Buddhist monuments of Western Central Asia
These pages are intended to give an insight into some efforts
of the work done by archaeologists from Russia and the former
Soviet Central Asian republics. One main result of this
work may be seen in the discovery of the great Buddhist
heritage of Western Central Asia, which was only known from
Chinese and other written sources before the archaeologists came.
Among the explorers of Buddhist sites in Western Central Asia are
leading archaeologists like Galina Anatol'evna Pugatshenkova, Boris
Yakovlevitsh Staviskiï, and Boris Anatol'evitsh Litvinskiï
(see image, from left to right), as well as Lazar Izrail'evitsh
Al'baum (see dedication). These names can only
serve as examples; many more should be mentioned...
Our pages cannot cover the whole set of sites and single finds known
today. Instead we present a selection that concentrates with a
"site gallery" on monuments of Bactria-Tokharistan,
the ancient lands north of the Amudar'ya-Oxus in Southern Uzbekistan and
Southern Tadzhikistan. On the other hand, a select bibliography includes
the remaining areas in question, i.e. Turkmenistan and Kirgizstan, too.
Outline maps will provide the reader of these pages with some data on
the geographical situation.
Ancient Bactria was the first region of Western Central Asia to meet
the impact of Buddhism. In the period of the Kushan Empire, Buddhism
spread over the Oxus boundary towards the north. And there, at the
banks of the Oxus, monks and pilgrims from the south built first
monasteries and sanctuaries.
Buddhism rapidly spread from Bactria to East and West. To the West
Margiana was reached and Buddhist communities were established at
ancient Merv during the Sasanian period. From Chinese records we
hear of Buddhist missionaries coming from Bactria in the first
centuries AD. But apart from Bactria itself, up to now there is
no archaeological whitness of this path in Western Central Asia.
Only for the early mediaeval period, at the eve of the Muslim
expansion to Central Asia, archaeology can trace a "Buddhist
path" between the West and China. In this time monasteries
existed in the Tshu area (today northern Kirgizstan and southern
Kazakhstan). In Ferghana, at the small site of Kuva, an urban
sanctuary may have been a Buddhist one, although the archaeological
data are not conclusive. At the same time, Northern Bactria saw a
last age of flourishing Buddhism, too. But all these later monuments
seem to have been inspired mainly by Eastern Buddhist communities,
especially from Xinjiang.
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