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The Gandhara School of Art By Debolina Mondal

Updated: Jun 23, 2021

Gandhara, a region presently in northwest Pakistan, was home to overwhelming Buddhist missionary activities during the reign of Ashoka. Even in 1st century CE, rulers of the Kushan empire who aslo ruled Gandhara, had trade relations with Rome. This international relationship had a major influence on the cultural scene of the kingdom and soon inherited the Greco-Roman style of art. The Gandhara school of art now made sculptures of their known Indian deity, Buddha, influenced by the Greek styling. Incorporating Greco-Roman techniques and elements like vine scrolls and garlands they began interpreting Buddhism in a new way.

In the beginning of the 1st century CE, Buddhism was thought and preached to be aniconic so as Buddhist art. Buddha was only represented through symbols which were ordinary things but were related to his mystical journey in life. Those symbols included a Bodhi tree, an empty throne, the dharma wheel and few other objects. Later in the 2nd century CE, the first anthropomorphic representations of the Buddha started to develop. This is believed to be the product of an interesting interaction between the Greek and the Buddhist culture at Gandhara, Mathura and Bactria. This resulted to form a new cultural phenomenon know as Greco-Buddhism. This mainly developed between the fourth century BCE and the fifth century CE in Bactria which was then a part of the massive Indian subcontinent. When Alexander the Great visited India he left a string of his men in the western part of the subcontinent to feed for themselves in an unknown environment. These people readily interacted with the local masses and this long chain of interaction and integration passed on from generation to generation gave birth to a cultural brand that grew up to be a giant cultural phenomenon.

Greco-Buddhism preached the innovative anthropomorphic Buddha image which was inspired by the Greek sculptures of the Greek Gods. In Gandharan art, the Buddha is often shown under the protection of the Greek god Herakles, standing with his club (and later a diamond rod) resting over his arm. This unusual representation of Herakles is the same as the one on the back of Demetrius' coins, and it is exclusively associated to him (and his son Euthydemus II), seen only on the back of his coins. Many of the stylistic elements in the representations of the Buddha point to Greek influence: the Greek himation (a light toga-like wavy robe covering both shoulders: Buddhist characters are always represented with a dhoti loincloth before this innovation), the halo, the contrapposto stance of the upright figures, the stylized Mediterranean curly hair and top-knot apparently derived from the style of the Belvedere Apollo (330 BC), and the measured quality of the faces, all rendered with strong artistic realism. Some of the standing Buddhas (as the one pictured) were sculpted using the specific Greek technique of making the hands and sometimes the feet in marble to increase the realistic effect, and the rest of the body in another material.(Wikipedia)

Galleries devoted to the preservation and exhibition of Gandhara art are rare in the world, modestly scarce in today's India. The lagest collection of Gandhara art on Indian land can be found in Indian Museum at Kolkata followed by Mathura Museum in Mathura.

An impressive body of Gandhara art is preserved in various museums in Pakistan like Peshawar Museum in Peshawar,Lahore Museum in Lahore,Taxila Museum in Taxila and National Museum of Pakistan in Karachi.

About The Author

Debalina Mondal is a student of English Literature who loves reading fiction. She is a proud feminist with a keen interest in debating and photography.


The views of the above article belongs to the Author Ms. Debolina Mondal.



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