Kucha ［亀茲・庫車］ ( Kiji or Kosha): An oasis city in the Sinkiang Uighur Autonomous Region of China. In ancient times, it was inhabited by a people who spoke Kuchean, or Tocharian B, one of two forms of Tocharian, an Indo–European language. Kucha was an important center on the road that ran along the southern foot of the Tien Shan range on the northern rim of the Tarim Basin. This road is now known as the northern route of the Silk Road. Kucha accommodated the eastward spread of Buddhism, which originated in India and was introduced to Kucha around the beginning of the first century.
From around the fourth century, the exchange between Kucha and the Buddhist community in the northwestern regions of India increased; Kucha became a major Buddhist center in Central Asia, along with Khotan on the southern route of the Silk Road along the southern rim of the Tarim Basin. In the fourth and fifth centuries, many Buddhists emerged from Kucha, including Kumārajīva, one of the most important translators of Buddhist scriptures into Chinese. Kumārajīva’s mother was a younger sister of the king of Kucha. In Kucha, the Hinayana and Mahayana traditions existed side by side, but Hinayana was predominant when the Chinese priest Hsüan-tsang visited there around 630 on his way to India. He noted in his Record of the Western Regions that more than one hundred monasteries existed there, where more than five thousand monks lived and studied the doctrines of the Sarvāstivāda school, a major Hinayana school. He also noted that Kucha grew various grains, grapes, peaches, pomegranates, and other fruits; that it produced gold, copper, iron, and other minerals; and that the performance of orchestral music was a specialty there. In 658 China’s T’ang dynasty made Kucha a Chinese protectorate. In the ninth century Kucha came under Uighur control, and eventually Islam superseded Buddhism. The Kizil caves, about seventy kilometers west of Kucha, still remain, preserving artifacts from the age when Buddhism flourished there. These Buddhist cave-temples were made in the period from the fourth to the eighth century, and they contain many murals depicting the events of Shakyamuni Buddha’s life and the legends of his previous births. About thirty kilometers southwest of Kucha are the Kumtura caves, dating from the eighth or ninth century. The murals in these Buddhist caves depict Amida Buddha’s Pure Land and Medicine Master Buddha, among other themes.