Friday, September 09, 2011

The Mystery of the Mud and Clay

For years now, us Ballas have spent tons of time in ancient temples looking at sculptures built hundreds of years ago and wondering about their poor conditions. Except for such sculptures as the Buddha made out of a single piece of sandalwood at the Lama Temple, there are a relatively small number of ancient sites of worship that remain completely intact. There always seem to be heads missing, crumbling fingers, and worn down toes, and we are always left wondering why.

So when we arrived at the grottoes in Datong, we decided to do a little investigation. You see, with the 50,000 carvings, we figured there had to be some answers buried below the surface of the issue. We were highly skeptical that China would allow their history to simply crumble under the strains of weather and time.

With so many Buddhas of all shapes and sizes, there were a fair number that we could get close enough to touch. Many were merely worn around the edges but tons were barely recognizable as human figures. They had been reduced to lumps in the sides of the mountain with bits of paint still clinging on.

After much detective work, the Ballas discovered the deep dark secret of those ancient Buddhist sculptors. While many of the decorations are actually carved right into the stone and were painted in their day, a great deal more were not made to stand the test of time. Instead, the stones were carved into the basic shape of the Buddhas they represent and then covered with layers of mud mixed with hay until the surface was smooth. Finally, they were coated with paint and were ready to be worshiped by their creators.

Bring it on Hardy Boys!

~Julie

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