Author Topic: Buddhist ruins discovered in Taklimakan desert  (Read 7672 times)


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Buddhist ruins discovered in Taklimakan desert
« on: February 21, 2013, 09:48:18 AM »
Greco-Buddhist style murals? How fascinating! Buddhism has a long history in China and it is great that the archaeologists have discovered this temple in Xinjiang Uygur. Just for some background on Xinjiang, Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region is an autonomous region in the northwest of the People's Republic of China. It is the largest Chinese administrative division and spans over 1.6 million km2. Xinjiang borders Russia, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. It has abundant oil reserves and is China's largest natural gas-producing region. (from

The Taklamakan Desert, also known as Taklimakan and Teklimakan, is a desert in in the southwest portion of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in northwest China. It is bounded by the Kunlun Mountains to the south, the desert Pamir Mountains and Tian Shan (ancient Mount Imeon) to the west and north, and the Gobi Desert to the east. (

With this exciting archaeological finding, i hope there will be more interest in and awareness of Buddhism in China and the world!

Buddhist ruins discovered in Taklimakan desert
02-17-2013 08:37 BJT

The ruins of a Buddhist temple dating back 1,500 years ago have been discovered in China's largest desert -- the Taklimakan in Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region. The findings offer valuable research material for historians studying the development of Buddhism in China.

These historic findings shed light on the development of Buddhism in China. In total there are more than 3,000 pieces of relics. The most eye-catching are the mural paintings. They are executed in a Greco-Buddhist art style, which was seldom seen after the 6th century.

The ruins of a Buddhist temple dating back 1,500 years ago have been discovered in China's largest desert -- the Taklimakan in Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region.

Archaeologist Dr. Wu Xinhua said, "It’s very unique. We’ve never come across such mural paintings in this area before. You can see the fusion of Western and eastern cultures alongside the spread of Buddhism in ancient China."
The treasures are all from a Buddhist temple located in the southern Taklimakan Desert. Excavation was completed in June last year. Experts believe the temple dates back to the Southern and Northern Dynasties, about 1,500 years ago.

Dr. Wu said, "The hall is the largest of its kind found in the Taklimakan Desert since the first archaeologist came to work in the area in the 20th century. The structure of the temple is very unique. We believe it is one of the earliest Buddhist temples in China."

The temple has become the point of convergence for scholars studying how Buddhism arrived in China from India, and its early development in the country.

Kate Walker - a wannabe wisdom Being


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Re: Buddhist ruins discovered in Taklimakan desert
« Reply #1 on: February 21, 2013, 12:57:44 PM »
There is never a doubt of Buddhism's influence in the land of China during those days judging from the historic finds and records. The amazing part is that Buddha's texts were reproduced into Chinese language from Pali language during those days to ensure Buddha's teachings spreaded far and wide to the east. The findings (murals on the wall) suggests that Buddhism might have existed more than 1,500 years ago in China. Thanks to the effort of the people back then for their efforts to spread Buddhism to China have led to Buddhism flourishing there.

Jessie Fong

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Re: Buddhist ruins discovered in Taklimakan desert
« Reply #2 on: February 21, 2013, 02:35:53 PM »
In the olden days of past, Xinjiang was the hub of the well-known Silk Road - it was the meeting point between the east and west. 

It is now part of the second Eurasian Continent Bridge.
Xinjiang boasts rich tourist resources. The Silk Road is world famous, on which there are numerous relic sites, such as the ancient towns, tombs, the Thousand-Buddha Caves, etc. Among them the Jiaohe Old City, the Gaochang Old City, Loulan Ruins, Kizil Thousand-Buddha Caves, Tomb of Fragrant Empress are all renowned at home and abroad. In this multi-ethnic area the integration of cultures, arts and customs practices of all ethnic groups constitute the unique human landscape of Xinjiang.

Hotan, known as Tian in ancient China, is located on the southern rim of the Tarim Basin in southwestern Xinjiang. It is one of the oldest Buddhist centers in the western region and home for silk. It is famous for silk, jade and carpets. Tourist attractions are ruins of Yuetegan and Niya, Eastern Han Tombs, and cliff carvings in Sangzhu.

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Re: Buddhist ruins discovered in Taklimakan desert
« Reply #3 on: February 23, 2013, 12:50:45 PM »
Buddhism once shined all the way to Afghanistan and to Pakistan!
Buddhism did suffer great historical setbacks, HUGE setbacks.
When the Moguls came from, ironically, the Muslim converted Afghanistan  into India, they even burned down the great libraries and universities of Nalanda and more!
But Buddhism always comes back, it comes back as Buddhism or it comes back even as another religion.
What comes back, for as long as people do cultivate merits for it is spirituality, is a path to enlightenment onto which every religion leads.
So, if out of a dirty game of politics a religion is being abused to wipe out another religion, the practice of spirituality will come back.
It may even be that spirituality completely disappears and that every religion degenerate due to a lack of proper practice, it may be that even the notion of spirituality disappears and that dark ages dominate for eons and eons, spirituality is meant to come back simply because there are bodhisattavas working at it tirelessly and patiently through eons of getting the little spark of merit needed to engage into a path of liberation.

May we show gratitude to the selfless bodhisattvas and pray that we may be able to achieve such a beautiful mind ourselves.

Big Uncle

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Re: Buddhist ruins discovered in Taklimakan desert
« Reply #4 on: February 24, 2013, 04:34:20 AM »
I googled Greek Buddhist art and found this fantastic article on Wikipedia complete with pictures to illustrate the points. However, I could not extract the whole article here so If you are interested, you can click on the link right at the bottom. This articles gives an excellent historical background to the fusion between east and west, Greek and Indian art forms resulting in a remarkable rich diversity of old Buddhist sculptures.


Greco-Buddhist art is the artistic manifestation of Greco-Buddhism, a cultural syncretism between the Classical Greek culture and Buddhism, which developed over a period of close to 1000 years in Central Asia, between the conquests of Alexander the Great in the 4th century BCE, and the Islamic conquests of the 7th century CE. Greco-Buddhist art is characterized by the strong idealistic realism and sensuous description of Hellenistic art and the first representations of the Buddha in human form, which have helped define the artistic (and particularly, sculptural) canon for Buddhist art throughout the Asian continent up to the present. It is also a strong example of cultural syncretism between eastern and western traditions.

The origins of Greco-Buddhist art are to be found in the Hellenistic Greco-Bactrian kingdom (250 BCE- 130 BCE), located in today’s Afghanistan, from which Hellenistic culture radiated into the Indian subcontinent with the establishment of the Indo-Greek kingdom (180 BCE-10 BCE). Under the Indo-Greeks and then the Kushans, the interaction of Greek and Buddhist culture flourished in the area of Gandhara, in today’s northern Pakistan, before spreading further into India, influencing the art of Mathura, and then the Hindu art of the Gupta empire, which was to extend to the rest of South-East Asia. The influence of Greco-Buddhist art also spread northward towards Central Asia, strongly affecting the art of the Tarim Basin, and ultimately the arts of China, Korea, and Japan.

Hellenistic art in southern Asia

Silver coin depicting the Greco-Bactrian king Demetrius I (200-180 BCE) wearing an elephant scalp, symbol of his conquest of India. Back: Herakles, holding a lion skin and a club resting over the arm. The text reads: ???????? ????????? - BASILE?S D?M?TRIOU "of King Demetrius".

Powerful Hellenistic states were established in the areas of Bactria and Sogdiana, and later northern India for three centuries following the conquests of Alexander the Great around 330 BCE: the Seleucid empire until 250 BCE, followed by the Greco-Bactrian kingdom until 130 BCE, and the Indo-Greek kingdom from 180 BCE to around 10 BCE.

The clearest examples of Hellenistic art are found in the coins of the Greco-Bactrian kings of the period, such as Demetrius I of Bactria. Many coins of the Greco-Bactrian kings have been unearthed, including the largest silver and gold coins ever minted in the Hellenistic world, ranking among the best in artistic and technical sophistication: they "show a degree of individuality never matched by the often more bland descriptions of their royal contemporaries further West". ("Greece and the Hellenistic world").

These Hellenistic kingdoms established cities on the Greek model, such as in Ai-Khanoum in Bactria, displaying purely Hellenistic architectural features, Hellenistic statuary, and remains of Aristotelician papyrus prints and coin hoards.

Wine-drinking and music (Detail from Chakhil-i-Ghoundi stupa, Hadda, 1st-2nd century CE).

These Greek elements penetrated in northwestern India following the invasion of the Greco-Bactrians in 180 BCE, when they established the Indo-Greek kingdom in India. Fortified Greek cities, such as Sirkap in northern Pakistan, were established. Architectural styles used Hellenistic decorative motifs such as fruit garland and scrolls. Stone palettes for aromatic oils representing purely Hellenistic themes such as a Nereid riding a Ketos sea monster are found.

In Hadda, Hellenistic deities, such as Atlas are found. Wind gods are depicted, which will affect the representation of wind deities as far as Japan. Dionysiac scenes represent people in Classical style drinking wine from amphoras and playing instruments.


As soon as the Greeks invaded India to form the Indo-Greek kingdom, a fusion of Hellenistic and Buddhist elements started to appear, encouraged by the benevolence of the Greek kings towards Buddhism. This artistic trend then developed for several centuries and seemed to flourish further during the Kushan Empire from the 1st century CE.

Artistic model

An Indo-Corinthian capital with the Buddha at its center, 3-4th century, Gandhara.

Greco-Buddhist art depicts the life of the Buddha in a visual manner, probably by incorporating the real-life models and concepts which were available to the artists of the period.

The Bodhisattvas are depicted as bare-chested and jewelled Indian princes, and the Buddhas as Greek kings wearing the light toga-like himation. The buildings in which they are depicted incorporate Greek style, with the ubiquitous Indo-Corinthian capitals and Greek decorative scrolls. Surrounding deities form a pantheon of Greek (Atlas, Herakles) and Indian gods (Indra).

Stucco as well as stone was widely used by sculptors in Gandhara for the decoration of monastic and cult buildings. Stucco provided the artist with a medium of great plasticity, enabling a high degree of expresivness to be given to the sculpture. Sculpting in stucco was popular wherever Buddhism spread from Gandhara - India, Afghanistan, Central Asia and China.

Stylistic evolution
Stylistically, Greco-Buddhist art started by being extremely fine and realistic, as apparent on the standing Buddhas, with "a realistic treatment of the folds and on some even a hint of modelled volume that characterizes the best Greek work" (Boardman). It then lost this sophisticated realism, becoming progressively more symbolic and decorative over the centuries.

The presence of stupas at the Greek city of Sirkap, which was built by Demetrius around 180 BCE, already indicates a strong syncretism between Hellenism and the Buddhist faith, together with other religions such as Hinduism and Zoroastrianism. The style is Greek, adorned with Corinthian columns in excellent Hellenistic execution.

The Titan Atlas, supporting a Buddhist monument, Hadda.

Later in Hadda, the Greek divinity Atlas is represented holding Buddhist monuments with decorated Greek columns. The motif was adopted extensively throughout the Indian sub-continent, Atlas being substituted for the Indian Yaksa in the monuments of the Sunga around the 2nd century BCE.


One of the first representations of the Buddha, 1st-2nd century CE, Gandhara: Standing Buddha (Tokyo National Museum).

Sometime between the 2nd century BCE and the 1st century CE, the first anthropomorphic representations of the Buddha were developed. These were absent from earlier strata of Buddhist art, which preferred to represent the Buddha with symbols such as the stupa, the Bodhi tree, the empty seat, the wheel, or the footprints. But the innovative anthropomorphic Buddha image immediately reached a very high level of sculptural sophistication, naturally inspired by the sculptural styles of Hellenistic Greece.

Many of the stylistic elements in the representations of the Buddha point to Greek influence: the Greek himation (a light toga-like wavy robe covering both shoulders: Buddhist characters are always represented with a dhoti loincloth before this innovation), the halo, the contrapposto stance of the upright figures (see: 1st–2nd century Gandhara standing Buddhas [1] and [2]), the stylized Mediterranean curly hair and top-knot apparently derived from the style of the Belvedere Apollo (330 BCE),[3] and the measured quality of the faces, all rendered with strong artistic realism (See: Greek art). Some of the standing Buddhas (as the one pictured) were sculpted using the specific Greek technique of making the hands and sometimes the feet in marble to increase the realistic effect, and the rest of the body in another material.

Foucher especially considered Hellenistic free-standing Buddhas as "the most beautiful, and probably the most ancient of the Buddhas", assigning them to the 1st century BCE, and making them the starting point of the anthropomorphic representations of the Buddha ("The Buddhist art of Gandhara", Marshall, p101).


The Bimaran casket, representing the Buddha, is dated to around 30-10 BCE. British Museum.

There is some debate regarding the exact date for the development of the anthropomorphic representation of the Buddha, and this has a bearing on whether the innovation came directly from the Indo-Greeks, or was a later development by the Indo-Scythians, the Indo-Parthians or the Kushans under Hellenistic artistic influence. Most of the early images of the Buddha (especially those of the standing Buddha) are anepigraphic, which makes it difficult to have a definite dating. The earliest known image of the Buddha with approximate indications on date is the Bimaran casket, which has been found buried with coins of the Indo-Scythian king Azes II (or possibly Azes I), indicating a 30-10 BCE date, although this date is not undisputed.

An Indo-Corinthian capital from the Butkara Stupa under which a coin of Azes II was found. Dated to 20 BCE or earlier (Turin City Museum of Ancient Art).

Such datation, as well as the general Hellenistic style and attitude of the Buddha on the Bimaran casket (himation dress, contrapposto attitude, general depiction) would made it a possible Indo-Greek work, used in dedications by Indo-Scythians soon after the end of Indo-Greek rule in the area of Gandhara. Since it already displays quite a sophisticated iconography (Brahma and ?akra as attendants, Bodhisattvas) in an advanced style, it would suggest much earlier representations of the Buddha were already current by that time, going back to the rule of the Indo-Greeks (Alfred A. Foucher and others).

The next Greco-Buddhist findings to be strictly datable are rather late, such as the c.120 CE Kanishka casket and Kanishka's Buddhist coins. These works at least indicate though that the anthropomorphic representation of the Buddha was already extant in the 1st century CE.

Fresco describing Emperor Han Wudi (156-87 BCE) worshipping two statues of the Buddha, Mogao Caves, Dunhuang, c.8th century CE

From another direction, Chinese historical sources and mural paintings in the Tarim Basin city of Dunhuang accurately describe the travels of the explorer and ambassador Zhang Qian to Central Asia as far as Bactria around 130 BCE, and the same murals describe the Emperor Han Wudi (156-87 BCE) worshipping Buddhist statues, explaining them as "golden men brought in 120 BCE by a great Han general in his campaigns against the nomads." Although there is no other mention of Han Wudi worshipping the Buddha in Chinese historical literature, the murals would suggest that statues of the Buddha were already in existence during the 2nd century BCE, connecting them directly to the time of the Indo-Greeks.

Later, the Chinese historical chronicle Hou Hanshu describes the enquiry about Buddhism made around 67 CE by the emperor Emperor Ming (58-75 CE). He sent an envoy to the Yuezhi in northwestern India, who brought back paintings and statues of the Buddha, confirming their existence before that date:

"The Emperor, to discover the true doctrine, sent an envoy to Tianzhu[disambiguation needed] (Northwestern India) to inquire about the Buddha’s doctrine, after which paintings and statues [of the Buddha] appeared in the Middle Kingdom." (Hou Hanshu, trans. John Hill)

An Indo-Chinese tradition also explains that Nagasena, also known as Menander's Buddhist teacher, created in 43 BCE in the city of Pataliputra a statue of the Buddha, the Emerald Buddha, which was later brought to Thailand.

Artistic model
The Greco-Bactrian king Demetrius I (205-171 BCE) himself may have been the prototype for the image of the Buddha. He was king and saviour of India, as confirmed by his successors King Apollodotus I and Menander I, who were officially described as ???????? ??THPO? (basile?s sot?ros) "saviour king" in the bilingual Greek and Kharoshthi legends of their coins. Demetrius was named Dharmamita ("Friend of the Dharma") in the Indian text of the Yuga Purana. Buddhism flourished under his reign and that of his successors, precisely as it was being oppressed by the Indian dynasty of the Sunga in the East.

Heracles depiction of Vajrapani as the protector of the Buddha, 2nd century Gandhara, British Museum.

The earliest Hellenistic statues of the Buddha portray him in a style reminiscent of a king, where the traditional Buddhist symbols (the Dharma wheel, the empty throne, the Bodhi tree, the lions) are absent. Demetrius may have been deified, and the first Hellenistic statues of the Buddha we know may be representations of the idealized Greek king, princely, yet friendly, protective and open to Indian culture. As they progressively incorporated more Buddhist elements, they became central to the Buddhist movement, and influenced the representations of the Buddha in Greco-Buddhist art and later.

Another characteristic of Demetrius is associated to the Buddha: they share the same protector deity. In Gandharan art, the Buddha is often shown under the protection of the Greek god Herakles, standing with his club (and later a diamond rod) resting over his arm.[4] This unusual representation of Herakles is the same as the one on the back of Demetrius' coins, and it is exclusively associated to him (and his son Euthydemus II), seen only on the back of his coins.

Soon, the figure of the Buddha was incorporated within architectural designs, such as Corinthian pillars and friezes. Scenes of the life of the Buddha are typically depicted in a Greek architectural environment, with protagonist wearing Greek clothes.

Gods and Bodhisattvas

The Bodhisattva Maitreya, 2nd century, Gandhara.

The Buddhist gods Pancika (left) and Hariti (right), 3rd century, Takht-i Bahi, Gandhara, British Museum.

Deities from the Greek mythological pantheon also tend to be incorporated in Buddhist representations, displaying a strong syncretism. In particular, Herakles (of the type of the Demetrius coins, with club resting on the arm) has been used abundantly as the representation of Vajrapani, the protector of the Buddha.[5] Other Greek deities abundantly used in Greco-Buddhist art are representation of Atlas, and the Greek wind god Boreas. Atlas in particular tends to be involved as a sustaining elements in Buddhist architectural elements. Boreas became the Japanese wind god Fujin through the Greco-Buddhist Wardo. The mother deity Hariti was inspired by Tyche.

Particularly under the Kushans, there are also numerous representations of richly adorned, princely Bodhisattvas all in a very realistic Greco-Buddhist style. The Bodhisattvas, characteristic of the Mahayana form of Buddhism, are represented under the traits of Kushan princes, completed with their canonical accessories.

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Re: Buddhist ruins discovered in Taklimakan desert
« Reply #5 on: February 24, 2013, 06:50:08 AM »
Wonderful discovery! Thanks to the great emperors of the past who have created powerful causes that I believe,  China will become an incredible force and influence for the spread of Buddhism. China holds so much treasures of knowledge being a very old nation with multitudes of great minds. I am sure, if Buddhism couldn't withstand the challenge of these inquisitive great minds, the emperors would not have put in resources to building great halls of prayers and to house holy images. I am glad an attribute to the good karma of people in china that this site is discovered now that things are so progressive in China and not a few decades ago...perhaps it would have been destroyed.


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Re: Buddhist ruins discovered in Taklimakan desert
« Reply #6 on: February 24, 2013, 07:52:44 AM »
The spread of Buddhism in China
China recorded contact with Buddhism with the arrival of a Buddhist scholar, Bodhi Dharma, who travelled from India to China along with other monks in 475 CE. Bodhi Dharma introduced the teachings of the Buddha to the Chinese, who were influenced by the teachings. Buddhism and Chinese Taoism intermingled with one another, thereby resulting in the Ch'an school of Buddhism in China.

From the Central Asian kingdom of Kusha, in 148 BC, a monk named An Shih-kao, began translating Indian Buddhist texts into Chinese in Lo-yang, which later became the capital of the Han dynasty. During the next three decades, An Shih-kao and a number of other monks (mostly from Central Asia) translated about thirty Buddhist texts.


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Re: Buddhist ruins discovered in Taklimakan desert
« Reply #7 on: February 24, 2013, 10:12:37 AM »
How exciting!The ruins of a Buddhist temple dating back 1,500 years ago have been discovered in China's largest desert,offering valuable research material for Historians studying Buddhism's spread from India to China. After two months of hard work,Dr Wu Xinhua,the leading archaeologist of the excavation project,uncovered the temple's main hall,with a rare structure based around three square-shaped corridors and and a huge Buddha statue.The hall is the largest of it's kind found in the desert.
Judging from the layout of the ruins,and the artifacts uncovered at the site,it is believe,the temple dates back to the Southern and Northern Dynastries
The missing Buddha Statue,should be at least three meters tall,judging from the size of the pedestal.Mural paintings of items including Buddha's feet,Buddhists and auspicious animals,which are seldom seen after the sixth century.Some pottery kilns and ancient coins along with the ruins of several residential structures were also found.
The ruins are located in the South of the Taklimakan Desert,in the Tarim Basin,known as the Damago Oasis in the ancient Kingdom of Khotan,a Buddhist civilization believed to date back to the Third Century B.C.


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Re: Buddhist ruins discovered in Taklimakan desert
« Reply #8 on: February 24, 2013, 10:38:12 AM »
Buddhist religious activities in China had been recorded since 1st century AD in Chinese secular literature. Accounts of the introduction of the Doctrine into China were usually legendary in nature and not reliable as historical documents. In the early days, historians were not interested in religious affairs unless they had something to do with politics or were related to the government. The remarks were casual but without these few passages about Buddhism, there would have been no record at all about the beginning of the practice of Buddhism in China.

One of the earliest records of Buddhism in China is an edict of 65 AD which was quoted by the compiler of the Hou-han shu (history of the Han dynasty) about the Buddhist activities of Liu Ying, the "Buddhist" king of Ch'u. He was a Taoist who also observed fasting and performed sacrifices to the Buddha. This is evidence of the mixture of Taoist and Buddhist elements which is a characteristic of Han Buddhism.

Evidence of early Buddhist activities in China include:

1. a Buddhist centre and a prosperous Buddhist community in Peng-Cheng at the end of the 2nd century.
2. an important Buddhist centre at Loyang due to the infiltration of Buddhism from the North-West along the caravan route from Central Asia, passing through Chang An and Loyang.
3. Indian Buddhist terms were known and understood in court circles, eg. "upasaka" and "sramana" figure in the Hou-Han shu.
4. The first Buddhist scripture in the Chinese language was composed: the "Sutra in Forty-two sections". It was brought to Loyang by two Indian missionaries, She-mo-teng (Kasyapa Matanga) and Chu Fa-lan (Dharmaratna) and translated by the latter in 67AD.
5. The arrival in 148 AD of a Parthian missionary, An Shih-kao at Loyang
6. The White Horse Temple at Loyang was founded probably around 65 AD
(extracted from E. Zurcher's "The Buddhist Conquest of China", 1972)