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The flying-figure in Dun-huang caves and the image of Kwan-yin Bodhisattva


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Wang, Zhong Yao










In every Buddhist grotto in China we find paintings of flying-figures. These represent divine damsels who, however, are of a lower status. Artists hence created them to reflect just the common women in their time. In addition to those in Dun-huang Caves, there are flying-figures in almost all Buddhist caves in China and represent a common feature of oriental art and culture. The flying-figures of Dun-huang Caves are the most famous and important because in composition format they are typical.

The meaning of flying-figure is immanent in the image of Bodhisattva Kwan-in. In origin these flying figures share simultaneity with the transformation of Kwan-yin’s image from male to female, both in time and space. As the Dun-huang flying-figure is representative of oriental art, Kwan-yin Bodhisattva’s image is typical of an oriental goddess. The Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara transited into goddess of mercy, and is depicted primarily in feminine form. As seen in numerous images of this Bodhisattva, the goddess form of Kwan-yin appeared in distinctive images not only in the tradition but also in real life.

The Vimalakirtinirdesa Sutra states that even though the lotus never grows in clean land but in corrupt soil and never in pure air but in foul environment from below the water, the flowers, nevertheless, are so beautiful like a crown on mother earth. The flying-figures in Dun-huang Cave have the same character and so indeed is the image of Kwan-yin Bodhisattva.