Dr. R.  Banerjee (Chinese and Central Asian Scholar)

Dr. R.  Banerjee


The Synthetic Nature  of Central Asian Art and Culture with special reference to Chinese Turkestan.


The most part of Chinese Turkestan is arid and inhospitable. It is surrounded on all sides by the mountains, on the north by the Tianshan, The celestial Asia from Tibet, on the east by the Nanshan and on the west by the mountain mass of Pamir. The redeeming feature of this region was that there flourished some oasis towns along the northern and southern edges of the Tarim basin and thanks to Buddhism and other cultural forces as well as the silk route trade which invariably passed through them made this region the meeting place of diverse races and peoples, the Greeks, the parthian, the Scythians the Yue-chis, the turks, the Chinese and the Indians and several others. The silk Road trade between China and the Roman world made it economically prosperous and rendered the migration of the people from one state to another, less strenuous or easy. Thus Central Asia became the centre of many civilizations, religious beliefs and art traditions.

Though various religions such as Buddhism, Zorastrianism, Manichaenism and Nestorian Christianity were invogue in this region, the contribution of Buddhism and the Indian elements which came here with Buddhism made the greatest contributions to the growth of Central Asian art and culture. This is amply revealed in the iconographic forms and art styles from various ancient sites of the Tarim basin, such as khotan, Dandan-uliq, Niya, kara khojo, Bezeklik, etc.

It is needless to state that Buddhism gave this region not only a highly organized religion but also a stable culture., With the growth of the Mahayana, movement buddhism and Hinduism came closer to each other. These two religions instead of being antagonistic were complimentary to each other as several iconographic forms and texts would show.

The archaeological wealth of Central Asia attracted the notice of European and other scholars during the late 19th and 20th centuries, of these ditinguished scholars the names of Sven Hedin, Sir Aurel Stein, Albert Grunwedel, A. Oldenburg stand preeminent.

The antiquities gathered by these scholars and explorers are housed in various Museums and Libraries of the world viz., The British Museum, London, The National Museum, New Delhi, Indische Kunst, Berlin, Hermitage, Leningrad and several other collections.

These antiquities reveal the cosmopolitan nature of Central Asian art and Culture and its iconographic forms and styles. Central Asian art was deeply influenced by the Iranian, Gandharan, Indian and Chinese art styles and traditions.

Buddhism was introduced in khotan in Central Asia for the first time by the Kashmirian monk Vairochana in about 100 B.C. The spread and popularity of Buddhism in Central Asia temples on the model of India. The temples and shrines of Rawak, Khotan an dits neighbourhood, Niya, Miran, Turfan (Bezeklik, Astan, Karakhojo etc.), Kucha, Kizil and Kashgar bear ample testimony to the Indian and buddhist influence in these places. Again some examples of composite Hindu-Buddhist art forms are provided by the double headed Buddha from Khocho, "Persian Bodhisattva" from Dndan Uliq, Indra from Balwaste and several other motifs which have been described by various scholars, like A.von Le Coq. Aurel Stein, etc.

In our research study we should discuss also the art and iconography of Dunhuang caves as Chinese Turkestan and Dunhuang were closely knit by cultural ties and interactions of art forms. Dunhuang holds a special place in the study of Mahayana Buddhist art and of Pure land Buddhism. No other Buddhist sites provide such ample illustrations of the Vaipulya Sutras and other Mahayana texts as Dunhuang caves do. Dunhuang provides also a gateway for the extension of Chinese art styles to Central Asia especially during the Tang dynasty.

The project will appropriately focus also on the enrichment of Central Asian art and Culture by Zorastrian, Manichaen and Nestorian doectrines. A von Le Coq discovered many speciments of beautifully illustrated Manichaen manuscript leafs and some paintings pertaining to Nestorian Christianity from the Turfan region.

Though much work has been done by the illustratious scholar as mentioned above, the material has to be restudied to throw new light on the composite fabric of Central Asian Art. The recent discoveries made by Chinese scholars in Xinijiang and Dunhuang have to be taken into account in true appraisal of the scope and nature of Central Asian Art. It may be noted here that Prof. Wang Bing Hua, Director, Xinjiang Institute of Archaeology made interesting discoveries in various parts of Xinjiang adding to our knowledge on the subject.

Though Buddhism and Buddhist art and iconography which spread from its homeland from (India) to China is well known in broad outlines, Their precise chronology and movement are yet to be worked out.


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