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Culture news, 02.09.2004 12:22

Pranidhi: Wall Painting from Bezeklik Monastery

prahidni_buddhist_art 28 May, 2002 - ongoing

On 28 May, 2002, an exhibition of the 10th century big wall painting Pranidhi opened. It was restored anew by the Monumental Painting Restoration Laboratory of the State Hermitage Museum in 1999-2001.

The Hermitage has a collection of wall paintings from East Turkestan (now, Sinkiang Uighur Autonomous Region of the People's Republic of China) put together in the early 20th century by the first Russian expedition of Academician Sergey F. Oldenburg. One of the central pieces in this collection is the big painting Pranidhi (310 x 240 cm) from a court monastery of Uighur sovereigns whose state existed from the 8th to the 12th centuries and was one of the major powers in Central Asia in the 10th and 11th centuries.

The painting's subject was taken from numerous legends and a written source, Sutra of True Deeds, describing episodes from the earthly life of the historical Buddha Sakyamuni, wise man from the Sakya family. Pranidhi is a Sanskrit word meaning a mortal's ''vow'' to follow the Buddha's teaching; as an award for this he may become a Buddha (''Enlightened'') himself, endowed with the gift of ''Foresight''.

The center of the multi-figure composition is the Buddha standing on lotuses. The setting sun in his hair and the right hand's gesture mean he is the Buddha Amitabha, the Buddha of Endless Light, King of the West, Ruler of the ''Pure Land'' where souls of the dead are reborn. The Buddha's right hand with the conventional gesture of its fingers is lowered towards the figure of a man with the appearance of a Buddha kneeling before him.

The central personage in the composition's right part is the figure of a boy standing by the Buddha's feet, whose clothes resemble the garments of Central Asian Brahmins. The boy holds in his hands a tray with gifts.

Either of the composition's halves has its meaning. The left one symbolizes the ''granting'' of a request made by the man who ordered the painting (donator). This man became a Buddha by transcending the circle of rebirths due to his following the Buddha's Teaching. The right half expresses a hopeful request of the Buddha's patronage of the donator's descendants symbolized by the boy.

Pranidhi was painted with the use of templates usually employed when big wall paintings with many figures were executed. They however did not preclude the artist from applying his own hand. The templates may have been ordered from special artistic shops that obtained in Dunjuang since the 10th century; artists may also have come thence. The painting is distinguished by high professionalism, bright colors, skillful situation of figures in space and use of techniques characteristic of the Central Asian painting of the 10th-11th centuries.

Pranidhi showed in the State Hermitage Museum is a unique extant monument of Buddhist art (only two such compositions have survived to this day).

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