World’s first oil paintings Buddhist images in Bamiyan caves
A recent handout picture, released from the Japanese National
Research Institute for Cultural Properties, shows an oil
painting of a Buddhist image, discovered in a cave in
Afghanistan’s Bamiyan. The world’s first oil paintings go back
nearly 14 centuries to murals in Afghanistan’s Bamiyan caves.
Forget Renaissance Europe. The world’s first oil paintings go back
nearly 14 centuries to murals in Afghanistan’s Bamiyan caves, a Japanese
Buddhist images painted in the central Afghan region, dated to around
650 AD, are the earliest examples of oil used in art history, says Yoko
Taniguchi, an expert at Japan’s National Research Institute for Cultural
A group of Japanese, European and US scientists are collaborating to
restore damaged murals in caves in the Bamiyan Valley, famous for its
two gigantic statues of the Buddha which were destroyed by the Taliban
In the murals, thousands of Buddhas in vermilion robes sit
cross-legged, sporting exquisitely knotted hair.
Other motifs show crouching monkeys, men facing one another or palm
leaves delicately intertwined with mythical creatures.
The paintings incorporate a mix of Indian and Chinese influences, and
are most likely to be the works of artists traveling on the Silk Road,
which was the largest trade and cultural route connecting the East and
The Los Angeles-based Getty Conservation Institute analysed 53
samples extracted from the murals. Using gas chromatography methods, the
researchers found that 19 had oil in the paint.
“Different types of oil were used on the dirt walls with such a
sophisticated technique that I felt I was looking right at a medieval
board painting dating from 14th or 15th century Italy,” Taniguchi told
The discovery would reverse common perceptions about the origins of
The technique is widely believed to have emerged in Europe leading
into the Renaissance, which flowered from 1400 to 1600.
Italian artist and architect Giorgio Vasari first wrote of oil
painting in his book, “The Lives of the Artists,” in the mid-16th
Art historians, however, argue that 15th-century Flemish painter Jan
van Eyck may have known of the technique because he had developed a
stable varnish, although he kept it secret until his death.
“It was very impressive to discover that such advanced methods were
used in murals in central Asia,” Taniguchi said.
“My European colleagues were shocked because they always believed oil
paintings were invented in Europe. They couldn’t believe such techniques
could exist in some Buddhist cave deep in the countryside,” she added.
Painters of the Buddhist murals used organic substances — including
natural resin, plant gum, dry oil and animal protein — as a binder,
which even today is an important element in paint.
A binder keeps pigment particles together in a cohesive film and
allows the paint to resist decay.
The researchers are trying to restore the murals amid international
efforts to salvage what is left of Bamiyan.
The Taliban, ignoring global protests, dynamited the two
1,500-year-old statues, the world’s biggest representations of the
Buddha, in March 2001, branding them un-Islamic idolatry.
The regime was ousted later that year in a US-led military campaign
after the September 11 attacks on the United States.
Although oil was used in ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome, there
currently exist no examples of their use in painting. The oil was used
for medicine, cosmetics or to coat boats, Taniguchi said.
Taniguchi hopes the advanced techniques used to analyse the murals
would be put to use in ruins of other ancient civilisations.
Prajapati, the first Bhikkhuni
Retelling from the Pali Canon:
MYANMAR : A Buddhist novice meditates at a corner of Arnandar
Pagoda in Bagan, some 640 kilometers north of Yangon,. The 42 sq
km plain of Old Bagan is dotted with some 3,000 ancient temples
and is one of the key tourist attractions in Myanmar.
Now, it came to pass that Lady Prajapati (aunt and foster mother of
the Exalted One) heard from Krsa Gautami’s own lips of the bliss of
Nirvana. Thereupon Prajapati, already a lay disciple of Buddha, went
with longing for the Highest Attainment to Nigrodha Park where
“It would be for my welfare, O Lord,” said Prajapati, “if the Perfect
One would reveal to me a teaching, hearing which from the lips of the
Perfect One I might dwell alone, solitary, zealous, enthusiastic, and
firm in purpose.”
“Well, my dear Gautami aunt,” replied the Buddha, “I will teach you
about teachings in general. There are bad religions in the world; and
those you ought to avoid. How can you tell a bad religion?
“Of whatever teachings you are able to assure yourself, ‘These
doctrines conduce to passion, to bondage, to wealth and fame, to
covetousness, to discontent, to company, to sluggishness, to delight in
harming’ - of such teachings you may affirm with certainty: ‘This is not
the Dharma; this is not the discipline of the Aryas; this is not the
“But of whatever teachings you can assure yourself, ‘These doctrines
conduce to dispassion, to detachment, to material poverty, to frugality,
to contentedness, to solitude, to energy, to delight in harmlessness’ -
of such teachings you may affirm with certainty: ‘This is the Dharma;
this is the discipline of the Aryas; this is the Master’s teaching.”’
Prajapati Gautami was pleased with this useful lesson; and not many
days afterward she returned to the Tathagata with another request.
“It would be good, Lord,” she said, “if the Perfect One would permit
women to go forth from the household life to the homeless state under
the Dharma and discipline declared by the Tathagata.”
Three times did Lady Prajapati make this petition, and three times
the Buddha refused her, saying: “Enough, O Gautamid! Do not desire that
women be permitted to go forth from the household life to the homeless
state under the Dharma and discipline declared by the Tathagata!”
Then Prajapati Gautami, at the thought, “the Perfect One does not
permit women to join the Sangha,” became sad and sorrowful. With tears
moistening her eyes, she saluted the Tathagata by walking around him
rightwise. And then she went away.
The autumnal cool season had come, the robes which the monks had made
were finished, and the Perfect One, having stayed at Kapilavastu as long
as he wished, set out on his rounds toward Vaisali, chief city of the
Vajis and Licchavis.
Having arrived there, he resumed residence in the Hall with the
Peaked Roof in Great Grove. And in the meantime Prajapati Gautami had
cut off her hair, put on yellow robes, and set out from Kapilavastu with
a large company of women who wished to renounce the world. Among them
was Princess Yasodhara, Buddha’s wife.
Journeying by stages, the Shakyan women came at last to Vaisali and
went to Mahavana and stood outside the entrance porch of the
Now, the monk Ananda saw Lady Prajapati standing there at the head of
the women, her feet swollen and covered with dust, her countenance sad,
and her eyes filled with tears. “Why are you standing there outside the
porch, O Gautamid?” he asked her.
“O renerable Ananda, it is because the Perfect One does not allow
women to go forth from the household life to the homeless one under the
Dharma and discipline declared by him!”
“How do you know this, O Gautamid? Have you presented your request to
“Yes, my Lord Ananda,” replied Prajapati sorrowfully, “I asked him
while he was staying at Kapilavastu; and he refused permission.”
“In that case, O Gautami, remain where you are for a little while,
and I shall ask the Perfect One if he will permit the going-forth of
Thereupon Ananda went inside the monastery and approached the
Tathagata. Three times Ananda presented his request that women be
allowed ordination, and three times Buddha refused him, saying: “Enough,
Ananda! Do not desire the going-forth of women under the Dharma and
discipline proclaimed by me!”
Then Ananda thought, “It is clear that the Master refuses to permit
women to join the Sangha. What if I now ask him in a different way?” So
Ananda said to the Perfect One: “Lord, are women capable, after going
forth from the household life to the homeless one - are they capable of
realising the fruit of Stream-Entering?”
“Women are capable of doing so, Ananda,” replied the Tathagata.
“Lord, are women capable of realising the fruit of Once-Returning?”
“Yes, Ananda, women are capable of realising the fruit of
“Then, Lord, if women are capable of attaining the fruits of the four
supramundane paths, consider how great a benefactress Prajapati Gautami
has been. She is the sister of the mother of the Perfect One; and as his
nurse and foster mother she gave him milk, feeding him from her own
breast when his mother died.
It would be a good thing, Lord, if women were allowed to go forth
from the household to the homeless life under the Dharma and discipline
declared by the Perfect One.”
The Tathagata considered Ananda’s words and then replied, saying,
“If, Ananda, Prajapati Gautami will accept eight strict rules, let that
be reckoned to her as full ordination.
“(1) A Bhikkhuni, even if of a hundred years’ standing, shall first
salute a monk, shall rise up before him, shall entreat him with folded
hands and make obeisance, even if that monk has only that day been
(2) A nun shall not spend a rainy season in a district where there
are no monks.
(3) A Bhikkhuni shall look to the Order of Monks to be advised of the
new and full moon days and the coming of a monk to preach the sermon.
(4) At the end of the rainy season retreat, a Bhikkhuni shall invite
criticism in the presence of the assemblies of monks and nuns regarding
offenses seen, heard, and suspected.
“(5) A Bhikkhuni guilty of serious offense shall go on probation for
a year. (6) When a Bhikkhuni has spent two years in the practice of the
precepts, she shall ask for full ordination.
(7) A Bhikkhuni shall neither rebuke nor scold a monk on any pretext.
(8) Nuns may not reprove monks, but monks may reprove nuns.
“These rules are to be honoured, respected, revered, and worshipped,
and are not to be transgressed as long as life shall last. If. Ananda,
Prajapati Gautami will accept these eight strict rules, let that be
reckoned to her as full ordination.”
Ananda went out at once to Prajapati and repeated to her the eight
strict rules which he had received from the Buddha.
A murmur of joy arose from the company of women who had accompanied
Lady Prajapati from Kapilavastu; and all gladly accepted the eight rules
Many of the women, including Prajapati and Yasodhara, quickly
attained Nirvana, just as Kisa Gautami had done even while still a lay
woman. True happiness was theirs at last - happiness which time could
not destroy nor gods or devils take away.
Then Ananda returned to the Perfect One, bowed respectfully, and
said: “Prajapati Gautami has accepted the eight strict rules. The sister
of the mother of the Perfect One has become ordained.”
“If, Ananda,” the Buddha replied, “women had not been allowed to go
forth from the household life to the homeless one under the Dharma and
discipline proclaimed by the Tathagata, the religious life would have
lasted a long time, the good life would have lasted a thousand years.
But as women have now gone forth, Ananda, the religious life will not
last long, the good life will last only five hundred years.
“Just as families in which there are many women and few men are
easily molested by robbers and pot-thieves, even so in that congregation
in which women have received ordination the religious life does not long
When mildew blight afflicts a flourishing rice field, or red rust
afflicts a flourishing cane field, neither field endures for long. So it
is with the religious life in a Sangha which has admitted women.
“Just as a man, Ananda, might with foresight build a dike for a great
reservoir to prevent the water from flowing out, so have I with
foresight proclaimed these eight strict rules not to be transgressed as
long as life shall last.”
And then, addressing the monks who had gathered around him,
Shakyamuni said: “In Himalaya, king of mountain ranges, O monks, there
are tracts of level country, delightful places frequented by both
monkeys and human beings. In such places, monks, hunters set traps of
pitch in the monkeys’ tracks to catch them.
“Now, those monkeys who are free from folly and greed, on seeing a
pitch-trap. keep far away from it. But a foolish, greedy monkey is
unable to resist the temptation.
“First of all, that monkey handles the pitch with one paw. And his
paw sticks fast. Then, thinking to set himself free, he grasps it with
the other paw, but that also sticks fast. To free both paws he gets
first one foot, and then the other, in the pitch. And to free both paws
and both feet, he lays hold of them with his muzzle, and that sticks
“So, monks, that monkey, thus caught in five ways, lies down and
howls, a prey for the hunter who comes and roasts him for eating there
“It is exactly the same way, monks, with one who roams in wrong
pastures. Do not, therefore, roam out of bounds; for Mara seizes his
chance, Mara seizes his opportunity. Now, what is a monk’s wrong pasture
Verily, it is the five-stranded cord of sensual pleasure, namely,
objects sensed by the eye, ear, nose, tongue and body - objects
desirable, charming, bewitching, and pleasure-producing.
“Roam in pastures that are your own, O monks, keep to your ancestral
range; for, so roaming, Mara gets no chance, no opportunity, to overcome
a man. And what is a monk’s own pasture? It is the four Fundamentals of
Attentiveness, namely, contemplation of body, feelings, mind, and
thoughts, seeing all as they really are.
“A monk, for example, duly realizes that this body, doomed to decay
and death, is composed of flesh and blood, bone and sinew, hair and
nails, liver and lights - a vile skin-bag filled with urine and dung and
various kinds of stench, nine-holed, and trickling here and there.
“And thus he abides, likewise reflecting on feelings, mind and ideas,
seeing all in conformity with reality. That, O monks, is a monk’s own
pasture, his own ancestral range.”
From The Buddha: His Life Retold by Robert Allen Mitchell.