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Gods, Deities and Demons in the Paintings of Kucha (Leipzig Kucha Studies 4)

Monika Zin (Author)

This book changes our perspective on the paintings in the Buddhist caves of Kucha on the Northern Silk Road (today’s Xinjiang Province, an autonomous region of the People’s Republic of China) by showing the important role spirit-deities – both benevolent and malevolent – and demonic iconography in general played in the pictorial programmes of the caves. The Kucha paintings show things that were never popular in South Asia: demons attacking the Buddha, but also worshipping him. The message is clear: they are all controlled by the Buddha. Whether these numerous renditions are merely generic apotropaic images, or rather a reaction to an actual threat by the Huns remains an open question. The Kucha painters were familiar with the iconography of Viṣṇu and Śiva, although we do not know how they understood them: endowed with demonic attributes, the two Indian gods appear among the demons. Furthermore, in some cases, iconographical patterns such as nāgas shown anthropo-morphically but with snakes behind the head were adopted from South Asia, while other iconographical models, such as the kumbhāṇḍas, were thoroughly reinvented: thus, the kumbhāṇḍas of Kucha are bald. This book deals with representations of deities and demons as decorative elements in the caves but also in the context of narrative illustration. It is indeed surprising how many of such narratives were depicted in Kucha. Obviously, knowledge of Sanskrit can be detected as Sanskrit names were sometimes taken literally and rendered figuratively. For example, there is not just one Kumbhakarṇa but a whole class of demons shown with pots instead of ears, and the gandharva Pañcaśikha is always presented with five tops on his head. The book contains 161 colour figures and 441 drawings in the text (most of them by the author), which make the often poorly preserved paintings accessible even to the untrained reader.

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About the author
In the spotlight

Monika Zin

Monika Zin taught Indian art history at the Ludwig-Maximilans-Universitat in Munich and the Freie Universität Berlin from 1994 to 2016. Among her research contributions are monographs such as Ajanta: Handbook of the Paintings. Devotional and Ornamental Paintings, Harrassowitz 2003 (English edition currently pending publication at the IGNCA); Compassion and Miracles: Difficult Conversions and Their Icono­graphy in Indian Buddhism (in German, Harrassowitz 2006); Samsaracakra: The Wheel of Rebirth in the Indian Tradition (together with Dieter Schlingloff, in German, EKŌ House of Japanese Culture, 2007) and numerous articles on the identification of narrative art and Indian drama. Since 2016, Prof. Zin has led the research team of the Centre ‘Buddhist Murals of Kucha on the Northern Silk Road’ at the Saxon Academy of Sciences in Leipzig/Leipzig University.

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Bibliographic information

Title Gods, Deities and Demons in the Paintings of Kucha (Leipzig Kucha Studies 4)
Author Monika Zin
Format Hardcover
Date published: 19.03.2023
Edition 1st ed.
Language: English
isbn 9789387496842
length 764p, 161 Colour Figures and 441 Drawings