A horseman and camel-rider

from Dandān-Uiliq at Khotan, Tarim Basin

Click for a large black & white image


Panel of
and camel-
rider, D. VII.
The panel D. VII. 5, of which Plate LIX shows a successful reproduction in colours reduced to a two-thirds scale, may be mentioned here first, as it illustrates a legend which representations found in the shrines D. II. and D. X. have rendered familiar3. The panel, which has a rectangular shape, with pointed arched top, is 15 inches high and nearly 7 inches broad. It shows two figures, both mounted, one above the other. The upper figure is seen riding on a high-stepping horse and holding in his right hand a patera towards which a bird, more distinctly shown in D. X. 5 as a wild duck, is swooping down in full flight. The rider, whose handsome youthful face shows an interesting combination of Indian and Chinese features, wears his long black hair tied in a loose knot at the crown, while a yellow band passes round the head holding in front a large elliptical jewel. Besides the long pink tunic, the rider wears a narrow light scarf which, descending apparently from the back of the head, is curled round both upper arms, while its ends float behind, indicating rapid movement4. The feet are cased in high black boots with felt soles, very much like those still worn by men of means in Chinese Turkestan, and are placed in stirrups. From the girdle hangs a long sword, nearly straight, of a pattern that appears early in Persia and other Muhammadan countries of the East. The horse, which is well drawn even to its legs and hoofs, by its colour-white with large spots of black-curiously recalls the appearance of the piebald 'Yarkandi' horse which until recent times was much fancied by natives of Northern India. Over a large 'Numdah' or felt cloth it carries a deep and narrow saddle and shows elaborate trappings, for a description of which I may refer to Mr. Andrews' detailed notes in the list of objects. We could scarcely have wished for a more accurate picture of that 'horse millinery' which in the eighth century evidently flourished throughout Eastern Turkestan quite as much as it does nowadays.
riding figure
in D. VII. 5.
No less interesting is the representation of the second figure below, riding a two-humped camel, shown in full movement and with striking fidelity to nature. The rider wears over his short curly hair (partly deleted) a curious sugar-loaf hat, with its broad brim turned up into 'Vandyke' points, like that of the riding figure seen in D. X. 5 (comp. Plate LXII). Marks on the hat indicate some spotted fur as its material. The long and loose-fitting green garment worn by the rider is gathered below the knee into the wide tops of red boots or mocassins without soles, closely resembling the 'Chāruks' now used throughout the whole of Eastern Turkestan, particularly in the winter months. While the left hand is guiding the camel by a nose-cord, the right, in the same pose as that of the rider above, raises a shell-shaped cup. The elaborate fittings of the saddle, and the stirrups, show that the animal best ridden by this personage is meant for a riding camel, rarely used now in this region, but distinctly referred to by a version of Sung Yün's notice of Khotan5. Some freely-drawn outlines visible behind the camel's legs are meant to indicate hilly ground or else high ridges of sand, where, indeed, the camel would be far more in its place. The nimbus painted round the head of each of the riders plainly shows their holy character, and the identity of their attitude leaves no doubt as to their connexion with what was evidently a popular local legend. But to the nature of this legend I have not been able to trace any clue.

3 See above, pp. 248, 261.
4 The fixing of this scarf, corresponding to the ullarīya of Indian Buddhist iconography, at the back of the head is more clearly indicated in the figures of panels D. VII. I, 6 (see Plates LX, LXI, LXVI).
5 Comp. Rémusat, Ville de Khotan, p. 22 ; also above, p. 170, note 32.

p248    Amidst these conventional designs there appeared on the outside of the cella wall facing south a fresco which, though much effaced, attracted my interest as evidently representing some sacred legend, perhaps of a local character. It is just visible in Plate III to the left in the shadow. It showed three rows of youths riding Bactrian camels or else dappled horses, four or five in each row, each holding a cup in his outstretched right hand, while above one of the riders a bird is swooping down on this offering. The popularity of the subject is attested by my subsequent discovery in other shrines of the site of the well-preserved painted tablet D. VII. 5 (Plate LIX), and of the panel D. X. 5 (see Plate LXII), on both of which a similar scene is figured6.

6 See below, sec. vi.

p261    It is interesting to find in three of the panels subjects treated which are known to us likewise from paintings discovered in another shrine of Dandān-Uiliq. The comparison enables us to realize to what extent details of pictorial representation had become fixed even where of no apparent mythological importance. On the reverse of D. X. 5 (see Plate LXII) we meet with the scene of the horseman and bird to which reference has already been made in connexion with a fresco of D. II. A comparison of this panel with the far better preserved one D. VII. 5 (Plate LIX) shows that, notwithstanding the considerable difference in artistic execution and care, both must be directly or indirectly derived from the same prototype. The pose of rider and horse is identical in both; the uniformity of treatment extends to the dress and accoutrements and even the saddlery. The high sugar-loaf shaped cap with its 'vandyked' corners is borrowed from the camel-riding figure of D. VII. 5. Leaving other details for mention in connexion with the latter panel, attention may be called to the distinctly Persian look of both rider and horse.

p298         Section viii List of Objects excavated or found at Dandān-Uiliq              [Chap. IX

D. VII. 5. Painted wooden panel. Rectangular, with pointed, arched top. Ground white. Two figures, one in upper portion of panel and one in lower. UPPER : A personage of high rank seated on piebald (or dappled) horse. Figure of man has long black hair tied at crown in loose knob with yellow band. Band round head holding in front elliptical jewel. Long ear. Green nimbus. Face three-quarters to R. p. showing somewhat Chinese features; small drooping moustache. Single garment, tunic pink, with yellow neck-band. Scarf descends from back of head (apparently) and is curled round both upper arms, the two ends flying freely behind, indicating movement. Black high boots with white felt soles; stirrups. Single rein held in L. hand. R. hand raised, holding patera, towards which a bird is flying down. Suspended from girdle a sword, nearly straight, of Persian pattern. The horse appears to be ambling, and is high-stepping. Colour white with large leopard spots of black. Tail tied in loop. Bridle single, and apparently no bit in mouth. A large ornamental plate covers forehead and nose, with projecting horns - one at forehead carrying a crescent or Triśūla; another from nose carrying a red silk (?) mango-shaped knob (pompon). Many of these knobs appear on head, surcingle and crupper (cf. Ajantā cave frescoes). Deep saddle (black) with large 'Numdah': The drawing of horse's legs and hoofs is very free and clever. LOWER : A personage of high rank seated on Bactrian (?) camel and passing through hilly country or sand dunes. Has short curly hair, wears curious sugar-loaf hat, with broad turned up brim having erect 'Vandyke' points. There are marks on hat suggesting fur with spots. Red nimbus. Face deleted. Single garment, a loose fitting tunic, green, gathered below knee into red mocassins. Small feet in shoes or boots (yellow). Scarf from back of head (?) round upper arms, both ends flying free behind to suggest forward progress of camel, which is ambling. In L. hand nose cord of camel; in R., upraised shell-shaped cup, suspended to girdle, a Persian pattern sword. 'Zīnpōsh' red with green border. Camel light brown. Long hair on under part of neck, also on front of forehead and a lock falling back over neck. General character of animal suggests the two-humped variety. Tail raised to suggest speed. Large canine tooth displayed over lower lip. All contours in black, and very free. Flesh pink, and shaded. Reverse plain, but has remains of dowels in five places, showing that the tablet was affixed to something. 15" high, 6⅞" broad. See Plate LIX.

Referenced as Illustration 196, p204 in Tamara Talbot Rice, Ancient Arts of Central Asia, 1965
Held by the British Museum

Previous      Next
Back to Tarim Basin Frescos