Have you ever wanted to fly? To float in bliss on a pink cloud? To soar until your perspective changes and your problems seem small? Many people have wanted to fly; and some do fly with hot-air balloons. Of course, we can fly in our dreams. We can fly in our imagination. We can envision what it would be like to be a superhero who can fly. Dream, imagination and stories can help us spread our wings and fly.
Fei Tian (pronounced ‘Fay Ten’), literally means “Fly Heaven; Fly Sky,” is a flying deity, and is also one of the most unique and distinctive elements of Chinese art. In Buddhist scripture, Fei Tian is called the Goddess of Heavenly Song or Music. Moreover, due to her fragrance, she is also referred to as the Fragrant Goddess with a Sweet Voice. The art of wall painting of Fei Tian in Yun-Gang, Long-Men and Dun-Huang (or Tun-Huang) cave temples in China came from India. In Indian mythology, the flying Apsaras (Fei Tian in Chinese) is said to be the goddess of clouds and water, who lives in lakes and marshes, and flies gracefully and freely below bodhi trees. Those flying Apsaras, or Fei Tian, are commonly accepted as the Oriental Angels, and represent joy, peace, beauty, kindness, and spiritual freedom.
The construction of cave temples at the site of Dun-Huang, Gan-Su Province, China had begun in the early fourth century. During that period, Dun-Huang was an important meeting point between China and Central Asia. In Chinese history, the Tang Dynasty (A.D. 618 – 907) was a period of great wealth and sophistication, with political and mercantile ties extending from Byzantine world to Japan. Many rulers of Tang Dynasty were devoted Buddhists. They strongly supported the establishment of temples as centers of learning and practices of the Buddhism. The westward expansion of the Tang Empire increased the importance of Dun-Huang. Here, the desert routes converged and the cave temples profited from the growing prosperity of the people.
By the eighth century, wealthy donors to Buddha were demanding larger and more elaborately decorated cave temples in Dun-Huang. The comparatively simple Buddha group in wall paintings of the previous century was enlarged to include crowds of attendant figures, lavish architectural settings, and many minor deities (including the flying Fei Tian) who worshipped the Buddha with music and dance. The abundance and wealth of the great Tangstyle is reflected in the detailed richness of the brilliantly colored wall paintings throughout numerous cave temples. Among the various styles of flying Fei Tian from different Chinese dynasties, the Fei Tian figures produced during the Tang Dynasty were the most resplendent ones. The Chinese historians regard Tang Dynasty as a golden age of figure painting with its variety, balance and beauty. And, the mural (wall painting) art achieved such a high level that Fei Tian embodied the national characteristics in Dun-Huang cave temples.
There are more than 4,500 Fei Tian in the Dun-Huang caves distributed throughout more than 270 of the remaining 492 caves. The wall painting of Fei Tian in those caves are depicted as young girls with slim figures and plump faces, an unstrained manner and gentle mood. Those Fei Tian in Dun-Huang are bare without wings or feathers. For examples, a moving scene depicting a group of girls flying and dancing freely in the sky; some girls are weaving through the clouds and rivers, carrying fruits; others are playing musical instruments. You can tell how smooth their skins are, and how elegant their gestures are. They look full of life even drawn with just some simple lines. Looking at those flying Fei Tian, you can tell there is contentment, kind heart and peaceful mind. (Please see the images below.)
Today, the paintings of flying Fei Tian, the Oriental Angel, often showed up in the major Buddhist ceremonies sending out blessings, flowers, or playing Buddhist music. They dressed gorgeously, and they looked delighted and peaceful. The flying Fei Tian is an expression of physical perfection, spiritual freedom, kindness and gentlement. The painting of Fei Tian not only has the value of appreciation, it also provides an inspiration to the designing work related to the oriental beauty.
The following images are my paintings of the flying Fei Tian, the Oriental Angel, that are similar to some of those Fei Tian in Dun-Huang Cave temples.
The following images are my work of western angels. (Spring Liao, 09/30/2015)