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Petra, Jordan Is it an ancient Shiva Temple complex? (cont.)
By Bibhu Dev Misra (IIT, IIM)

Although this ancient cult was worshipped in large parts of the world since time immemorial, there appears to have been a renewed westward thrust of this faith, soon after the conquests of Alexander, which invigorated the ancient land and maritime trade routes, popularly known as the Silk Route, which connected India and China with the western world.

Fig 10: The ancient Silk Route. [Source: chinatouristmaps.com]




In 329 BC, Alexander established the city of Alexandria in Egypt, which became a major staging point in the Silk Route. In 323 BC, Alexander’s successors, the Ptolemaic dynasty, took control of Egypt. They actively promoted trade with Mesopotamia, India, and East Africa through their Red Sea ports and over land. This was assisted by a number of intermediaries, especially the Nabataeans and other Arabs. Soon after the Roman conquest of Egypt in 30 BC, regular communications and trade between India, Southeast Asia, Sri Lanka, China, the Middle East, Africa and Europe blossomed on an unprecedented scale.

The Silk Route transformed into a highway for the cultural, commercial, technological, philosophical and religious exchanges between far flung kingdoms. Buddhism spread from the northern part of India into the farthest reaches of China. The Eastern Han emperor Mingdi is supposed to have sent a representative to India to discover more about this strange faith, and further missions returned bearing scriptures, and bringing with them Indian priests. Together with coveted merchandise, rock-cutting skills travelled eastwards along the Silk Road from India to China. Hundreds of rock-cut caves with statues of Buddha were built between 450 and 525 CE. Among the most famous ones are the Longmen Grottoes in China’s Henan province, a UNESCO World Heritage Site today. The Longmen grotto complex contains 2345 caves and niches, 2800 inscriptions, 43 pagodas and over 100,000 Buddhist images collected over various Chinese dynasties. The Yungang Grottoes near Datong in the province of Shanxi consists of 252 grottoes and more than 51,000 Buddha statues and statuettes, mainly constructed in the period between 460-525 CE. Also on the Silk Road are the Mogao Caves in China’s Gansu province. They are best known for their stunning and well-preserved Buddhist art that spans a period of 1,000 years from 366 CE onwards.

Fig 11: Yungang Grottoes, Shanxi province, China. [Source: Wikipedia.org]

Fig 12: Longmen Grottoes, Henan province, China. [Source: Wikipedia.org]

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