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Author:by Lou Jie, Liang Xushu, and Huang Yuanwei Published:2014.3.25 Views:

A Buddhist banner is a kind of offering, derived from the banners used by honor guards of the nobility. Hung from a long bamboo stick, such banners consist of a triangular headpiece, a rectangular body made of one or multiple panels, and a lower end divided into two long streamers. They are held by the immortals, apsaras, or courtly attendants depicted beside a canopy or aureole. Since the Tang dynasty (618-907),Buddhists have used them as offerings when praying or making wishes, hanging them beside the Buddha in temples or caves.

In the worship of the Medicine Buddha, offerings of banners and lamps are very important. According to the scripture, one should offer a seven-tiered lamp or forty-nine lamps (seven for each of the seven Medicine Buddhas), raise colorful banners, and so on in order to get rid of bad luck, danger, or disease. Thus, many murals depicting Medicine Buddhas contain scenes of lighting lamps and raising banners.

1. Prayer banner

Tang dynasty, 725 ; Silk; 162 x 15 cm

Collection of the Dunhuang Research Academy, Z.0003

This banner has a red headpiece and seven square panels alternating in color, with side streamers at each seam (one is missing from the first panel). The headpiece and panels are made of two layers of thin silk, and the lower-end streamers are of raw silk.

The purpose of offering this banner is stated on the first panel of the body: “On the 14th day of the 7th month in the 13th year of the Kaiyuan period [725],I, Upasika [female lay Buddhist] Kang [originally from Central Asia], am offering a banner because of my eye disease. If I recover, I will offer one more to thank Buddha for his compassion.”

This banner is a very important source for studying the history of Dunhuang cave building, the culture of different ethnic groups, the Buddhist faith, ancient textiles and weaving skills, and so on.

2.Banner with floral appliqués

Tang dynasty (618-907), Silk; 78 x 9.5 cm

Collection of the Dunhuang Research Academy, Z.0002

The head of the banner is made of two layers of white thin silk. The body and tail are made of one whole piece of soft, thin silk which was folded twice and then stitched together. Eight eight-petaled silk flowers are attached to the deep blue silk of the banner.