Central Asian Antiquities
The collection of Central Asian Antiquities with more than twelve thousand objects from Xinjiang region of Chinese Turkestan was discovered by Sir Aurel Stein during his three expeditions in 1900-1901, 1906-1908 and 1913-1916. This is one of the most prestigious and rare collections of Central Asian antiquities at the National Museum.
The objects displayed in the gallery were discovered mainly from the oasis along the ancient trade route popularly known as southern and northern Silk Roads. Frequent movements of people of different regions, faiths and cultures resulted in the emergence of a composite cultural tradition which is marked by the presence of Hellenistic, Sassanian, Uigurian, Chinese, Tibetan and Indian elements in the Central Asian Art.
The selected items on display, ranging roughly from the 3rd to 12th century C.E, are murals, silk paintings, ramie, paper, wood, terracottas, stuccos, wooden objects, Kharoshti documents and textiles.
A beautiful Chinese bronze image of the seated Buddha of Ming dynasty in the centre draws attention to visitors in the gallery. The walls of two galleries are occupied mostly by the paintings on silk, ramie and paper from Dunhuang, dated from the 7th to 10th century. These paintings are excellent in treatment of forms and colour scheme. The portrayal of Paradise of Amitabha and Avalokitesvara (Both deities of Vajrayana Buddhism) in different forms, and of Buddha and his life scenes are popular subjects. The rendering of Avalokitesvara with thousand arms and each palm having one eye is also remarkable. A sketch showing a procession of Bactrian camels and horses led by a man is a fine representation of caricature art. Three folios of the manuscript ‘Astasahasrika prajnaparamita hridyasutra’ illustrated with Lokpala figures are also among the significant exhibits.
The gallery also has three large sized painted silk pannels from 7 to 10 th century C.E. which belong to Astana. These panels, used for covering dead bodies, depict the legendary hero Fuxi and his consort Nuwa with entwined serpentine bodies.
The rich tradition of wall paintings of Central Asia have been represented by a few exquisite wall painting fragments. The one depicting Buddha and six monks from Miran, dated around 3rd- 4th century C.E. and bearing Sassanian, Hellenistic and Indian elements, is outstanding. Murals from Balawaste showing Indra and Vairochana and the cosmic Buddha dated between the 6th and 8th century CE also deserve special mention. The painted wooden panels from Ulug Mazar and Farhad-Beg-Yailaki, dated around 6th century CE, depicting Buddha are other outstanding creations. The terracotta art on display include human and animal figurines from the Khotan region, and stuccos from Astana. These stuccos, mostly painted in different colours and patterns, sometimes display peculiar facial expressions as well.
The strong Indian influence in Central Asia is marked by the presence of the Kharosthi script and the use of Prakrit and Sanskrit language. A few wedge shaped or rectangular wooden tablets, on display, belonging to the 3rd century C.E. from Niya and Loulan region provide valuable information about the contemporary society.
The Central Asian textiles introduced a vast variety and sophisticated technique of weaving, dying and printing. An embroidered fragment from Dunhuang showing the Thousand Buddhas present a unique example.
Amidst other miscellaneous works of art, beads, coins and leather objects, is a fragment of wood carving from Khotan dated to the 6th and 7th century C.E. showing a seated Buddha in Dharmachakra Mudra and accompanied by Avalokitesvara on his right.