The So-Called “Pelliot Chinois 4518.24” Illustrated Document from Dunhuang and Sino-Sogdian Iconographical Contacts
Keywords:Dunhuang, Sogdian art, Chinese art, Sogdian deities, Zoroastrianism, Nana, Tishtrya, Tir
Sogdian artists constantly adopted external religious iconographies from Mesopotamia, Greece, and India to represent local deities without major problems. Apparently, they did the same in their colonies abroad and especially in Buddhist Dunhuang where the main cultural milieu was Chinese. Two deities represented on a paper fragment from Dunhuang have been puzzling scholars since the 1990s. They present very strong Sogdian religious elements that, however, should be studied within the framework of Sino–Uighur art and culture of the Western Regions and Dunhuang. Many scholars considered the two deities both to be women. This article discusses the possibility that they actually represent a couple despite their aspect. Only one of them is a woman who can be identified with Nana. The other deity is probably Tish who was Nana’s husband and corresponded to the Avestan rain god Tishtrya and, in the Mesopotamian cultural sphere, to Nabu. Nana and Nabu formed a divine couple in Mesopotamian religion. Nabu was in origin the patron of scribes and corresponded to Greek Hermes and Egyptian Thoth. He was also connected to the planet Mercury that Chinese artists represented as a woman. Nana and Tish formed a powerful icon that Sogdians reproduced on inexpensive material that could be easily transported and possibly invoked as protectors of the family.