China and Inner Asia
Organized Panel Session
This paper examines mural paintings of Mahāmayūrī, the Great Peacock Wisdom King. Revered for its protective and rain-bringing abilities, Mahāmayūrī was the focus of devotion in China and Japan. Mahāmayūrī also appears as a motif in eight of the Mogao and Yulin caves in mural paintings that were executed during the tenth century, typically in the antechamber of the cave shrine. Certain of these cave shrines also bear Guiyijun donor inscriptions. Taking into account the marriage alliances that were forged between the Cao clan of the Guiyijun and the kingdom of Khotan during this period, my paper will consider the role of Khotan in the transmission of the cult of Mahāmayūrī to Dunhuang. Although textual records indicate that mural paintings of Mahāmayūrī were known from temples in central plains China that are no longer extant, the iconography and pictorial programs of the Dunhuang mural paintings strongly suggest that their origin lay instead in Khotan. By considering routes of transmission, this paper will also shed light on Mahāmayūrī in the context of Buddhist statesmanship during a period of increased engagement between Dunhuang and neighboring Central Asian kingdoms.