The Clay Votive Plaques from Domoko Toplukdong (Khotan). Transmission of Visual Themes and Religious Practice between India and Central Asia

This paper will present the discovery of a number of clay plaques from the Buddhist monastic site of Toplukdong near Domoko (Chin. Damagou) in Khotan (ca. 7th c. CE). The clay plaques, ca. 8 cm in diameter, are all of the same type and were originally placed at the basement of statues at the entrance of a cultic area, suggesting that they were intended as votive offerings.

Clay plaques and miniature stūpas were a commonattribute of Mahāyāna devotional practice in Buddhist Asia.In India, where the use of Buddhist votive plaques originated, their earliest appearance dates to around the 7th c. CE. Imported from India to Tibet, the tradition of moulding images in clay as a votive offering (referred to as tsha tsha) became a charac­te­ristic aspect of cult practice in Tibetan Buddhism—fully attested as early as the 10th/11th century.

The production of votive clay plaques in Central Asia is little known. Evidence from areas such as Kashmir and Afghanistan (7th/8th c. and 8th/9th c.) comes from a few sites which have generally little documentation, while evidence for the Tarim basin is even more scattered: some examples have been reported in old excavations as well as casual finds in Dunhuang, Turfan and Khotan (7th/8th c.), and Kharakhoto (11th/12th c.).

The finds from Toplukdong represent, therefore, new and precious attestation of the diffusion of this practice in the Tarim Basin, particularly in the area of Khotan. Moreover, as “artistic conveyors” these clay plaques can provide important clues on the circulation of styles and iconographies between India and Central Asia.