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Mogao Cave 328 is a representative of grottos built in the early Tang Dynasty. The cave has a square floorplan and an inverted-funnel-shaped roof. The caisson ceiling is of Karma-vajra and lotus flower paintings, with the four slopes painted with the checkboard flower pattern. The niche on the west wall contains a combination of paintings and statues of the Buddha, his disciples, and Bodhisattvas. The ceiling of the niche was painted with the Maitreya Buddha preaching and teaching Buddhism. The south, north and upper part of east walls all feature paintings of the Pure Land, while the lower part of the east wall was painted with eight Bodhisattvas dating from the Xixia Period.
Among the more than 2,000 existing colored sculptures in the Mogao Grottoes, more than 140 are original statues preserved from different periods; most of the rest were repainted or rebuilt in later dynasties. The group statues in the niche on the west wall of Cave 328 are all original works from the Tang Dynasty. They are of high artistic value and the most attractive to visitors.
In the niche, Sakyamuni sits cross-legged on the lotus throne wearing a cassock. He raises his right hand in the Abhaya Mudra, and rests his left hand on his left knee. The Buddha statue appears plump with smooth skin, a serious and dignified expression, and gazing down, giving a warm impression. The folds and drapes of his clothes look delicate, and flow with the arms’ movement. The cross-legged sitting posture, with both feet wrapped, make the horizontal folds and drapes of the cassock look dense and uniform.
On both sides of the Buddha are his two disciples, Kasyapa and Ananda. On the left is Kasyapa, the head of the ten major disciples of Sakyamuni, known as the “First Mendicant Monk” for his self-control and contentment. The statue, dressed in a cassock, stands upright with both palms devoutly pressed together, and knitted eyebrows, showing the solemn and devout expression of an old and eminent monk.
On the right is Ananda. Ananda was the cousin of Sakyamuni. He was converted to Buddhism at the age of 19, and served the Buddha for 25 years. He was well-informed of the Dharma and had a great memory, and was thus known as “The Most Well-Informed”. This statue of Ananda is slightly inclined, with both hands encapsulated inside his sleeves. He stands upright, with a plump and smooth-skinned face. Both eyes are slightly open, as if absorbed in thoughts while listening to the Buddha’s teachings.
On both sides of the two disciples are two attendant Bodhisattvas, with one leg bent on the lotus throne and the other hanging down and the foot placing on a lotus flower. The leisurely sitting posture conveys a leisure feel. It features a high updo bun, a plump and smooth-skinned face, delicate hands, a chest adorned with necklace of precious stones and the waist wrapped in a brocade dress. The artists’ design of the Bodhisattva’s body curve is accurate, textured and lifelike.
Outside the niche are the statues of three slender-figured Bodhisattvas, adorned with hanging necklaces of precious stones and kneeling with one leg on the lotus throne. These sculptures exemplify dignified and elegant temperament of the sculpted, as well as a rigorous and meticulous style. A statue of Bodhisattva on the south side in the niche was taken by an American named Warner in 1924, and is now exhibited at the Arthur M. Sackler Museum in Harvard University.
By the Tang Dynasty, Buddhist art had developed towards a more secular style that incoprated human culture. A large number of artistic images rich in the spirit of the era have emerged. The colored sculptures of the Tang Dynasty in Grotto 328 reflect the openness and prosperity of such a dynasty.