Kshitigarbha as Lord of the Six Ways, ink and colours on silk

From Cave 17, Mogao, near Dunhuang, Gansu province, China
Northern Song Dynasty, dated 4th year of Jianlong (AD 963)

Made for 'the disciple of pure faith Kang Qingnu'

The bodhisattva Kshitigarbha is shown wearing a hood and seated on a lotus behind an altar accompanied by two worshipping bodhisattvas. On the three lines on each side of his halo are depicted 'The Six Ways of Life': gods, animals and hell (top left) and humans, ashuras (mythical four-armed figures) and hungry ghosts (right).

In the lower section of the painting are donor figures, wearing fashionable clothes, the women with typical tenth-century hair styles decorated with hairpins and flowers. According to the inscription, the donor wished to avoid all bad forms of rebirth: 'The maker of this painting was the disciple of pure faith, Kang Qingnu. His body lodges in the House of Fire and he fears to fall in the Five Evil Ways. Fortune and disaster are inconstant; his heart longs to be among the emancipated...'. Kshitigarbha is depicted and invoked here as he had vowed to rescue souls even from the regions of hell, and this offers hope to the donor and his family.

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Kshitigarbha as Lord of the Six Ways, ink and colours on silk

Kshitigarbha as Lord of the Six Ways


More information


R. Whitfield, Art of Central Asia: The Ste-1, vol. 2 (Tokyo, Kodansha International Ltd., 1982-85)

R. Whitfield and A. Farrer, Caves of the thousand Buddhas: (London, The British Museum Press, 1990)


Height: 56.100 cm (painted area)
Width: 51.500 cm

Museum number

Asia OA 1919,1-1,0.19


Gift of Sir Marc Aurel Stein


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