixotic talk that the fortress could help put Herat on the tourist map. Other than invading armies, outside visitors have been little seen since Afghanistan's hippie-trail heyday of the 1960s and '70s.

Besides the draw of the structure itself, the citadel houses a museum with artifacts mainly found in and around the city: exquisite metalwork and pottery, illustrated manuscripts and ornamental objects, a 14th century cenotaph. Some of the pieces were uncovered during recent archaeological excavations that proceeded parallel to the reconstruction.

"With all this, we have been able to create a genuine cultural landscape," said Ute Franke, a German museum curator who serves as deputy director of the German-Afghan Archaeological Project.

For all the sense of achievement surrounding the citadel project, it highlighted the peril posed to Afghanistan's other historical sites, said Maiwandi, of the Aga Khan trust. His organization has restored four dozen monuments and structures in the city, but often-rapacious development has claimed many more, he told the crowd at the reopening ceremony.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Discovery in Shangjing capital of Liao dynasty

To watch video, click HERE

Shangjing City, one of the five capitals of the Liao Empire in Chinese history is located in Chifeng city of North China's Inner-Mongolia Autonomous Region. A large-scale excavation of its relic gate which lasted four months is now over. The excavation has made clear the structure of the city gate and provides an important basis for historical research.

Built in 918 AD, Shangjing City of Liao was divided into two city areas, the Imperial City and the Han City. As the first capital built in the plains area by northern minorities, the Imperial City was the residence of Khitan nobles. Its construction strongly emphasized military defense. The highlight of this project is to unearth "Qiandemen", the west gate of the Imperial City, exploring its shape and structure in detail.

A large-scale excavation of relic in Shagjing city has made clear the structure of the city gate and provides an important basis for historical research.

The excavation work of the city gate started in July. After more than four months, a well reserved gate has been cleared out. According to archeologists, "Qiandemen" had been constructed for three times, twice during the Liao Dynasty and once in Jin Dynasty. The gate constructed in Liao period is 20 meters long and 6.2 meters wide. Stone and wooden doorsill and city gate jamb have been found in the relic site, which indicates the high building level in Liao Dynasty.

Archeologist Dong Xinlin, from Chinese Academy of Social Science, said: "There are two parts of 'Qiandemen'. One part is the gateway of the front gate which had a high tower above in the past. The other part is the Weng City that we are looking at. It is aimed at military defense. Walk out of the city and turn left, you can see its gate. We have cleared it too."

In 1961, Shangjing City site of Liao Dynasty was one of first batch of cultural relics protected at the national level set by the State Council. Since 1962 small-scale drilling, mapping and experimental excavation had been conducted several times by archeologists. Now it is the first time that an archeologist team from Beijing and Inner Mongolia undertake such a large-scale excavation.

CNTV.CN, 15 November 2011

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Great Riddles in Archaeology: Noah's Ark

Great Riddles in Archaeology Lecture Series at the Penn Museum

Noah's Ark One of the bestknown Bible stories is that of Noah's ark and the world-engulfing flood. Dr. Fredrik Hiebert, National Geographic Explorer, was part of a team that discovered evidence of man-made structures 300 feet below the surface of the Black Sea, adding credence to theories that this was the location of the flood that inspired the biblical and Babylonian stories. Dr. Hiebert discusses his discoveries and other evidence helping to shed light on the mystery of Noah's ark.

For more information, click HERE

Deciding Between Heritage and Hard Cash in Afghanistan

Many in Afghanistan hold that the country's future lies underground, in vast mineral deposits with the potential to boost the country's economy for decades. Nowhere is that more true than Mes Aynak. The ancient mine, 30 km south of Kabul in Logar province, is believed to be the world's second largest untapped copper source. According to Afghanistan's Mining Ministry, the site is worth tens of billions of dollars at today's prices. Extracting the metal could deliver thousands of jobs and $1.2 billion in revenue a year to a country in desperate need as international assistance dries up ahead of the planned U.S. and NATO withdrawal in 2014.
Copper, however, is not the only treasure at Mes Aynak. Archaeologists are also excavating an ancient Buddhist temple complex located on top of the deposits. It has so far yielded manuscripts, Buddha statues and stunning ancient architecture. The discovery rivals Machu Picchu in terms of historic import, says Philippe Marquis, a French archaeologist overseeing the project, and could also rewrite the history of Buddhism and the Silk Road.

In a reversal of the theory that religious centers grew up alongside but separate from commercial activity, Marquis and his team suspect that in Mes Aynak, religious leaders may have actually directed copper mining and refining and used the monastery network to trade the metal as far away as Japan and Korea. "People always talk about the Silk Road," says Marquis. "What if it was the Copper Road or the Buddhist Road that established trade across the region?"
The clock, however, is ticking. The Chinese-government-backed China Metallurgical Group Corp., which successfully bid on the mine in 2007, wanted to start mining in '09. The work will destroy the temple complex, so the group agreed to a three-year pause for a basic excavation. The short window is emblematic of the difficult compromises that must be made as Afghanistan struggles to balance financial and cultural concerns. "I don't think anyone can argue with the fact that the Buddha statues would last far longer than copper in terms of generational value," says Laura Tedesco, an archaeologist and manager of the U.S. embassy's cultural-heritage programs. "But the needs of the country right now are in the revenue from the mine."

Mes Aynak's more recent history is less glorious than its ancient past. The hidden valley, located at the end of a dusty road that zigzags past rocky hills streaked with chalky green stains of oxidizing copper, was once an al-Qaeda training ground. No one has found graffiti from Osama bin Laden yet, but most archaeologists familiar with the site agree that the terrorist group, among others, looted statues to sell on the international antiquities black market. According to a recent article in the Journal of Art Crime, Mohammad Atta, the lead hijacker in the 9/11 terrorist attacks, attempted to sell looted artifacts from Afghanistan to a German archaeologist in order to fund his Florida flight training.
The irony is that although the Chinese mine will eventually destroy the archaeological site, it has contributed to the protection of its artifacts. "We have enough examples of other Buddhist sites in Afghanistan destroyed because of looting, ignorance and lack of care," says Marquis. But because of the international attention brought to Mes Aynak in the wake of the Chinese bid, archaeologists now have some $50 million from the World Bank, USAID and other foreign donors to invest in excavation and the construction of a nearby interpretive museum. Security for the mine also helps protect the archaeologists, and the site, from nearby insurgents. Besides, Marquis adds, the ancient mud construction materials and unbaked-clay statues would not last long exposed to the Afghan elements. "The fact is that preservation in situ would be impossible."

If Marquis's theories are correct, copper once made Afghanistan the hub of central Asian trade. And if he and his team of archaeologists dig fast enough, Mes Aynak could yet restore some of Afghanistan's regional luster, not just in copper, but in culture as well.

Source: Time

Rome presents the treasures of Dvin, the medieval capital of Armenia

November 15, 2011. (Romereports.com)
Twenty years ago, Armenia gained independence from the Soviet Union. To remember this event, Rome has opened its doors to an elaborate exhibition on the city of Dvin, the capital of Armenia between the fifth and ninth centuries.

“It was we used to say the capital linking West and East, and it was the capital of the silk road. The Armenian historian Shirakavan, as I mentioned in my speech, there were six commercial roads going out from the city linking to the silk road and to different parts of the world.”

Dvin had 150,000 inhabitants and was an important trade center during medieval times. But in the year 893 an earthquake destroyed the city. The only thing to survive were different works of art and a memory of the city.

These works of art gives a sense of greatness the society held, displayed by these glass plates and ceramics, crucifixes and pots made of silver and bronze, as well as old coins from the time period and tapestries that tell the life of Christ.

One in particular shows two chapters of the crucifixion and a model of a church sculpted in stone. A bible from the fifth century is also presented, which was the first book written using the Armenian alphabet.

Rouben Karapetian
Ambassador of Armenia to Italy

“We wanted to present a small part of the heritage and the high level of the culture that existed. An art in ceremonies, in a manuscript, in the frescoes and in carpet as you have seen the one 'govelen' of the 8th century of the Armenian Apostolic Church. Armenia is the first Christian nation in the world, we adopted Christianity in 301. We are also proud to have our small part of some artifacts of the Armenian Church.”

During the inauguration, traditional music was played with an Armenian flute called a 'duduk'. The exhibition is open to the public until January 29, 2012 and is expected to host the President of Armenia in a few weeks.

Lights, camels, action as 'Traveling the Silk Road' exhibit rides into Taipei

A once-in-a-lifetime chance to visit the world-changing Silk Road has arrived in Taiwan, as a special exhibition teleports visitors on an adventure through the ancient pathway beginning in Taipei, today.

Originally exhibited in the New York City-based American Museum of Natural History in Summer 2010, the “Traveling the Silk Road” (穿越時空-絲路行特展) exhibition reached Taipei's National Taiwan Science Education Center (國立台灣科學教育館), and will be open to the public for three months, until Jan.29 2012.

Measured to 7,400 kilometers in length, the Silk Road was the most important ancient route for cultural, religious, commercial, scientific and artistic exchanges between the East and the West, beginning as early as 1,600 years ago.

“We are excited that the exhibition could take place in Asia,” Presston Brown, manager of the American Museum of Natural History's Global Business Development Department Traveling Exhibition Operations, said yesterday, surrounded by duplicates of ancient artifacts and life-sized stuffed camels.

Having taken two years to plan, the exhibition is inclusive, with knowledge on all 7,400 kilometers of the pathway provided, and major cities along the way getting specific focus.

Just as in real life, an epic journey along the Silk Road exhibition brings visitors from Xian, featuring silk products from the Tang Dynasty and music from ancient instruments, through Turfan, where treasures from night markets stoke imagination, on to Samarkand, where an interactive map table showcases the geographical, technological, and cultural specialties along the Silk Road. Visitors eventually arrive at Baghdad, where amateur astronomers may operate a replica of an ancient Islamic astrolabe model.

For its educative nature and interactive setup, the exhibition had been a great hit in NYC, Brown said, and the original exhibitors are eager to see what new knowledge of the Silk Road the exhibition could bring to those from the East and are descendents of those who had passed knowledge down, and vice versa.

Echoing Brown's comments, National Taiwan Science Education Center Director-General Chu Nan-shyan (朱楠賢) encouraged visitors from all age groups to experience the interdisciplinary wisdom from thousands of kilometers away and 16 centuries ago, from today through Jan. 29, 2012.

Source: Chinapost

Mongolian Studies Open Conference

Mongolian Studies Open Conference

25 November 2011, 9:00am - 5:15pm
Hedley Bull Centre (130), Garran Road,
Australian National University, Canberra

Sponsored by the Mongolian Studies Centre, Australian National University and generously supported by the Mongolian Embassy in Australia

» Program schedule & abstract
» MOSOC promotional flyer

The MOSOC is a multi-disciplinary conference which provides a forum for the presentation of new research on Mongolia and Mongols in Australia. The conference provides an opportunity for scholars with interests in Mongolia to meet, to hear each other's work and to exchange ideas and information. It emphasizes interaction between younger and established scholars and between Mongolists and those with a comparative interest in Mongolian Studies. The conference is open to all. There is no registration fee.