On a historical-cultural plane the territory of contemporary Kyrghyzstan formed in ancient
times a common with Eastern Turkestan region, where Buddhism took deep roots as far back
as II-IV cc. and has not lost up to now its importance in several regions. It is known from
numerous sources that the earliest bearers of Buddhism along the route to the East where
a large group of natives of Central Asia Sogdians, Juachis, Parthians, Khanguis. Of great
historical and cultural significance was the activity of An Shigao a Parthan from Marghian
succeeding Prince of his country (who rejected the throne like Shakyamuni). He settled in
Loyan in 148 and up to 170 was working on translation into Chinese of Buddhist texts. This
was the first, no doubt historical apostle of central Asian Buddhism, after him there worked
a whole galaxy of interpreters of Indian holy texts and authors of new literary and historical
works on Buddhist theme, who are well known according to monuments of Sanskrit, Hotan-Suck,
Tibetan, Chinese, Sogdian and Tohar language literature.1) But even in places of early penetration
of Buddhism in China, where a significant part of Indian ethnos lived and many cave and
ground Buddhist monasteries with magnificent painting and sculpture work were built like,
for example, Tzen-Fo-Dun ("cave of 1000 Buddhas"), we can hardly trace "purely
rather assume that to this provincial Western center both the cult itself and works of Buddhist
art came not directly from Eastern Turkestan and probably from Sogd, where, as we know,
already, in the first centuries A.D. Buddhism prevailed and where the most outstanding monuments
were created, to a considerable extent distinctive and different from their Indian prototypes.
Existence of famous icon-painters of cult Buddhist painting with Sogdian names and nick-names,
which indicate their Central Asian origin speaks in favor of this assumption.2)
Thus, both in missionary and translator's activity as well as in ritual-building (temple)
and creative practice of Eastern Turkestan different researchers draw attention to the leading
role of representatives of ancient Central Asian ethnoses, who were first to transfer Indian
culture to the East.
All above said can be referred to Kyrgyzstan as well, though Buddhism monuments were discovered
here not long ago - by A.N. Bernshtam during archeological exploration of the whole territory
of the Republic in 1933-1954.
Works "in the style of Gandhar art" found by him and remains of architecture with
sculpture and painting in a number of sites or ancient settlements of the Chui valley including
Ak-Beshim, Krasnaya Rechka, Karadjygach, Novopavlovka, Sokuluk, etc., helped indicate main
contours of historical-cultural relationship of Tien-Shen, Eastern Turkestan and India since
first centuries A.D. up to XII c. inclusive.3)
Subsequent researchers considerably restricted chronological framework of dissemination
of this religions to IX c. and alterations were introduced in interpretation of excavated
structures. But the main conclusion by A.N. Bernshtam about "powerful influence of
Buddhist culture of Northern India and Xinxan on the culture of Semirechye" remains
A new stage in the investigation of Buddhism monuments on the territory of Kyrghyzstan was
opened by excavation of two temples in Ak-Beshim in the 50-s by L.R. Kyzlasov and L.P. Zyablin.4)
followed by investigation of two temples in Krasnorechensk settlement by P.N. Kozhemyako
(1961-1963), V.D. Goryacheva and S.Y. Peregodova in 1980-1988. Series of art bronze and
items made of stone, alabaster and ceramics were included in scientific use in Novopokrovskoye
settlement.5) To a number of Buddhism monuments one should ascribe epigraphies in Issyk-Ata
ravines and on southern shore of the Issik-Kul lake related to settlement of Tibetan Buddhists
in early Middle Ages.6)
All in all seven Buddhist architectural structures have been recorded, the most ancient
being the so called Second Ak-Beshim temple, VII c., explored by L.P. Zyablin in 1955. It
was located in 100 m from the southern wall of Shahristan and in 250 m to the west of the
Second Ak-Beshim Temple VII-VIII cc., according to publications "The first Ak-Beshim
Temple'' which functioned till the middle of VIII c. was excavated by L.R. Kyzlasov in 1953-1954.
One of them was a rectangle structure with a square shrine. It had a roundabout hallway
on three sides and an eight column hall which separated courtyard from the shrine. At the
entrance there were big clay Buddha sculptures, and inside, according to scientists, there
were bronze gilded badges on Buddhist subjects.
The second temple had a closed square building with cross-shaped shrine and two hallways.
Central aisle and hallways led to the courtyard. The temple interior was decorated with
numerous sculpture and frescoes on the ceilings and walls. Both temples were erected (despite
dating by L.P. Zyablin) in VIII c., had two construction and two decoration periods, but
existed for about or a little over 100 years. Both temples were burnt down, the sculpture
was destroyed at one time in the second half of VIII c., after which they have not been
There are all reasons to change to an earlier period also the date of a "monastery
with a chapel" 'within the town rabat, namely to the end of VII-VIII cc. General plan
of the monastery was not clarified. It was only established that in the north-western corner
of the enclosed monastery area there were dwelling-houses and housekeeping buildings; the
southern part of the complex was occupied by a courtyard from where one could get into the
shrine with roundabout hallway. In the excavation site a large number of architectural details
made of clay, granite, land-stone and alabaster including foundation for sculpture. Living
rooms were heated with the help of heat conducting channels in masonry, buildings were roofed
with pitched roof with tiling. On one of tiles a Sanskrit inscription was found, on another
- an Vigur one. Tile is of Chinese origin, and all material are different from the first
two temples, and as A.N. Bernshtam puts it they testify to the "crossing of Chinese
and Central Asian cultures''.
The second big and important center on the trade route was Navekat (Krasnorechensk settlement).
Here also two Buddhist architectural monuments were discovered. They as well as in Ak-Beshim
were located behind shahristan walls, but close to the citadel. Subsequent excavations in
one of them revealed ruins of temple part of the structure having longitudinal-axial composition.
In the western gallery of the shrine in 1961 a sculpture of "Sleeping Buddha"
was excavated and in the southern one fragments of paintings were partly took off the wall.
The study of architectural remains and other materials also showed the period of the existence
of the temple from middle VIII c., in two construction periods.
Initially the temple part comprised a square shrine and four section roundabout corridor
with varying width. The lay-out of the temple corresponds to the typological composition
"hall with corridor around" known in cult and civil architecture of Bactria and
Parthia later reproduced in Buddhist architecture of Toharistan and Eastern Turkestan. The
interior design included sculpture, mural painting on loess surface and plaster decor. Sculpture
was placed in the shrine and western corridor. Figures were made of red clay fixed on reed-wooden
frame. The statue of sleeping Buddha (no to 12 meters after reconstruction) was modeled
on the brick-clay frame, then covered with two layers of clay and painted with red pigment
(ochre) without gunch primer.
The temple was reconstructed not later than middle of VIII c. This period was identified
by findings on the floor of the second construction level of birch bark fragments of Buddhist
manuscripts dated by V.V. Vetrogradova and M.I. Vorobyeva-Desyatovskaya VII- middle VIII
cc., by Turgesh coin and a bronze sculpture of Boddhisatva Avalokiteshvara imported from
Kashmir in VIII c.
Related ti this temple is finding of a votive stele (red granite) of Tibetan (according
to E.I. Lubo-Lesnichenko) or Turfan (according to F. Granne) origin and dated VII-VIII cc.
The right side of the stele in its relief execution reproduces traditional Buddhist icon-painting
three-belt composition: under the arch Buddha is sitting on a lotus, on his right and left
sites there are Baddhisvatas (their faces are damaged); beneath there are lions "FO"
guarding the mortar, and at the foundation of the stele there are kneeling donators. On
the rear side a sitting Buddha is engraved with a nimbus around his head in the form of
wavy lines. On the side edges divinities Lokopala (Guard of the Universe) and Vaish-ravana
(synchretic character related to the next world) are engraved in the same technique.
The second Buddhist building of Krasnorechensk settlement was attributed by P.N. Kozhemyako
to the last stage of existence of Buddhist communities m Semirechye and were dated VIII-IX
cc. Nevertheless comprehension of the whole complex of Buddhist findings in Chui valley,
Central Asia and Eastern Turkestan make it possible to interpret this structure as Manichean
shrine - a temple in a monastery complex. Together with some similarity with the above temples
(roundabout corridors around the shrine and painting) this building has several characteristics:
absence of sculpture, different orientation and similarity with Manichean temple in Khodjo.
In Navekat as reported by an-Nedim and Hudud al-Alam there lived Manicheans in VIII-X cc.
(according to the source "Manicheans lived in Samarkand and mainly in Navekat"),
at this and next period the town also served as residence of Nestorian archbishop.
Thus, the so called Second Buddhist temple of Krasnorechensk settlement can be well interpreted
as Manichean. Availability of painting in it including picture of Buddha (in a small niche)
does not run counter to Manichean icon-painting: Good Buddha or Manu-Buddha was a favorite
image in houses and temples of Manicheans. Manu a founder of a new teaching was quite often
compared with Maitreya, Buddha to come, sometimes was called Bodhisattva; many elements
of Buddhist cosmogony were included in Manichean Hymns: there are no contradictions with
Buddhism in Manichean literature either, and Manichean monasteries in the east were organized
according to Buddhist models.7)
Two Buddhist monasteries of VIII-IX cc.8) are related to towns of medium-size: Pakap (this
Sogdian name is in the inscription on a hum from Novopokrovsk settlement, IX c.) and Djul
(Kluchevsk, also called Novopavlovsk settlement, in the western out-skirts of Bishkek).
Sangarama partly excavated by A.N. Bernshtam in Kluchevsk settlement, it was located outside
shahristan walls (68x67m in size). Its internal layout was not ascertained because of late
Kyrgyz burials. In the obstructions numerous fragments of sculpture were found (picture
of dokshit Vadjrapam among them) as well as mural paintings identical to Ak-Beshim and Krasnorechensk
temples in their character and execution technique.
The above cult buildings of Kyrghyzstan go back to Indian prototypes, though are not their
immediate replicas. Together with Bactrian-Sogdian building architectural tradition and
specific features of temple architecture still Indian current clearly manifests itself,
for example in the lay-out of temples which provides for ritual rounds of the object of
works hip (a shrine with the main statue of Buddha), in frame construction and icon painting
of monumental sculpture, in the technique of painting, etc.
Findings of Indian import in several other settlements of the Chui valley (Sokuluk, Alexandrovskoye,
Petropavlovskoye, Shish-Tube, Kara-Djigach, Burana, in settlement in the outskirts of Bishkek)
can testify to rather wide settlement of Buddhists along the routes of the Great Silk Road.
Though there are no findings of Buddhist origin in Talas valley (except Taraz). It is to
Issik-Kul valley that Buddhist monumental epigraphies (from ravines of rivers Tamga, Djuuku,
Ur, Ak-Terek and Ak-Ulen) is related dated end of the VII-VIII cc., the period of "Tibetan
expansion" in Turkestan. These inscriptions contain only the formula "Omma ni
padme hum"("There is no higher blessing than lotus").
Indian written tradition which spread all over the Indian cultural region is recorded for
the territory of Kyrghyzstan as well. Fragments of brahnu letters on birch bark found in
Krasnorechensk temple reflect one of main types of Indian alphabet. This alphabet was used
for writing texts in Sanskrit. Buddhist manuscript on birch bark in brahnu writing was kept
in the temple as relic. Small fragments of several words remained M.I. Vorobyeva-Desyatkovskaya
managed to establish that the manuscript was copied in VII-VIII cc.
These texts related to writing schools of Kashmir, the largest center for copying of Sanskrit
manuscripts. Suan Tzan mentions not only big monasteries and libraries at the court of a
local raja, where up to 20 copyists worked at the same time copying holy texts. It is significant
that all the findings of brahmi on birch bark from Central Asia (Katyr-kala in southern
Tajikistan, Merv and Bairam-ali in Southern Turkmenistan, Zang-tepe in Southern Uzbekistan)
according to palepgraphy give similar samples of handwriting and what's more during several
Buddhist monasteries were known to be not only educational centers in the East but also
to conduct trading and money lending operations, to be occupied with crafts and agriculture,
despite the veto of the Buddhist doctrine for monks to go in particular sale of cult object.
That is why one can assume that some part of Indian export in the form of art bronze and
stone items, ceramic bowls with modeled Bodhisattvas and other items were designed for exchange
and sale. In this respect also location of monasteries in towns near trade roots is significant.
Constant flow of Indian tradesmen, Buddhist exponents and monks, craftsmen, artists and
etc, sales of related goods of intellectual demand increased the scale of Indian influence.10)
But this invigorating process of cultural contacts ceased very soon, besides very tragically,
both for India itself and Buddhist communities in Central Asia. Researchers of Buddhist
culture destination traditionally relate the desolation of monasteries, devastation of sculpture
and painting, deliberate damage of Buddha's and Bodhisattva's faces on stone relieves to
the change of dynasties in Central Asia: for Kyrgyzstan it was coming to power of Turgesh
and Karluks, for Toharistan (Abjina-tepe) and Merv (Gaur-kala) of arabs.11) We find another
explanation more plausible.
In Hind valley in VIII c. the so called "Radjput revolution" took place and turned
the Buddhist monarchy of Gupta Empire successors into isolated Radjput India connected only
by cast system. If in an overthrown state of Gupta dynasty Buddha and monks were held in
great esteem (as well as Sun divinity and Aditya), then religious notion of Radjputs was
based on ancient Hindu ideology, Brahmins gained great prestige and commenced fierce struggle
against Buddhism and its adherents not only in India but in places of their settlement in
Tibet, China and Central Asia. Devastation of Buddhist buildings, monasteries and libraries
in India, classification of monks and supporters of overthrown Gupta Empire under lowest
castes (while some groups of "untouchables" were simply exterminated or expelled
out of the country). These events in the center of Buddhism were to affect in a certain
way the whole Buddhist world. It is quite possible that Central Asian communities located
most close to India and tightly linked with the center were also massacred by new missioners
from Brahmin caste aimed at eradicating the former Gupt dynasty with their ideological conception
of Buddhism which has took deep roots far beyond India. It is no mere chance that those
who had helped Radjputs in their revolution were classified by usurpers as the highest caste,
greatly different of four old varnas. It was then that the whole system of castes in India
After VIII c. Buddhism in Kyrghyzstan did not revive unlike in Tibet, Eastern Turkestan
and Far East countries where this religion starting from X-XI cc. started new turn of its
development and local transformations. Ancient Enesai Kyrgyz as well as groups of East Turkestan
Kyrgyz did not stand aside from the influence of Indian-Buddhist culture in folklore, geographical
names, moral-ethic code and other spheres of everyday life and cult.12) It is safe to speak
about undoubted common "roots of ancient Indian "Ramayana" and Kyrgyz epic
"Manas", but this is already the area of other serious studies.
1. Detailed information on this is given in different chapters of the book:
Eastern Turkestan in ancient and Early Middle ages: Ethnos, Languages, Religions. -M. Nauka,
1992 ( Under the editorship by Academician B.A. Litvinsky)
2. Waley A. An introduction to the study of Chinese painting. -N.Y.1958, p.131. Dyakonova
N.V. Buddhist monuments of Dunhwan //Artistic culture of the East. L.: Iskusstvo, 1987 .p.454.
3. Bemshtam A.N. Archeological essay on Northern Kirgiziya. - Frunze, 1941 -pp 88- 97, his
also . Chui valley: Publ. Semirechensk archeological expedition //M.A.- № 14 - M. -L., 1950,
p. 146-147 and other.
4. Kyzlasov L.R. Archeological explorations in Ak-Beshim settlement in 1953-1954 //Publ.
KAEE.-T.II.-M.1959; Zyablin L.P. Second Buddhist Temple of Ak-Beshim Settlement. - Frunze,
5. Krasnaya Rechka and Burana /Materials and investigations of Kyrgyz Archeological Expedition.
-Frunze, 1989; Goryacheva V.D. The Town of Golden Camel (Krasnorechensk settlement ). -Frunze,
1988, pp.48-61; Goryacheva V.D. The Early Medieval monuments of Buddhism in Northern Kirgiziya
//Buddhist for Peace. N 4. Ulan Bator, 1980.pp.35-42: Goryacheva V.D., Peregudova S.Y. Buddhist
Monuments of Central Asia (Kyrghyzstan)/ Buddhist for peace: Almanah -M., 1994, pp.56-73.
6. Zelinsky A.N., Kuznetsov B.I. Tibetan inscriptions of Issik-Kul // Countries and peoples
of East-issue VIII: Geography, Ethnograhpy, History).-M.: Nauka.1969, pp.183- 185: Djumagulov
Ch. Buddhist monuments of Kirghiziya //Epigraphies of Kirghiziya. issue 2. -Frunze, Him,
1982, pp. 47-57.
7. LitvinskyB.A. Buddhism in Central Asia... pp. 529-530.
8. Dating is given not according to archeological stratigraphy, as there were no excavations
here, but according to findings of Buddhist and Hinduiat bronze sculpture excavated from
a foundation pit during the construction here of the Sport Palace. Look: Monuments of culture...
Exhibition catalogue. -pp. 62-65; Grec T.V. Buddhist and Hinduist bronze sculpture from
Kirghiziya //Abstracts at all Union scientific conference culture and art of Kirghizia.-
L., 1983, pp. 71-72.
9. Vorobyeva-Desyatovskaya M.l. Handwritten Book in the Culture of India //Handwritten Book
in the Culture of peoples of the East. -Book 11. M.: Nauka, 1988, pp.34,53.
10. Saha K. Buddhism in Central Asia.- Calcutta, 1970; Franz H.G. Pagode, Turmtemples, Stupa.
Studien zum Kultbau des Buddhismus in Indien und Ostasien. - Graz. 1978; Franz H.G. Von
Gandhara bis Pagan. Kultbauten des Buddhismus und Hinduismus in Sud und Zentralasien. -Graz,
11. Gabain A.von. Buddhistische Turkenmission... p.166; Litvinsky B.A. Buddhism in Central
Asia... p 438; Stavisky B.Y. Buddhism in Central Asia //Buddhism: Glossary. -M, 1992.
12. Gumilev L.N. The End and the Begining Again //Works - M: Di-Dik, 1994, p. 118- 120.
LIST OF ABBREVIATIONS:
M.,L. - Moscow, Leningrad.
M/A - Materials and Studies in Archeology of the USSR.
Publ. KAEE - Publications of Kyrgyz archeological Ethnographical Expedition.
INFORMATION ON AUTHORS:
Goryacheva Valentina Dmitrievna.
Candidate of historical sciences, historian of material culture (archeologist), senior researcher
at the National Academy of Sciences of Kyrgyz Republic, Director of the Museum at Kyrgyz-Russian
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