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Mogao Cave 130 (High Tang 705-781AD)
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Figure 1: Maitreya, the Southern Giant Buddha (26m high)

    This cave contains a colossal Buddha statue (26m high) of Maitreya seated with pendent legs. It is made of clay stucco over a sandstone frame (Figure 1). It is also called the Southern Giant Buddha, to distinguish it from the Northern Giant Buddha of Cave 96. It is the third largest stone Buddha in the world.

According to archeological findings of 1979, this cave (including the corridor, the giant statue and the murals) was finished in the High Tang. In the Late Tang (848-906), two niches in the corridor and more statues were made, and a new layer of murals was painted. In the period occupied by the Western Xia (1036-1227), most of the murals were covered by yet another layer of new painting (the third, and top, layer), and a huge assembly hall leading to the main chamber was built. The remains of the assembly hall, 16m deep by 21m wide, were discovered in the 1979 excavation after the accumulated sand on top was cleared. Most of the tiles paving the hall are decorated in relief with an eight-petal lotus and corner motif, and are well-preserved.

    The statue of Maitreya is 26m high and his head is 7m high. This seemingly out-of-proportion construction was done on purpose so that the Buddha’s head would appear the right size to the people looking up at it. He has a round face, straight nose, thick lips and three round curved lines on his neck, symbolizing a prosperous person. His shoulders are round and stout. His robe hangs in smooth loops with curving drapery folds. The lower part of his robe and his right hand, in a Dispelling Fear mudra, were restored about 300 years later. His left hand rests naturally on his left knee, and it is called “the most beautiful hand in the world” because of its elegance.

Besides the giant Buddha, the cave is also famous for its huge area ofmurals,totalling 1,326 square metres of well-preserved paintings. Maitreya’s halo consists of three bands of complex floral scrolls and an outermost border of flames. Some suggests the palmette scroll was a new element introduced from Central Asia at that time.


Figure 2: Zaojing with embossed coiled dragon

    The zaojing (the decorated coffer) motif (Figure 2) is a gold-embossed coiled dragon encircled by four smaller dragons and bands of floral patterns, similar to those in the halo of the Buddha. The background is reddish-brown and the bands are turquoise. With the gold touch, it looks magnificent. This was the favoured design since the Late Tang. The golden dragon ceiling, which looks like bas-relief, was made using theli-fen-dui-jin technique in the Western Xia.

On top of the south and north walls are five apsarasflying horizontally with trailing sashes on clouds. Each apsara is about two metres long, making them the longest apsaras in Dunhuang.

Below the apsaras are two flanking Bodhisattvas sitting in the lalita pose on lotuses. They were painted in the Tang (one of them can be seen in Figure 1, next to Maitreya’s right hand). Although oxidized, the detailed depiction of their demure and elegant bearing is still distinct. They are 15m high, the largest painted Bodhisattvas in Dunhuang.


Figure 3: Lady Wang, south wall in corridor (replica)

    In the corridor on the south wall below the niche is a huge illustration of “Lady Wang Worshipping the Buddha” (Figure 3) painted in the High Tang and uncovered in the 1940s. In the painting, Lady Wang is leading her two daughters and entourage to worship. Only Lady Wang and her two daughters have inscriptions beside them. These women’s fashionable hairstyles and luxurious attire, as well as the articles carried in their hands, reflect the actual life of a magnate family. The other nine females are maids, as indicated by their smaller sizes and overlapped images, as well as the items they are carrying.

A portrait of Lady Wang’s husband, Yue Ting-gui, the then Chief of Dunhuang, is on the north wall. It is very blurred now, though the embossed inscriptions are still legible. This family was the main supporter of the last stage of the cave’s construction.

Originally, two statues of the Four Heavenly Kings stood at either side of the entrance. They have since been destroyed. Only the eight yaksa (demons) trampled by and under the Heavenly Kings’ supervision still exist. The realistic depiction of their muscles and different postures can still be seen.