Organized Panel Session
This paper investigates the rich, yet mysterious mural paintings found in Varakhsha, the palace of the Bukha Khudats (the local Sogdian rulers of the Bukhara region), located in nowadays central Uzbekistan. Varakhsha was built and painted mainly between 6th to 8th centuries C.E., when the Sogdians in Central Asia struggled to survive under the governance of their first Muslim rulers and simultaneously endeavored to maintain a diplomatic relationship with Tang China. The amalgamation of various traditions from Indian, Chinese, and Sogdian art found in the Varakhara mural paintings provides a vivid artistic presentation of this political arena.
This paper first analyzes how images from different cultural traditions were transmitted and adapted into Varakhsha mural paintings, giving particular attention to the unusual hunting scenes with hunters on elephants depicted in the Red Hall. I argue that several Central Asian pictorial elements were initially spread to China where they were transformed and then were reintroduced to Central Asia during the early Medieval era. This paper additionally scrutinizes the archaeological material associated with these mural paintings, aiming to elucidate the chronological sequence of the alteration and interfusion of artistic vocabularies. Moreover, this paper reexamines the interrelationship between the religious scenes in Varakhsha and interprets the process of adaption of several iconographies propelled by fluctuations in diplomacy. With the added use of insufficiently studied Chinese textual resources, this paper contributes to a holistic picture of the vicissitudes during the long-lasting diplomatic negotiations among Bukha Khudats, Tang China, and the Muslim governors in Central Asia.