In this serial, I would be trying to recapture some of the history and the glamour from this ancient past. Luckily for me, National Museum allows to take photographs of the exhibits. I was thus able to take snaps of the exhibits that impressed me most. We begin our tour with the ‘Aurel Stein collections’ from Chinese Turkmenistan or today’s Xinjiang..
Sir Aurel Stein, the foremost, amongst the archaeological explorers of the early 20th century, led three major expeditions to Chinese Turkmenistan (Presently known as Xinjiang) and western chinese areas around the great deserts of ‘Takala Makan’, ‘Lop-Nor’ and ‘Gobi’, during 1900-01, 1906-08 and 1913-16 . His expeditions were financed and supported by Government of India.
Sir Aurel Stein was born in Budapest, Hungary and was the youngest son of his parents. His brother, who was much elder to him, and his maternal uncle, groomed him and influenced his education so as to prepare him for a scholarly career in a university. He however, opted for a job in British India. Right from his childhood, he had a fascination for Central Asia and wanted to travel in the footsteps of ‘Alexander the Great’. His job in India introduced him to ancient Indian culture and he became interested in ‘Gandhar’ influence on early Buddhist culture. He felt that this ancient culture must have influenced the ancient silk route towns in China. During his expeditions,which were organized almost single handedly by him, he discovered large number of objects, artifacts, silk banners- books, Stuccos and Frescos from a wide area on the rim of these great deserts. His name became almost legendary in his times.In all Stein marched some 25000 miles across Central Asia, often in appalling conditions. He was festooned with international Honours, but to the Chinese, he was an imperialist villain who systematically robbed them of their history.
The places in China, from where Aurel Stein collected the antiques, is shown with yellow markers in this Google Earth image.
In all the three expeditions, one place which Sir Aurel Stein made a point to visit, was Khotan, a desert oasis, located on south west side of the great Taklamakan desert. In each of these visits, he found a wealth of terracotta and wooden figurines and objects. A small village called ‘Yotkan’ lies few Kilometers north-west of Khotan. Stein discovered many antiques here in a pit, which as Stein found out, was an abandoned gold mine famous for gold dust. At the New Delhi Museum, I found at least five beautiful exhibits from Khotan and Yotkan (a small village few KM away from Khotan.) area.
A Pilgrim’s water bottle.Stein describes this as “Terra-cotta bottle, shaped like pilgrim bottle, with short expanding neck and mouth, small handles tucked under spreading lip, flat base. Each side decorated with fully open lotus occupying whole surface ; two rows of petals with grotesque human head in centre. Bands of herring-bone pattern divide two sides. Surface coated with rich red glossy slip resembling quality of Samian ware. The grotesque is applied and has no slip over it. Very good work. 6” x 4- 3/4” x 3-3/8”. This bottle was procured by Stein from Yotkan gold mine area.
A Man with wine containerStein describes this terracotta fragment as “.showing a Bacchic(intentionally shocking) figure applique, of unmistakable Gandhara type, with wine-skin and rhyton (Vessel for drinking or pouring a drink) ; the handles with fine palmette(spread like a palm leaf) ornaments, Fresco of neck of terracotta vessel, with Bacchic figure appliqué. Pose of figure suggests atlas-like supporters found in Gandhara friezes (A decorative horizontal band). Seated on ground the figure has left foot planted with lower leg vertical ; right leg missing but probably bent and resting flat ; side of knee and ankle touching ground. Body inclined to right. Head , turned slightly upward towards long pendent object held up at arms length in left hand. Right hand at right side, grasps mouth of wine-skin. Upraised object probable a form of rhyton. Head of child. Bracelets, and a mark at neck, perhaps necklet, or edge of tunic. Head slightly weathered. 3-5/8″ X 2-1/8”. This item also obtained from Yotkan.
Next three exhibits are from collection of antiques by Mr. C. Hardinge, late British Vice-Consul at Kashgar in Xinjiang, acquired from one Badruddin Khan and generously presented by him to the museum in 1923.
Monkey carrying a bowlStein describes this as “Terracotta ornament, from pottery vessel. Grotesque monkey, modeled in the round, squatting on part of wall of vessel and supporting a small bowl on his head. The two arms upraised steadying the bowl. Treatment very stylized. Broad grinning sharp-cut mouth showing upper row of teeth ; eyes, just two punched rings with straight gash at inner and outer angle; nose flat. Fur on body expressed by widely spaced dashes. Figure would appear to have been placed on upper curve of vessel near mouth. Broken and mended, but part of small bowl missing. 6” X 4-1/8” ”
Buddha and AvalokitesvaraStein describes this beautiful carving as “Fresco of carved wooden panel. Buddha in Dharmachakra mudra, legs in padmasana, on lotus. This rests on high rectangular pedestal (or altar), covered by a cloth which has fringed edges outside plain narrow border and a field filled with lozenge diaper. Figure wears jewelled ornaments: on breast, a massive necklet; on arms, bands with daisy like flower and bracelets; otherwise only a loin cloth. High Usnisa(Halo like representation of a goddess) with wavy hair. Body halo treated with parallel very heavy wavy lines. To left a figure to smaller scale stands on lotus with reversed petals in three imbricated rows; has narrow waist, drapery from hips to ankles. Upper part nude except for stole and necklet. On head a low flat coronet. Projections at shoulders, like tops of wings, may he parts of stole. Curious nimbus, plain centre surrounded by rays which are excessively short above head and increase in length as they approach lower border. Figure has right fore hand raised in Abhaya-mudra. Left palm of hand down holding Aorta jug. Above this figure, hangs end of drapery from canopy (broken away). Above canopy an ornamental border of which small piece only remains. All above Buddha head and to right, broken away. Below, a band of five-petalled rosettes, dividing upper subject from lower. Lower portion all broken away, excepting canopy of overhanging formal leafy fronds, each terminating at their lower extremity in a six-petalled rosette. Musical instruments float in the air, of which a Veena, two drums, a flute and another instrument are distinguishable. Below and on a more recessed plane is upper margin of flame-bordered halo with field of radiations. Style recalls Gandhara relievos(relief carvings) . Split into two pieces now joined 13” x 4-3/4” x 7/8” ”
Head of a figureDescribed by Stein as “ Stucco relief fresco, burnt. Fresco of Gandhara figure. Legs and forearms broken away. Traces of pink paint. 4-1/2” x 3-1/2″.
Documents on wooden tablets in Kharoshti scriptDuring his first expedition in 1900, Stein came across the first of the two most important archeological finds made by him. He was investigating along bed of Niya river on the south west corner of Taklamakan desert. Here, he came across a ruin of a township, which had flourished during Silk route centuries. In this town, which was named by Stein as Niya ruins, he found in a rubbish heap, more than 200 numbers of inscribed wooden tablets of various shapes and sizes(mainly flat or wedge shape). Some of the tablets were single and some were found as pairs, tied to each other by rope. Most of the wooden tablets were inscribed with writing in an ancient Indian script known as Kharoshti script. The language used was early Prakrit. Most of the wooden documents are dated from early second or third century and contain official correspondence and records of various kinds, such as reports and orders to local officials on matters of administration and police, complaints, summonses, directions for the supply of transport, &c., to persons traveling on public business. Stein visited the Niya ruins subsequently in his second as well as third expeditions and came across even more number of such inscribed wooden tablets. Chinese traveler Xuanzang had claimed in his travelogues, that this region was conquered by Indians around 200 BCE and was ruled by them. Stein was able to find direct evidence at Niya, in form of wooden tablets, to support Xuanzang’s claims.
Buddha and Six MonksWall painting in Tempera (Tempera is traditionally created by hand-grinding dry powdered pigments into a binding agent or medium, such as egg, glue, honey, water, milk (in the form of casein) and a variety of plant gums.)
During his second expedition in 1907, moving along the southern rim of Takla Makan desert, Stein started excavations in an old Tibetan fort at Miran. About a mile west-north west of the ruined fort, Stein found a cluster of five ruined mounds. Curious appearance of one of the mounds with a well preserved dome, had Stein’s attention. This ruin turned out to be a Stupa with coloured Fresco panels all around, now in damaged condition. This particular fresco panel was found by Stein, lying on the ground and saved miraculously from destruction. Stein describes this Fresco panel in great detail as “ Fresco panel (incomplete) fallen in front of another Fresco panel. On left, is upper half of a Buddha, right hand raised as in abhaya-mudra, but with thumb bent inwards touching second joint of third finger (eighth on hand). Dr. Venis suggests that this may symbolize Buddha expounding ‘the eight-fold way’ or the eight Päramitas. Left hand low, probably gathering up drapery. Behind him are six disciples, in two rows of three. one above the other ; the nearest to him in upper row holding a yak-tail fan in raised right hand ; to right again of disciples, appears naked right arm, which grasps handful of white bud, or flowers, apparently in act of throwing. As background to arm appears part of dark conical (?) mass of black, covered with red and white flowers and poppy-like leaves in greenish grey ; and on extreme left is similar mass of black on which are scattered well-drawn leaves in grayish blue ; both are intended to represent trees. Background elsewhere vermilion, turning to pale buff between Buddha and disciples (paint probably lost); along top runs a black band.
Buddha wears dark purple-brown robe, covering both shoulders ; outlined black and lined with buff, which shows at turnover on left shoulder. Head of Western, slightly Semitic type, with high straight forehead and somewhat domed top; large well-opened straight-set eyes, partially covered by eyelids ; nose aquiline; short upper lip ; small curved mouth ; softly rounded cheeks and chin ; ears are elongated and pierced, and there is small mustachea and rippling lock before ear ; eyebrows nearly meet over nose ; left strongly arched ; hair in curves along forehead, receding at temples; usnisa (Halo like representation of a goddess) partly lost ; all hair black.
Flesh pale buff, flat on face, but with gray shading on arm ; contour lines rapidly drawn with broad brush in light red, and emphasized with lines of reddish-brown wherever a true outline is in question or strong outline of feature is required ; elsewhere (along sides of nose, line of jaw against neck and of forehead under hair, round ball of chin and for wrinkles in neck) the light red only is used, giving effect of rough shading but producing required effect at a slight distance. Eyes look slightly downwards under eyelid, and are painted like those of angels’ with white on eyeballs, brown on irises, and black for pupils and iris outline; behind head is circular halo of light buff bordered with red.
The disciples are of a strongly Western type, with decidedly hooked noses and fuller and more prominent eyes. Their heads are of a shorter and rounder type, and the method of painting is different from that of the Buddha. The colouring, however, is much stronger and cruder than that of the latter. All heads are shaven and are seen three fourth way to left; fig. on left in top row carries white cauri (A fan made from horse’s hairs) in right hand uplifted behind Buddha, and wears bright green robe lined with white, leaving right shoulder bare ; next wears bright red robe lined with white, covering both shoulders ; figure on left in lower row, light buff robe with folds indicated in red (right shoulder broken off); and figure at other end of row dark red robe covering both shoulders ; a hand of the latter appears at edge of fresco from inside of breast of robe, fingers clasping edge ; this figure also has two transverse wrinkles in forehead and heavy double-curved eyebrows meeting over nose ; ears are all pierced. The monotony of the heads is diversified by the difference of their gaze, some looking to their right, others straight before them, another more directly towards spectator and up under eyelids.
The flesh itself is painted in clear salmon or flesh pink, shaded with warm grey, and with high pink blush upon each cheek ; all outlines are red-brown, and the shaven portions of the flesh are also represented in grey ; the lips are vermilion. The white impasto of the eyes is particularly thick, catching real high lights.
The painting is of the same firm bold style as that of the dado, evidencing well-developed methods of producing a finished effect with economy of work. Colouring very fresh and surface well preserved. Painting size 3′ 3-1/2” x 1′ 10-1/2”. ”
Stucco relief human HeadDuring his third expedition in 1915, Stein visited ‘Miran’ once again. Near an old watch tower he discovered several mounds, not far from the eastern edge of the riverine belt of vegetation. The mounds looked like shapeless mounds of sun-dried bricks mixed with hard lumps of clay. In one of the mounds this life size head On that side, too, was found this stucco relief life-size head. Stein noted with interest the unusual treatment of the eyes and the peculiar arrangement of the hair in heavy tresses festooned over the forehead. He describes this specimen as “Stucco relief head, almost in the round ; probably Bodhisattva life-size. Finely modelled. Vigorous treatment of eyes, the inner angles of which incline inwards and downwards ; eyebrows well separated. Nostrils very narrow. Mouth small, sharply modelled, and with corners rather dropped. Face round at lower part, and under chin very full. Hair in heavy tresses, curtained over forehead, and with three tresses looping down each side ; ears covered. No orns. Part of neck preserved, but broken away. Broken and very brittle. Chin to crown 8-1/2”.”
Miscellaneous Household objectsEven though, not as vastly spread as Takla Makan desert , Lop Nor desert lies to east of it. This desert became famous later, when Chinese carried out their atomic explosions in this desert. Not far from the sites of these atomic explosions, Stein explored many ancient graves at Lou-Lan in 1907. Stein re-visited this site in 1915 and was guided to an ancient township similar to Niya, now completely engulfed by the over expanding desert. In this township Stein discovered many household items of daily use made from wood . Stein describes these items as “ Wooden comb with arched back and thick widely spaced teeth. Prob. Curry-comb. 3-1/4” x 3-1/4” x ½”; Horn spoon, with long curving handle, thickened towards upper end. Much eaten and twisted. Length of handle 5″, of bowl 2-1/4”; Wooden key with three pegs unevenly spaced. Hole through pointed handle. Good condition. 6-1/2″x 7/8” x 1-1/4” (including length of pegs).”
The figurine of a woman was excavated from a grave of a woman and Stein describes the figurine as “ Stone figurine of woman, found near head of female body. Made without limbs, but well carved and showing more detail. Long narrow head and face, with strong prominent nose, long pointed chin, straight eyes (hollows only), and straight groove for mouth. Narrow round cap, flat-topped, on top of head. Hair taken smoothly back, and done low behind in flat knot. No neck ; small pendent breasts, with narrow bands (shown by pairs of incised lines) crossing between them and at back. Double incised line also round waist. Excellent condition. H. 4-1/2″. ”
Fragment of figured silk, Sasanian styleWhile excavating Lou-Lan graves, Stein observed that fragments of original fabric that was used to wrap the bodies before burial was still intact in several graves. The fragments of silk fabrics were found to be printed with highly decorative designs. Stein notes here that the designs are similar to Sasanian’ (Persian) textile styles. This style usually has pairs of confronting animals separated by an emblem of ‘ the tree of life ‘. Stein describes this specimen as “Fragment of figured silk, with pattern of Chinese cloud scroll, suggestive of ‘ tree-coral ‘ formation, meandering across fabric. In the bends are alternately a flying duck with neck stretched down and head reverted, and a winged lion with massive open jaws and big teeth, striding to left, in yellow and green outlined red. Tree in yellow, red and green, outlined red and pale yellow. Chinese characters are dotted about, repeating in the length, and changing in the width. Ground dark blue. One edge has selvedge of yellow and bronze ; the other edges are tom or cut. Warp-rib weave ; colours brilliant and well preserved. 13″ x 6″. ”
The exhibits at the National Museum are absolutely fascinating. However I was equally impressed with the precision thoroughness and meticulous discipline with which Stein has recorded details of his finds.
Sir Aurel Stein began his 1906 expedition to Chinese Turkmenistan, or present day Xinjiang, again from Khotan and Niya areas, situated on the southern rim of Takla Makan desert. This time however, he was able to continue his journey further, along the southern rim. After investigating areas near old Miran fort again, he marched northwards and soon reached the areas of Lou-Lan on northern rim of Lop Nor desert. After investigating this area once again, he continued east words, to reach famous landmark caves of 1000 Buddhas, near Dun-huang oasis. I shall describe the rich haul, Stein obtained here, in the next part of this serial. Moving northwards, Stein reached the town of Hami and then turned eastwards along the foot hills of the Tian Shan mountains, towards Turfan-Chong-hissar (Present day Turpan). In this area, Sir Aurel Stein was able to investigate sevaral promising sites and could get a rich haul of artifacts.
Buddha in Dhyanmudra
Stein discovered this wooden Buddha statuette in a small enclosure, which appeared to have once existed around the ruined Stupa. The enclosure had lost its walls almost completely through erosion. But the sand had helped to retain layers of debris embedded inside the sand near the Stupa base and Stein found the wooden statuette in this debris. Dowels at its flat back and also the position in which it was found, suggested that it was once attached to the Stupa base,about 2-1/2 feet above the ground.
Stein describes this Buddha Statuette as “ Wooden statuette of Buddha, seated in meditation on three-tiered throne. Roughly carved, with front and sides only finished, and back flat for attachment to wall or other surface by dowels, some of which remain. An additional tongue-shaped piece of wood, prob. originally rising from base now lost, is pegged into corresponding hollow at lower part of back. Buddha has elongated ears, pierced, and usnisa (Halo). Folds of robe very conventionally rendered by series of semicircular grooves. The whole was originally painted, thick white slip and traces of red paint remaining in crevices, and traces of black on hair. Much cracked and surface worn. 11” x 6-1/2” x 3-7/8”.
Painted Head Stucco
This female Stucco head was found by Stein in this debris. He describes this antique as “ Clay stucco head, female (?) ; painted. Plump oval face ; straight, normal eyes, small nose (broken) and mouth ; delicate and rather weak chin. Eyebrows well arched ; hair in short close curls (?) over brow, long in front of cars. Tiara (broken). Hair at back in loose flat bands interlacing ; at top it is drawn high up like a plume, but coiled into tight roll, presenting volutes at the sides. Flesh pink, hair black. Type very Etruscan(An ancient Italian civilization). Stick projecting downwards from neck. 3-1/2″ x 2” x 1-3/4” ”
During his second expedition, Sir Aurel Stein investigated number of sites such as Kichik hassar and Shorchuk, which are in the vicinity of the Chinese town of Turpan. He however, did not investigate a major site during this expedition. Astana oasis is located directly south of the Turpan town. This oasis was directly on the silk route and was a very flourishing place. Stein came to know about a huge ancient grave yard nearby this village. In his third expedition, Stein excavated a large number of graves
in this cemetery, where people of the Turpan region were buried for a millennium. Although most of these tombs had been already plundered and robbed, the objects that meant the most to Stein, the silks encasing the corpses, remained intact. Unearthing of these ancient and beautiful silks, proved to be a fitting conclusion to Stein’s career. Besides these silks, Stein was able to discover wooden toys and few Stucco figures as well. Following five exhibits are enough the give an idea to the reader about immense value of these ancient objects.
Figure of a lady in wood
What is of special interest here are the remarks about the construction of the conical roof of the grave, which was very similar Gandhara and Kashmir temples. About the wooden figure itself, Stein says “ Wooden figure of woman ; roughly carved with slightly curved, flat arms, ‘leg of mutton’ shape, attached by wooden pins at shoulders and movable. Neck and back of head round, face flat with slightly projecting nose. Hair in high knob above, painted black and sloping backwards. Eyebrows and eyes black and not oblique, mouth a dab of red. Bust rectangular, skirt long in form of octagonal pyramid truncated at top. Painted white on all exposed surfaces, over which other colours. Sides of pyramid alternately red and green, the front being red and continued up in divided line to form edge to V-neck. Bust green ; red band round hips. No feet. Arms in transverse green and red stripes.Painting very rough and fragmentary. 9-3/4” x 2-1/2” x 3″. ”
Sasanian type figured silk from head cover
Stein has given detailed description of the piece of the cloth as “ Fragment. of figured silk,’ Sasanian ‘ (Persian) type, from head-cover. Portions of two medallions one above the other. Field and border rich green, interrupted by blue band of weft passing across junctions. In upper medallion (Like a medal ), two confronted eagles or cockatrices in red, with upraised wings and tails, the latter with six green spots outlined white and yellow. Heads thrown well back, and foliate crest balanced on beak and curved backwards. Angular treatment. As base are two reversed foliate (thin leaf like) scrolls. Border of closely set fleurs-de-lis (Like a lily flower ), outside which small pearls in white and yellow. A thin line surrounds subject just within fleur-de-lis border. Above cockatrices two small confronting animals (lions ?) with trophy on foliate base between them. Extreme upper part missing. Lower medallion confronting seated winged lions with foliate upraised tails , white and yellow, outlined red. Base, reversed foliate scrolls. Above, object not distinguishable, but a flaming jewel to right. Upper spandrel on red ground confronting running deer regardant (looking backwards) , blue with red spots and white antlers(Horns of deer) and outlines. Above and below a four-petalled yellow and white rosette with red centre and green outlines. Lower spandrel two confronting marching animals, perhaps sheep, without spots. Colouring as in upper spandrel but green heads, and rosettes as above. Horizontally the repeating medallions almost touch. Vertically a small square, yellow with red centre and blue outline, bridges the interval between. Drawing, design, and weaving very good. Colours very rich and splendidly preserved. Side half of lower portion missing and rough edges at this part discoloured and perished. As usual with this type of fabric, the colours are in successive bands, excepting the red, which runs all through. Consequently where outlines are not red they may suddenly change from white to yellow as they occur within the limits of one or the other colour band ; or, as in the case of some of the fleurs-de-lis, blue suddenly replaces green. The blue deer has one hoof green because it falls within the green band and beyond the limit of the blue. The weave is closer than usual and plain, with faint rib, suggesting transition between older warp-rib and twill. Probably Chinese work. 7-1/2” x 3-1/4”. ”
Ladies in garden, Silk Painting
He adds further about the painting as “ The object claiming most interest among the relics of this tomb is certainly the fine painting on silk, unfortunately surviving only in the form of numerous fragments. They are all extremely brittle, and only the exercise of great care made it possible to recover them safely, while clearing the sand from the floor of the principal chamber of the tomb. What position the painting had originally occupied it was impossible to determine. But the arrangement observed in the large piece, made it clear at the outset that the fragments belonged to a horizontal scroll.”
Stein describes the painting as “ Silk painting. Shows part of three compartments each about 21 inches in height and about 8-1/2 inches in width, divided from each other by strips of reversible figured silk. Left shows a small yellow table on which are traces of gilded objects, and beside it a portion of drapery, yellow, striped red. Central compartment shows right side of dancing figure in orange long-sleeved robe, right arm upraised ; crimson boots, now perished. right compartment, head and shoulders of female figure in dark crimson robe spotted white, white kerchief, and blue braces. In hair, which is dressed turban fashion, a large gold double-barred ornament at right side. Head 3/4” to left; Face. delicate pink, deeper on cheeks, small red lips, red crescent mark with stem at outer angle of right eye. Red A few thin hairs over ear. Left hand, raised to shoulder level, holds black object (toupee) with circular rosette (jewel) of gold red and pearls. A kind of palm-tree stem rises at back. To right place stands an attendant (page ?) in soft pink robe, spotted pink, to ankles, and black girdle from which depend six ribbons studded with pearls. Sleeve long and pendent, hands missing. Hair black, parted in centre and tied in large close bunches over ears. Face long Red stripe at right eye and spot on forehead. Shoes (small part only remaining) orange vermilion. All outlines black. To left, two small patches of orange vermilion drapery, spotted white. 23” x 15-1/4”. ” I found the ‘Bindi” like red spots on foreheads of both women in the painting, really surprising. The lady on right has a red spot, which looks like face of a bull, complete with horns. The other lady wears a diamond shaped red spot.
Fu -Hsi and Nu-Wa Silk Painting
Stein found this silk hanging with figures of Fu-Hsi and Nu-Wa in a coffin in one of the Astana tomb. While this coffin was being opened, the silk hanging fell down from the rough wooden pegs, by which it was fastened to the back wall, merely through the movement of the air caused by that operations. It fortunately fell on the cover of the coffin and hence suffered damage only in the bottom portion. The two figures of Fu-hsi and his consort shown in embrace and with entwined serpentine bodies here are shown with mason’s emblems in the hands and the constellations marked around them. Stein also notes that the width of the silk hanging is 17-1/2” which is quite different from standard textile sizes of han and Chin chinese. This may indicate non-Chinese manufacture.
Stein describes the silk hanging in details as
“ This silk hanging was still in its place on the back wall of the chamber, showing on ivory-coloured silk the coarsely painted figures of the legendary sovereign, Fu-hsi and his consort with their lower serpentine bodies entwined. Silk is now dark ivory colour, perhaps originally white. Subject, the legendary Emperor Fu-hsi with his consort, Nu-Wa, facing each other.The bodies rise from a continuous flounce-like short white skirt, and lean away from each other. Their two inner arms stretched stiffly and horizontally towards each other and fused into the appearance of one arm joining both bodies ; but the hand of each appearing under opposite armpit of other shows that they are embracing. Both wear close-fitting dull red tunics fastened down centre, with wide-mouthed elbow sleeves. Fu-hsi holds in his uplifted left. hand a mason’s square and two other objects not recognizable, but perhaps plummet and lines. Nu-wa holds in her right. uplifted hand a pair of compasses. Lower edge of their combined skirt is a perfectly straight horizontal line. From below of which issue two intertwined serpentine bodies, which coil round each other three times, and then open out into two simple tapering tails. Serpentine body is composed of parallel, longitudinal bands of white, black, red, and yellow, each band ornamented with dots or pearls of a contrasting colour, black, white, or red. Sometimes an undulating black line is used instead of pearls. Between heads is the sun disc, white with red spokes and outlined with red. Outside and surrounding it is a ring of small white discs, outlined red and linked by a single red line ; probably representing a constellation. In triangle formed by bodies and their fused arms, in the space between their tails, and down the two sides of the cloth are other constellations. The Great Bear is to the right. Flesh white with red shading, and red spots on cheeks and ear-like white strips beside face. Hair of Fu-hsi dressed high and smooth. On front, sloping downward and forward towards forehead, is a square white cloth (?), cross-hatched with black. Upper part of face and most of hair of consort missing ; but the top which remains suggests a three-lobed coiffure. Outlines all black, and most of the red has turned black, e. g. the spots on cheeks. Silk of fine close texture, but perished and ragged ; in three widths sewn together ; Bottom perished and missing. Painting width at top 43″, at lower end 33″.”
Clay Horses with riders
Stein found in one of the Astana graves, an anteroom, next to the tomb. He writes, “In the niche on the opposite side and in front of the tomb, there lay in confusion an assortment of figures of clay horses of smaller size, with figures of riders either still adhering to them or alongside. Careful representation of the saddlery of the horses is of special interest. It includes narrow high-peaked saddles placed on tiger-skin saddle-cloths and white Numdahs (embroidered special rug made in Kashmir and Xinjiang), with straps flowing from the back of the saddles, just as they appear in sculptures and paintings of T’ang times. Among other items of horse-millinery, notice may be taken of the elaborate decoration of the trappings with large tassels.’ The figures of the riders are with one exception, those of men, dressed either in scale-armour and pointed helmet of mail or in tight-fitting coats with high-lobed caps, and of the quasi-archaic dress of certain figures represented in scenes from Buddha’s life, The faces, though perfunctorily modelled and painted, are of unmistakably Chinese type,”
Stein describes this Clay figure of man rider as, “ Head and body moulded on pointed stick core, which passed below into hole in back of horse, fixing rider upright in saddle. Legs moulded without core in convex curve, flat on inside, to grip sides of horse, but now broken from body. Arms (so far as preserved) straight by side, but broken off above elbow.Dressed in tight-fitting vermilion coat reaching to knee and black top-boots edged with white. Skirts of coat sprinkled with spot rosettes in brown. Hair short, black. Cap close fitting, red at lower part in front, passing into narrow red band at back above lower edge of cap, which is of the high-lobed crown type, with red bow in front. Lobe is cleft in front. Face painted pink, with black for eyes, eyebrows, moustache, and small beard ; crimson on lips. Features rather perfunctory. Head broken from body, and general condition somewhat worn. Height 10-1/4”.
Clay horse, painted white and in good condition. Left foreleg extant but broken off. Head turned to Left. Tiger-skin Numdah(embroidered special rug made in Kashmir and Xinjiang) , and green saddle with five hanging straps indicated on near side and four on off side. Black headstall and trappings with orange tassels ; orange and black mane ; black hooves. Mark of clay tail, broken off. Height 10”.”
Stein’s detailed description follows as “Clay Figure of man rider, arms lost from above elbow and legs broken from body. Coat pale yellow ; boots or shoes black ; leggings from ankle to knee white with dot and circle decoration in black. Black stirrup-leather passing down front of legs, and pale yellow stirrup. Vermilion bow and band round cap ; but vermilion band down to lower edge of cap at back. Fair condition. Height 10-1/2”.
Clay horse painted blue ; Near hind leg and tips of ears missing ; otherwise in good condition. T’ang type, broad chested with slim legs, full body, large rounded hind quarters, thick arched rather short neck, and small head. Latter turned slightly to right. Fetlocks painted white, and hooves pale blue ; triangular white patch on forehead ; hogged mane and forelock painted black ; tail missing. Tiger-skin saddle-cloth in vermilion and black over white Numdah (embroidered special rug made in Kashmir and Xinjiang) ; black saddle with high pointed front and somewhat lower rounded back. Saddle unpainted where covered by person of rider, and with hole in middle for insertion of stick core. On both sides of saddle-cloth and issuing from back of saddle five black lines representing flowing straps. Headstall and single rein (which is attached to throat-lash) painted in black. No girth shown, but narrow black breast-band and crupper painted in black and decorated with groups of three white spots from which hang vermilion tassels. Four sticks, forming core of legs, project 1″ below hooves for fixing horse in ground. Height to crown of head 10-1/4”.”
During his second expedition, Aurel Stein wanted to explore the region in the north east of Tarim river basin and left the town of Turpan and proceeded in the south-west direction. His new destination was the town of Kala-shahr. Stein had a particular interest in this destination as Chinese traveler Hsueng Tsang had traveled on this route and had described the village of Kala-shahr in his travelogue. This region, because of the availability of water from tarim river, was ideal for cultivation and was always inhabited since ancient days.
On December 12, 1906 , Stein left Kala-shahr, towards a little village of Shorchuk, situated about 16 miles in the south-south westerly direction. He camped at the village and visited on the same day an extensive collection of Buddhist shrines situated about 4 miles to the north. The group of shrines was called as ‘ Ming- Oi’ or thousand houses by the local Turki speaking Muhammadans. ( Uighur people)
The site, which from the north-west is approached to within three miles or so, consists of the scattered ruins of about hundred shrines. From the north-west side of the ruins, some of the best Stucco relief figures, exquisitely crafted in true Gandhara styles, were brought back by Stein and can be seen at the New-Delhi Museum. In particular, the cella (Inner chambers) of the temples proved to be a rich mine of stucco relievo remains of greatly varying types and sizes. They turned up here almost all in a burned condition, and obviously owed their preservation to the hardening consequent on a conflagration(Uncontrolled burning). On the other hand, as a result of this process, only a few out of hundreds, retain traces of their original polychrome painting. The total absence of remains of large statues or of image bases makes it clear that the decoration of the temple must have consisted mainly of relievo (reliefs) friezes ,(a long and narrow band of sculptures) covering its walls.
Bodhisatva stucco relief figure
Stein’s description of this stucco relief is as follows “The form and face is soft and feminine. The face is full and round, with fat creased neck, small chin ; lips small, full, and bowed ; nostrils small and sharply cut ; corners of mouth deeply dimpled ; nose forming straight line with forehead, narrow-bridged and sharp ; eyebrows long, narrow, and arched ; eyes prominent, continuing curve of forehead, but hollowed towards nose, with broad lids almost dosed, only a narrow slit of the eyeball showing. Ears are elongated, the lobes hidden by jewelled disc ear-rings with beaded borders. A linen turban encircles the top of the head tinier, and from this ring rises a fan-shaped top-knot ; the hair proper comes out from the side of this over the right ear, is twisted and carried back through the turban, and the end escapes loosely over the left ear. The head is set at an angle on the body. Body being draped. Clay plastered on to denote close-fitting tunic looped from right shoulder under left arm ; beaded bands over this with double rosette at crossing point. From right shoulder a heavy cloak came down, hiding right arm to wrist, and probably crossing body at waist. Body broken above waist, left arm at elbow, right arm at wrist; most of drapery missing. Head-dress above fillet, and rosette from right ear gone Height 9”. Figure is moulded in finely levigated soft muddy clay, reddish drab in colour when burnt; the moulding was hollow and the separate parts were held together by a core of similar clay strengthened by bundles of wood or reeds running up the centre. All have been accidentally burned.”
Assorted Stucco human heads from Ming -OiThis is a collection of few stucco reliefs found by Aurel Stein at Ming-Oi Shrines. His description follows.
“Devata. -Stucco relief figure, feminine. Face round and soft with ear rosettes and head-dress (all above fillet missing) of usual type. Fully draped. Outer garment has pointed corset below breasts and is suspended by shoulder-straps having short sleeves attached ; below this, close round neck, is tunic with heavy border and pleated sleeves reaching to elbows. Probably there was a cloak behind the body. Height 5-1/4”
Bust of Devata -Stucco relief figure. Broken at hips, and arms at elbows. The two locks of hair at back of bald head do not here hang down, but are tied up in knot at side of head. Tiny end of right-hand lock missing, left-hand broken short. H. 6”.
Laughing woman – Stucco relief head of old woman laughing, lobe of left ear, most of rosette on right, and head-dress above fillet missing. Chin to crown 2-1/2”.
Head of bearded man – Stucco relief figure of Gandhara style , architectural. Fixed at corner of roof of building as a tassel pendants ( a dangling ornamental figure) from frieze ( a long and narrow band of sculptures) of building.
Head of a warrior - Stucco relief head of warrior. Plume and ears missing. Surface poor, colours faint. H. 6”.Face has fierce expression well rendered; highly arched black eyebrows are drawn down and in at their inner corners, making vertical furrows in forehead and a ridge across root of nose. Eyes prominent with heavily marked lids, black lashes, and round protruding black eyeballs; nose slightly aquiline with sharply cut nostrils; mouth small and curved, full, with prominent hanging lower lip; chin cleft. Face a rather long oval, On head a close-fitting helmet, of lacquered leather plates fitted with crest and cheek.pieces ; a narrow plate hangs from rim down forehead to root of nose. Rim of helmet plain ; three diminishing rows of plates, whose curved overlapping edges run right to left from front medial (middle)line, round helmet off to solid ring from which a bevelled(meeting at an angle) boss rose to form base of crest. Over the temples came cheek-pieces, which were apparently continued round back of head. They were formed of two horizontal bands each containing two rows of leather scales, bordered and divided by plain rims ; the plain border with a certain amount of scale-armour was continued under chin and united with gorges(throat). ”
The Caves of the 1000 Buddhas
The last group of artifacts covered in following paragraphs are perhaps the most important. At the caves of the 1000 Buddhas, near Dun-Huang oasis, Stein perhaps stumbled upon his greatest discovery ever. Here he bribed Abbot Wang, the leader of the monastic group in charge of the caves, and smuggled away thousands of manuscripts written in Chinese, Sanskrit, Sogdian(ancient civilization in Iran), Tibetan, Runic Turki(Ancient alphabet: called Turki for unknown reasons) and Uighur. Among these manuscripts were rich Buddhist paintings and the world’s oldest printed document, The Diamond Sutra, from 863 CE.
Embroidered Silk hangingAurel Stein has described this as “Remains of embroidered silk hanging (9), of dark greenish-blue silk gauze backed with fine indigo plain silk. Very bad condition. Complete design now irrecoverable, but was an all-over pattern of birds, butterflies, and flowers on a small scale, in naturalistic Chinese style. It is worked through both gauze and silk in satin-stitch; chiefly in buffs, yellows, and terra-cotta, with green and white. Gauze of open lozenge(diamond or rhombus) weave, sewn to backing in strips of 3” wide at top and widening to 6”; but direction of gores reversed in right and left parts of hanging, so that whole preserves roughly rectangular shape. 4′-10” X 3′-4”.”
Paradise of AmitabhaLarge silk painting with Chinese inscriptions, representing the Paradise of Amitabha.
Mahayana Buddhism believes in the Triad of Buddha Amitabha, The Buddha of Infinite Light; Avalokiteshvara, The Bodhisattva of Compassion; and Mahasthama-prapta the Bodhisattva of Great Wisdom. Buddha Amitabha is belived to have created his Pure land or paradise. In this painting, this triad is shown seated in this pure land. Aurel Stein describes this painting as, “ Without side-scenes, but evidently complete except for border, and in good condition. Though retaining the lake and front terrace, this Paradise is unlike others in composition, and drawn in freer style. Inscriptions refer only to details in pictures, and give no date. Amitabha, Avalokitesvara, and Mahasthama-prapt, appear seated on stiff, very- ornate, lotuses rising directly from a tank ; beside each of latter stand two attendant Bodhisattvas on smaller lotuses. These are the only figs. in upper two-thirds of picture, and the attendant groups are placed at some distance from the Buddha. Amitabha closely draped ; both shoulders and arms covered ; his legs loosely locked, with feet showing on ground. His right hand is in vitarka-mudra, left hand mostly destroyed, but at breast, pulling together his mantle and perhaps holding lotus bud. On either side of him is a carved and decorated post topped by flaming jewel; behind rise stems of two red-flowering trees (also conventionally decorated) supporting canopy ornamentation. with floral scrolls.
Similar trees carrying many-tiered canopies rise over two Bodhisattvas, who sit with legs locked and feet invisible: Avalokitesvara on left with hands in adoration ; Mahasthama on right, left hand upright in salutation, right on knee but upright as in abhaya-mudra. The attendant Bodhisattvas have their hands in attitude of argument or adoration, and one beside Avalokitesvara, a specially graceful figure, holds also scarlet lotus. At back is a wall of many-coloured marbled blocks, bounding the lake ; behind rise two bamboos. Air above scattered with seated Buddhas descending on clouds, souls in form of naked infants floating with outspread stoles, and beribboned (adorned with ribbons)musical instruments—harp, lute, flute, and drum. Two Apsaras, sweep down on either side of Amitabha’s canopy. On the lake, swim pairs of ducks, the emblem of happiness, and oval lotus buds rise enveloping infant souls.
There is no altar, no dancer or musicians, no mansions, and no subsidiary Buddhas ; but a sacred vessel is borne on lotus rising from water before Amitabha, and small Bodhisattvas holding scarlet and blue lotuses kneel on either side. In front of them again, on wooden raft or platform level with water, are grouped a two-headed Garuda, crane, peacock, duck, and phoenix.
Whole foreground filled by terrace on which appear Bodhisattvas, a pair of half-naked infants, flaming jewels on lotuses, and even the donors on an unobtrusive scale. The Bodhisattvas are only four a side and well spaced. They have no distinctive attributes, but sit with legs half unlocked and hands in attitude of argument or adoration. The infants, almost as large as they, are by rail in foreground, one advancing slowly, other dancing or running, and both holding flowers or berries. Their heads, like those of the infants in sky, are shaved except for two-lobed tuft of hair over fore. head and one over each ear.
In the middle a large blank panel for inscription, in slab form with arched top; the donors kneel on mats on either side, a woman alone on left, two men on right. The woman wears plain brown pleated skirt high under arms, red-flowered buff jacket with long close sleeves, and greenish fiche or shawl gathered closely on the breast. Her hair is done in knot on top and quite plain. The men have long belted coats, and small peaked and tailed caps. Between lotus-buds on lake and on Garuda raft, are short cartouches with Chinese inscriptions; a blank cartouche(figure enclosed in an ellipse) is beside each donor. Inscriptions by the birds are illegible, but the eight beside the lotuses describe the rest taken by the soul in its new life. Nine would have completed the series as set forth in the Amitayurdhyana-sutra, part III, which the painting apparently illustrates.
The quiet and coolness of colour and the emptiness of background give an effect of air and space which is lacking in formal crowded Paradises. Naturalness of effect is increased by unobtrusiveness of the haloes, which are transparent and often shown only in black outline, and never by solid discs or successive solid rings of colour. The figures are generally graceful and dignified, the drawing rapid and free, but rough in detail. Size 5′-3” x, 5′ 6′. ”
Paradise of Amitabha with Legend of VaidehiThis large silk painting is another version of the Amitabha’s (or Sakyamuni) pure land or paradise with side-scenes showing legend of Ajatashatru and meditations of Queen Vaidehi on Sukhavati. Incomplete top and bottom, but remainder intact and in good condition. Aurel Stein describes this painting as “ The presiding Buddha has right hand in vitarka-mudra, left hand lying in lap. Two chief Bodhisattvas sit in ‘ Enchanter’s Pose ‘, with one leg pendent and one bent ; the one on left with right hand before breast, thumb, second and third fingers joined, and left hand erect on knee with three fingers extended as if in blessing ; the one on right has right hand in vitarka-mudra, left hand on knee in bhumisparsha-mudra. Between each of them and the Buddha sits a youthful disciple(?), in under-robe, mantle, and necklace, with black hair short over his head but falling in Bodhisattva-like locks behind his shoulders. and ornaments of all Bodhisatwas are of ‘ Indian ‘ type, with narrow scarves only across breast and narrow stoles leaving most of body and arms bare. The musicians’ dress the same, but their features are here of masculine type, their expression realistic, and their hair like that of disciples on either side of Buddha. Dancer completely attired in crimson robe reaching born elbows to ankles, with copper-green girdle and elbow frills, orange under-sleeves, and bronze-bound orange collar. The musicians play on clappers, pipe, flute, and reed-organ (or wu, teapot-shape). Of the Buddhas in bottom corners only head and shoulders remain, and of lake only small part, in which scarlet and orange lotuses, but no infants. Workmanship good, and colour in good condition. It consists chiefly of usual crimson and dull green, with some blue on altar and stoles and robes of side-scenes, and is enlivened by plentiful copper-green on trees, haloes, and ornamental vesicas and Padmasanas of central trio; but the latter much worn. Floor of main terrace dull brown ; no black except in hair of minor figures. (In this case hair of central triad light blue, painted over light green which now alone remains ; their eyes ob’ique with thickly painted whites ; their flesh yellow shaded with red. Flesh of other figures white shaded with pink.) Side-scenes represent on right, legend of Ajatashaatru, on left, meditations of Queen Vaidehi. 3′- 3” x 3′-8”.
Avalokitesvara in Vitarka-mudraVitarka-mudra is a gesture of discussion or transmission in Buddhist teaching. This Silk painting representing Two-armed Avalokitesvara (Kuan.yin) or The Bodhisattva of Compassion is shown seated, with attendants and donors. Aurel Stein describes this painting as “Painting considerably broken and surface worn ; border of dark purple linen with suspension loops of red and yellow silk complete ; but linen on lower edge replaced by purple silk damask with rosette pattern.Avalokitesvara sits with legs in adamantine pose on lotus with scarlet and purple-tipped petals ; right hand in vitarka-mudra at breast, holding long-stemmed scarlet and white lotus between finger and thumb ; left supporting flask at shoulder level ; Dhyani-Buddha on front of tiara.No flame border on vesica ; Bodhisattva’s hair slate-blue, and flesh shaded only with pale pink. Flask a stoppered one of usual shape with short spout seen from front but without ornamentation and painted also blue.On either side below stands a man holding roll of paper. These wear Chinese official dress—long wide-sleeved scarlet jackets and white under-robes standing up round neck and trailing on ground about their feet. Their coiffure is unusual, hair being done on top of head in two blunt upright horns, slightly concave in front, and topped by gold boss ornaments.Donors below kneel on either side of central panel (blank) for dedicatory inscriptions., two monks on right, two nuns on left. Monks wear crimson and yellow under-robes, and black mantles lined with same colours covering left shoulder ; their shaven heads are painted black. Nuns seem to wear women’s girdle and under-bodice crossed over on breast, with olive-green robe over this, and on top wide- sleeved black coat, lined with crimson and covering feet ; but exact make of their garments is not clear. Their faces, however, are painted white (mostly lost) with vivid red cheeks characteristic of women in these paintings. Their features are soft and rounded though of monkish cast, and their shaven heads are painted light blue. The foremost donors hold respectively censer and flask, and those behind scarlet lotuses on platters. Blank cartouche for inscriptions is placed before each. 2′ 11” X 2′- 3-1/2”. ”
Eleven Headed AvalokitesvaraStein describes this painting as “Silk painting representing Eleven-headed and Sir armed Avalokitesvara (Kuan-yin), seated, with attendants and donors. Narrow border of brown silk preserved ; painting almost intact and in fairly good condition. Padmasana rises from small tank; no altar. Upper hands, left and right, hold up symbols of Sun and Moon, former containing three-legged bird; latter, tree, frog, and hare. Middle hands in vitarka-mudra on either ride of breast, holding each, between thumb and forefinger, spray of pink and white lotus. Lower hands placed palm to palm, pointing downwards, before lower part of body ; thumb bent and touching, fingers extended and meeting at tips. Flesh deep pink shaded with orange-red ; same colouring used for seven Bodhisattva heads on top, while heads in profile are respectively yellow and dark olive-green, and Dhyani -buddha’s head yellow with red cheeks.Attendants consist of fourteen small Bodhisattvas seated or kneeling seven a side, with hands mostly in pose of adoration and with no distinctive emblems, and of four Lokapalas ranged in row in background. Small seated Buddhas on clouds fill upper corners. The Kings are of ferocious aspect, with grotesque eyes and bright red complexions.Four of Bodhisattvas have shawl-like stole, opaque under-robes, and white girdles ; rest like Avalokitesvara wear Indian variety of Bodhisattva dress ; flesh of all deep pink like his. This pink, dull crimson, and dark green and grey form practically whole colouring of picture ; though vesicas and haloes show traces of pale blue now almost entirely lost. Avalokitesvara’s ornaments are painted entirely in dark green, and were perhaps originally. gilded over this. Jewellery of attendant Bodhisattvas is red-brown picked out with yellow and black. Work throughout rather rough. Lower end of painting contains central panel (blank) for dedicatory inscriptions and eight kneeling donors, four men on right, four women on left, with a narrow cartouche, also blank, before each. This end of painting, however, much worn, and figures. hardly distinguishable. 3′-6” x 2′ 3′. ”
The rich haul of paintings, which Sir Aurel Stein was able to collect from the caves of the 1000 Buddhas, represents the great cultural traditions of the people along the silk route. These paintings also show the tremendous Indian influence on the arts of this region. Here are few more fine works of art, which have been displayed at the National Museum, New Delhi.
Bodhisatva ; Painted silk banner
Stein describes this banner as “Upper end with head-piece and side streamers lost ; three bottom streamers (out of four) preserved, of faded light green silk ornamental with flower and leaf motifs in black paste. Painting slightly cracked, otherwise in excellent condition and very clean. Stands three fouths to left upon two lotuses, hands clasped before breast with thumbs (?) and first fingers interlocked, and remaining fingers of right hand folded over left ; but dress different, consisting of under-robe and large mantle like Ksitigarbha (Bodhisatva of hell beings), etc. Bodhisattva coiffure and all Bodhisattva jewellery are here, however, retained. Face carefully drawn ; with minute curling moustache and imperial in black, urna ( red dot on forehead) in red, and inside of ears (pierced but hardly elongated) in same. Under-robe falls in loose folds about ankles ; jewellery comparatively simple, tiara consisting only of white fillet with branch ornament in centre supporting two crimson lotuses with blue centres ; and tasselled ores. at ears.
Colouring very bright and exceptionally fresh; mantle brilliant crimson, barred with black as in “Ch. i. o03, and lined with ultramarine blue; under-robe pea-green bordered with dark pink and lined with scarlet; and same colours repeated in halo, canopy, and jewels. Lotus under right foot has double row of petals, shaded and outlined with dark pink ; that under left has single whorl of curling petals, coloured light green or blue on outer edge, dark pink or orange within, and light blue or green in centre ; bands of colour divided by narrow black and white lines; upper-side of one petal corresponding to upcurled underside of next. Yellow cartouche (ellipse indicating text within) for inscription to left of head, blank. Workmanship carefully’ finished throughout. Painting 2′-1” X 6-7/8”, length with streamers 5′-1″ ”
Thousand armed Avalokitesvara
This is a very large silk painting with Chinese inscriptions, representing Thousand-armed and Eleven-headed Avalokitesvara (Kuan-yin), seated, with attendant divinities. Stein has described this painting in great details as “Complete and in good condition, with brown silk outer border and inner painted border of continuous lozenge pattern. Background in lower half of picture has green to represent lake, from which Avalokitesvara and his attendants rise on clouds of dark purple vapour. That of upper half is light blue for air, in which hang small groups of attendant Buddhas on clouds, white, green, and red, and jewelled crimson canopy of central figure. Inscriptions in upper half are mostly legible, and allow the following figures to be identified : in upper corners, right and left respectively, small Bodhisattvas of Sun and Moon. Horses and geese do not appear, deities being seated on lotuses; but their distinctively coloured haloes remain—Sun’s orange-red, Moon’s white. Buddhas of Ten Quarters of Three Worlds (past, present, and future), a group of five seated on each side of Avalokitesvara’s canopy. Below comes main group of attendants, standing, four armed Kings on each side, and beneath each quartet a dignified figure in Chinese official dress but haloed, holding long-handled fan and attended by two boys. The inscriptions show these to be: Kings in upper row., on right Virupaksa and Virudhaka; on left Vaisravana and (viii) Dhrtarastra ; armed figures below, on right gods earth(?), on left gods of fire (?); personages in official dress, on right Brahma, on left Indra. Inscriptions in two latter cases at least were added after painting was finished. Brahma has square black head-dress like magistrates, and typically long narrow Chinese heard, moustache, and whiskers; Indra has coiffure and tiara of Bodhisattva. Boys wear long white under-robes and wide-sleeved crimson jackets ; hair tied in two bunches on top of head.In centre foreground a large draped altar, with sacred bronze vessels. In lake behind it stand two small Nagas , supporting each with upraised hand purple cloud on which rises white disc enveloping central figure. Nagas here are in armour like Lokapalas of banners, and bear no emblems of their serpent origin. On either side of altar, stand with hands in adoration on right white-bearded Sage, on left ‘Nymph of Shining Virtue’. Nymph wears Chinese women’s dress and coiffure-like head-dress. Lower corners arc filled by usual demonic ‘ fire-headed’ Vajrapanis, brandishing customary emblems, against background of flame; but that on left is almost entirely destroyed. Inscriptions relating to last six figs. are almost illegible. As regards workmanship, painting is not absolutely of finest quality, but with its still vivid pink, blue, and deep purple, and luminous white disc enclosing central figure, forms striking piece of colour design. Size 5′- 11” X 4′ 3”. (Inscriptions read by Mr. Yabuki.) ”
I consider this painting as one of the master pieces of the New Delhi Museum.
Avalokitesvara Silk Painting
Stein describes this painting as “Large silk painting, with Chin. inscriptions, showing upper part of Avalokitesvara (Kuan-yin), evidently standing, without attendants. Painting considerably broken and surface damaged, but fine example of ‘Indo-Chinese’ style of Bodhisattva. Workmanship of same graceful and refined quality. Shown with gentle inclination of body to left shoulder. But latter line here counterbalanced by pose of head, which is leant over right shoulder, the eyes looking down and backwards, to left. Of willow spray in right hand only few hardly intelligible lines remain. Halo of plain circular rings of dark olive, red, and white; remains of canopy visible above. Instr. in 5 IL on large cartouche on R. 2′ 5-1/2” X 1′ 11-1/2”. ”
Avalokitesvara Painted on cotton fabric
Painted linen banner, retaining headpiece border of brown linen, but no streamers. Clean and good condition. Subject: Avalokadvara (?), standing facing spectator, with hands in adoration. Colouring dull crimson, grey, slate-blue, and green. 3′ 3” (with head-piece) X 1′ 1”
Part of illustrated and dated Chinese book, containing representations of Four Lokapalas. Date given in text, A. D. 890. Only five leaves are preserved : last two of text, single, written on each side, and containing respectively 9, 9, 5, and 8 lines of Chinese characters. In detail the chief characteristics of the figure is as follows. Vaisravana, Guardian of North. Right hand holds halberd (A double edge axe like weapon), Left a miniature shrine. On head three-leaved crown. Wears no corslet (defensive armour), but tight-fitting coat of mail (chain armour); scales shown on body and skirts by star-shaped conventional diaper, on shoulders oblong. Attendant carries indistinguishable bottle-shaped object in right hand, and has head enveloped in wild beast skin, mouth and paws framing face. Colours chiefly red, green, slate-grey, yellow, and brown ; torn at edges of leaf, but condition otherwise good. Size of leaf 5-3/8” X 5-1/8”.
Clay relief plaques depicting monks seated in various poses
After Stein’s first visit to the caves of the 1000 Buddhas, the self proclaimed Abbot of the shrine of 1000 Buddhas, Wang Tao-shih, was much impressed regarding value and importance of the artifacts from these caves.as he managed to make a sizable profit. Afterwords, he removed many small relievo plaques in stucco from the walls of the caves and kept them separately in a store room with him.
This is a collection of four figures of monks , seated with different poses.
Button like small clay reliefs.These were given by the Abbot to Aurel Stein as a gift to mark his cordial feelings.
These small plaques were given as votive (offered in fulfillment of a pledge) and are circular or pear-shaped and only about two inches wide. They are made from moulds and material used is unfired clay and show a Buddha seated in dhyanamudra with Stupas by his side or behind. Brähmi characters appear on all these little reliefs.
This brings to an end the the description of the wonderful collection at the National Museum, New-Delhi. This listing is by no means inclusive of all the items from the Aurel Stein collection with the Museum. I have listed some of the items which were on exhibition on the day I made my visit and those I could photograph.
For any person interested in the culture of the Silk route and the profound impact of the Indian culture on this a visit to the national Museum in New-Delhi is a must.