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Hualin International Journal of Buddhist Studies 6.1 (2023): 194–276;
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Buddhist Narrative Literature)

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Fragrance Offering as a Call for Rescue: The Sumāgadhā / Sumatī Story Illustrated in the Kizil Grottoes

Ji Ho YI 李智浩
Leipzig University

Abstract: Sumāgadhā was a laywoman who called for the Buddha’s help by offering fragrance. When the fragrant odour of Sumāgadhā’s offering reached the Buddha, he flew to her with his enlightened monks, converting many people who lived in the town of Sumāgadhā’s new home. The mid-air procession of the Buddha and the monks, and Sumāgadhā welcoming them were depicted in Kizil Caves 178, 193, 198, 205, and 224, in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, on the median strip of the barrel-vault in the main chamber.

The Sumāgadhā illustrations in Kizil are fascinating visualisations of text and material culture at crossroads. Although there are differences in details, the paintings’ visual elements illustrate the narrative closest to the Chinese translations before the fourth century. Meanwhile, the texts and objects found locally show that fragrance, especially musk, was likely consumed in the monasteries, especially as an offering for the Buddha, whose presence was conveyed through a statue or painted image in the perfumed chamber (Skt. gandhakuṭī).

Keywords: Sumāgadhā, Sumatī, fragrance, incense, gandhakuṭī, Kizil, Kucha


About the Author: Ji Ho Yi studied Economics and Art History at Seoul National University, Seoul, South Korea, and completed her M.A. in Art History at Seoul National University. She worked between 2012 and 2013 at the Kyujanggak Institute of Korean Studies as a manager of the exhibition space. Since November 2018, Ji Ho has been studying under the supervision of Prof. Dr. Monika Zin at the Universität Leipzig, conducting her research for her Ph.D. project on the monk and nun images painted in the Buddhist caves of ancient Kucha. She has worked as a doctoral student in the project group ‘Buddhist Murals of Kucha on the Northern Silk Road’ at the Sächsische Akademie der Wissenschaften zu Leipzig since March 2019.


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