Kizil Thousand Buddha Caves

Kirzil Thousand Buddha Caves


Baicheng County




June 28, 2017


According to my guidebook, the Kirzil Caves contained some of the finest examples of Hinayana Buddhist art in Central Asia. *  Unfortunately, all the statuary and carvings are gone.  Even the frescoes were removed.  What remains are fragments of wall paintings.

“The earliest wall paintings show Gandharan (Indo-Hellenistic) influences overlaid with Persian elements; there is no trace of Chinese influence in the Kizil Caves.  Some 70 Buddhist fables from the Jataka stories are illustrated in the murals – the Pigeon King burns himself to attain nirvana, the Elephant King sacrifices himself to help the poor, and the Bear King donates food to the starving.”

“The caves themselves served different functions: some were for religious ceremonies, others for teaching sutras, and still others were living quarters.”

Despite the paucity of Buddhist art, the location of the caves, carved into a sheer cliff overlooking the broad and peaceful Muzat River, bears witness to the artistic heights and spiritual devotion of the craftsmen more than a millennium and a half ago.

*Xinjiang, China’s Central Asia.  Jeremy Tredinnick. Odyssey Books & Guides. Hong Kong 2012 pg 300.

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