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Sunday, December 9, 2012

Penélopé Riboud, Bird-Priests in Central Asian Tombs of 6th-Century China and Their Significance in the Funerary Realm

The Bulletin of the Asia Institute
Volume 21 (2012)


Abstract:

Although Zoroastrianism, Manichaeism, Christianity, Buddhism, and Turkic Shamanism were undoubtedly popular among Central Asian communities in China between the 6th and 10th centuries, it is still difficult to decipher textual and iconographical sources in terms of orthodoxy and orthopraxy, and many questions pertaining to pantheon, rituals, and cults remain unsolved. Among the religious imagery that appears on 6th-century Central Asian monuments unearthed in China, one notices a recurrent pictorial composition consisting of two half-man, half-bird hybrid creatures wearing a ritual mouth cover and standing on both sides of a fire altar. 

This paper aims at demonstrating that bird-priest motif was intentionally invented to answer both requirements of guiding the deceased’s soul to a Zoroastrian afterlife and placing him at the centre of a Chinese-oriented cosmological scheme. Instead of exclusively pointing at the deceased’s foreign background, it surprisingly illustrates a sense of belonging to 6th-century Chinese society as well. In order to understand this twofold reading, we shall examine potential sources of the bird-priest motif and attempt to explain how they eventually mingled together.

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http://mongolschinaandthesilkroad.blogspot.nl/2012/12/volume-21-bulletin-asia-institute.html

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