The Praņidhi Scenes of Bezeklik Thousand Buddha Caves
The mural that best represents the Bezeklik Thousand Buddha Caves is the large-sized mural, which was given the name the "Praņidhi Scene(15) by the German expedition team. The mural was given this name because it was judged to be a painting depicting Sakyamuni’s "promise" or "praņidhi" from his past life.
What exactly is "Sakyamuni’s promise from his past life"? Buddhism inherited the traditional Indian world-view that humans are reincarnated countless times, and that every phenomenon happens due to karma. This means that every event has its own cause or reason for its occurrence. Stories were thereby created to explain the Karmic reasons behind Sakyamuni’s gaining enlightenment and becoming a Buddha.
The stories tell of how Sakyamuni in his past lives worshipped the Buddhas of the Past (過去仏), and how in return, the Buddhas bestowed upon him the prediction or prophesy (vyākaraņa 授記) that he (Sakyamuni) should gain Buddhahood in the future. The most well known among these prophesy stories perhaps is the story concerning Dīpaṃkara Buddha, or the " Dīpaṃkara Jataka (Mural in Bezeklik Cave 9(16)[a], Relief Excavated from Ghandara(17))."
According to the story, once, a young brahmin named Sumedha (also known as Megha) heard that the Dīpaṃkara Buddha was coming to the city, and decided to make an offering of lotus flowers to the Buddha. However, the king who also was hoping to make offerings to the Buddha had bought up all the lotus flowers in the kingdom, leaving hardly any for others to purchase. However, Sumedha persistently continued his search, and he came upon a girl with a vase of lotus flowers.
Sumedha begged the girl, who finally agreed to spare him some flowers. When Sumedha offered the lotus flowers to Dīpaṃkara Buddha, a miracle occurred. The flowers rose into the air and stayed above Buddha’s head. Sumedha also noticed that a pool of mud lay in the Dīpaṃkara Buddha’s way, and so Sumedha lay on the ground and spread his hair out on the pool to prevent the Buddha’s feet from getting soiled. Noting Sumedha’s piety, the Dīpaṃkara Buddha prophesized that Smedha would be reborn someday as Sakyamuni and that he would thereby gain enlightenment.
The "Praņidhi Scene" of Bezeklik is based on this type of prophesy (vyākaraṇa) story. The theme can be
seen in many of the caves, painted on the walls on both sides of a circular corridor, in a succession of multiple panels. Although there are many variations in its iconography (a 3D model of cave 9 [a]), the basic constitution of the panels remains the same.
The panels all feature a large standing Buddha figure in the center, most likely depicting one of the past Buddhas such as Dīpaṃkara Buddha, with worshippers (dressed as royalty or Brahmins) showing their devotion around the Buddha. The figures of worshippers most likely represent Sakyamuni in his past lives.
The grounds for such interpretation are that within the inscription accompanying the "Praņidhi Scene," one can find words matching the content of the sutra Nagarānalambikāvadāna. This sutra belongs to the school of Hīnayāna Buddhism called the "Sarvastivāda School" which was quite popular in Turfan at the time, and a part of this sutra tells such vyākaraṇa stories.
Thus, it is fairly clear that the Bezeklik "Praņidhi Scene" was created under the influence of the Sarvastivāda School, in line with the wish of believers to follow in the footsteps of Sakyamuni to gain Buddhahood.
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