Mogao Cave 427 (Sui Dynasty)

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Pelliot and his team in front of Mogao Cave 427 in 1908

Mogao Cave 427 has an anterior and a main chamber. The main chamber features a gabled roof in the front and a central stupa in the flat-ceilinged rear. The features of the cave include the three groups of large statues of the Buddha and Bodhisattvas in the main chamber, the four-colored and gilded Thousand-Buddha paintings, the statues of the Heavenly Kings and Warriors in the anterior chamber, and the wooden eaves with an inscription from the Song Dynasty.

Mogao Cave 427 anterior chamber
Mogao Cave 427 main chamber central pillar and statues

The three groups of statues in the front of the main chamber show the theme of the cave. Each group consists of one Buddha and two Bodhisattvas. The Buddha statue at the center has his head slightly lowered, as if overlooking all living beings in the world. The Buddha is smiling, looking solemn and kind. He stretches his left hand in a mudra of “supreme generosity” to satisfy the wishes of all living beings. His right palm is raised with the fingers upward forming the Abhaya mudra to show that he can relieve all living beings from miseries and sufferings. His simple cassock is of primitive simplicity and solemnity, which showcases his profound sagacity and wisdom.

Two Attendant Bodhisattvas are standing on both sides of the Buddha on a lotus platform, slightly lower than the Buddha. They are smiling and looking dignified. Unlike the Buddha’s simple clothes, their dresses are gorgeous. The Bodhisattva on the right wears a flower crown on his head, a diamond patterned short over-coat on his upper body, a red silk shawl over her shoulders and a diamond-patterned brocade skirt. A light green ribbon and gold necklace of precious stones hangs down from her neck. One of his hands holds a lotus bud, and the other hangs down naturally.

Mogao Cave 427 Statue of Buddha and Bodhisattvas in the main chamber.

The Bodhisattva on the left, whose crown has been missing, is wearing a short overcoat with the patterns of diamond, lion and phoenix. A gorgeous ribbon and a necklace of precious stones hang down from the shoulders. He is also wearing a diamond-patterned brocade skirt, holding a flower in one hand, and the other hand clings closely against her leg in a timid posture like a maid. The style of the Bodhisattva’s dresses are different from those of the Chinese tradition, but originated from Persia (today’s Iran) and were popular in Central Asia and West Asia. The appearance of such styled dresses in the Dunhuang Grottoes is a reflection of the cultural exchanges between China and the West during that time.

The statues in front of the north and south walls inside the main chamber are of the same style, both consisting of one Buddha and two Bodhisattvas. And they are almost the same in terms of standing postures, gestures, and expressions. These three large Buddha statue groups may symbolize the Buddhist time and space concepts of the past, present and future. Appearing together in this small chamber, they create ideal religious atmosphere that reflects the Buddhist theme.

Statues of Buddha and Disciples inside arched niche on the central pillar of Mogao Cave 427.

There is an arched niche on each of the south, west and north face of the central pillar. All feature statues of one Buddha and two Disciples. Due to the need for preservation, wooden railings have been installed and visitors are no longer allowed to enter the back of the main chamber. The inside of the niches were painted with stories of Buddha’s past life as Prince Vessantara.

Mogao Cave 427 central pillar north-facing side Jataka mural painting

In the middle of the south, west and north walls, there are paintings of the Vairocana Buddha and Dharma preaching; and the rest was painted with rows of Thousand-Buddhas. The Thousand-Buddha images cover the four walls and corners of the cave, which are in four colors of green, white, cyan and brown. Though the colors have faded a considerable extent, the better preserved rows of Thousand-Buddha images on the east slope of the main chamber ceiling indicate that they were originally also gilded.

Mogao Cave 427 main chamber ceiling east slope gilded Thousand Buddhas

Mogao Cave 427 has a wooden eave built in the Song Dynasty consisting of three spans and four pillars. The beam above the entrance is inscribed with ink, “…Qiande 8th Year of the Song Dynasty…” (970 A.D.), which indicates that the cave was rebuilt during the period when Dunhuang was ruled by Cao Yuanzhong.

Two Heavenly Kings are erected in front of the south and north walls of the anterior chamber. Both are wearing a crown and holding firm armors with clenched fists and fierce looks, treading on Yaksha. On each side of the entrance to the main chamber is a statue of warrior. They are naked on the top and wearing a martial dress on the bottom. They appear strong and majestic. These statues were re-painted in the Song Dynasty, but they are the original styles from the Sui Dynasty.

The art works in Mogao Cave 427 are highly decorative. The murals have exquisite concepts, delicate depictions and luxurious colors. They form a perfect combination with the vigorous and magnificent colored statues, reflecting the “fine, exquisite and charming” style of the Sui Dynasty.

Mogao Cave 427 hallway north wall female donors from Five Dynasties and Song
Mogao Cave 427 ceiling Lion Pair mural painting.
Mogao Cave 427 south wall west side Bodhisattva dress decoration in Lion and Phoenix pattern