Reshaping the Jataka Stories

from Jatakas to Avadanas and Pranidhanas in Paintings at Kucha and Turfan


  • Tianshu Zhu University of Macau



jātaka stories, avadāna, praṇidhāna, Kucha, Turfan, Buddhist art


Kucha was the major Buddhist center on the Northern Route of the Silk Road, and well known for being dominated by the Sarvastivada school for most of its history. Replacing the jataka story, the avadana story (story of causation) became the major theme depicted on the ceiling of the central-pillar caves in this area (fifth–seventh centuries). Turfan is another important cultural center in Central Asia where Buddhism once flourished. The pranidhana (or ‘vow’) painting, which was based on the Bhaisajyavastu, a vinaya text of the Mulasarvastivada school, was a unique subject normally appearing on the walls of Buddhist caves in Turfan (ninth twelfth centuries). Both the avadana and pranidhana stories are derived from jataka stories, with significant shifts of focus, as well as of the format of the narrative. In this paper, through studying the avadana and vow paintings at Kucha and Turfan, and comparing them with jatakas in early Buddhist art, I attempt to show how jataka stories were transformed for different doctrinal messages of Buddhist teaching in some late ‘Hinayana’ schools, namely Sarvastivada and Mulasarvastivada, and how the visual representations mirror the narrative styles in Buddhist texts.

Author Biography

Tianshu Zhu, University of Macau

Tianshu Zhu, assistant Professor in the department of history of the University of Macau, received her Ph.D of Buddhist art from the Ohio State University in 2007. She specialize Buddhist art in China, central Asia and India. She is currently completing work on a book manuscript on small Buddha images depicted in the aura of Buddhist figures.


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How to Cite

Zhu, T. (2012). Reshaping the Jataka Stories: from Jatakas to Avadanas and Pranidhanas in Paintings at Kucha and Turfan. Buddhist Studies Review, 29(1), 57–83.