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Mogao Cave 61 (Five Dynasties 907-960AD)
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Figure 1: Central altar and west part of Cave 61

It is one of the largest caves (14.1m deep, 13.57m wide) in Dunhuang (Figure 1). Its gorgeous paintings are very famous for their size and majesty.

This cave is also known as the Manjusri’s Hall because it was devoted to him. His big statue was originally on the horseshoe shaped dais in front of a tall screen which rises all the way to the ceiling. The statue is now missing; the only thing remaining is the tail of his mount, a lion. Behind the altar, the immense panorama ofMount Wutai (Shanxiprovince), sacred to him, occupies the whole upper part of the west wall (Figure 2).  


Figure 2: Panorama of mount Wutai (13.8x3.8m), west wall

The painting is 13.8m long and 3.8m high. It depicts the landscape, activities of people, and more than 170 buildings including monasteries, stupa, and bridges with legible inscriptions (Figure 3). It corresponds closely with the actual site, making it a valuable historical record of an ancient map. Together with the illustrations ofjingbian, farmers, pottery makers, hunters, butchers, banquet and entertainment scenes of the contemporary life style are shown.


Figure 3: Mount Wutai (partial view), west wall 

Below the map is the illustration of Sakyamuni’s life story depicted in fifteen scenes, from his Birth to the Great Departure.

Ten out of the eleven jiangbian in this cave are very detailed. One of these illustrated narratives is the story ofPrince Good Friend, from theSutra of Requiting Blessing Receivedwhich presents the orthodox Confucian thought of loyalty and filial piety in the theme of Buddhist art. This sutra is believed to be composed in Chinabetween the 5th and 6th centuries to match traditional Chinese values. It started to appear in Dunhuang at the end of the Tang and was one of the most popular sutras during the Five Dynasties. One of its stories is same as the jataka tale of Prince Good Conduct in Cave 296.

The four slopes are decorated with the Thousand-Buddha motif and a border of identical preaching groups. All of these repeated images would have been executed with the aid of paper stencils bearing pricked outlines for easy transfer to the mural. A stencil of this kind kept at the BritishMuseum is very close in both style and general proportions to the designs in this cave.

This cave features the Four Devaraja (Heavenly Kings) depicted on the four lower corners of the sloping faces of its truncated pyramidal ceiling as guardians of the cave and devotees. Together with the processions of the donors painted on the walls in life size, they are the two main characteristics of the caves excavated in the Five Dynasties.

Another notable point is the frequent depiction of the debate between Manjusri and Vimalakirti on the east wall beside the entrance since the Tang dynasty. Vimalakirti usually occupies the place of honour on the left (southern side) because he was considered the protagonist since he reached enlightenment as a layman. However, in this cave and Cave 98 (constructed at the same time), their positions are reversed and Manjusri is on the southern side. From the mid-Tang on, the faith in Manjusri has been very popular, especially in Khotan, the ally of the then Dunhuang rulers. The Khotanese had very deep faith in both Manjusri and the Northern Heavenly King.

Portraits of donors increased in number and size in the Five Dynasties and the Song. When the local magnate Cao Yuan-zhong was in power, they supported the renovation of existing caves and the construction of new ones, including Caves 61, 98, 100 & 108. The Caos controlled the Hexi area for 122 years. They formed alliances with their neighbours (the Uyghurs and the Khotan), and the local elites, as noted by the inscriptions beside the portraits in the caves. Images of the family and their relatives are depicted in life-size or even larger.

The Caos’ female members were all painted with elaborate attire and jewelry. Even the make-up on their faces is still clearly visible today (Figure 4).


Figure 4: Princess of khotan (left), one of Cao’s wives, north side of the east wall (painted in the Song dynasty)


Figure 5: Zodiac signs (partial view), north wall of corridor

On the side walls of the corridor are the image of Tejaprabha Buddha accompanied by the Nine Luminaries on the south side, and the zodiac signs (Figure 5) with a group of monks on the north with Tangut and Chinese inscriptions. These paintings were added in the Yuan (1271-1368) when the antechamber was converted to “Huang-qingTemple” and restored in 1351. Tejaprabha Buddha is worshipped to dispel natural disasters which happened quite often during the years (1312-1313) when this mural was being painted. Also it is believed the planets are supervised by Manjusri, therefore these images are depicted in the Manjusri’s Hall.