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Celestial figures surrounding the caisson ceiling

(Please click for enlarged image)

Mogao Cave 249
Western Wei period
Copy by Shi Weixiang, Huo Xiliang and Guan Youhui

This cave has a truncated pyramid ceiling with murals painted on the four slopes. These murals are notably the most characteristic among murals painted on similar ceilings at Dunhuang. The principal slope (west slope) and the front slope (east slope) are respectively painted with Asura Lord and the Mani Pearl, both being Buddhist themes. The right slope (north slope) and left slope (south slope) are respectively painted with the King Father of the East and Queen Mother of the West, both being immortals in Chinese mythology. The images depicted on each of the four murals can be divided into two strata. The upper stratum represents the sky, the realm of divinities, where divine animals and fantastic birds are depicted. The lower stratum is the earth. A panorama of forested and mountainous landscape interspersed with various activities encompasses the lower part of the slopes. There are different species of earthly creatures and a variety of secular activities including hunters pursuing their preys. Together the murals form an imaginary space where divinities and humankind dwell and interact.

These murals around the caisson ceiling reflect that traditional immortal concept and mode of artistic expression prevailed in China since the Han and Wei dynasties periods have been incorporated into the imported Buddhist art of Dunhuang Caves to form an innovative style. The characteristic features resulted from the continuous sinicisation of Buddhism and Buddhist art are fully demonstrated.

Another remarkable feature of these murals is the portrayal of wild animals encompassing the lower borders of the paintings. They are among the finest examples of wildlife paintings at Dunhuang.