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The 627 Gandhara sculptures of this Museum are the ones that India received as her share of the Lahore Museum 's collection at the time of the partition of India in 1947. The sculptures are of variety of sizes and stylistic denominations. There are some large sized Buddha and Bodhisattva images and also a few depicting buddhist deities. There are numerous panels visualising buddhist narratives, some of which are doubtless of rare variety. Of the buddhist deities the images of Hariti and Panchika are the attraction of the collection. One standing image of Hariti found from Skarah Dheri is a unique example of the sculptural treasures because of it being inscribed and dated. The panels represent many themes not identified earlier even from similar examples of other collections. However, a good number of panels depict the Dipankara Jataka and many other narratives connected with the life of the Buddha.

In fact, the Gandhara collection of this Museum is a great attraction for the scholars not only because of its number which is second largest in any of the collections of Museums in India, the largest being that of the Indian Museum Calcutta, but also in view of many rare examples of narratives not represented in the examples preserved in other collections of the world.

Bust of the Bodhisattva
Bust of the Bodhisattva, Schist stone,
Early 2nd century A.D., Sikrai
Click to enlarge

When Alexander of Macedon died in 323 B.C., a number of his generals set up independent kingdoms. The whole of Western Asia, (present-day Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan) became Hellenistic; Greco-Roman fashions, customs and art, coins, language and dresses dominated. Most people were Asians, many intermarried with Greeks and Romans. New religions sprang up, among them Mithraism, Isis-worship, Manichaeism, and also Christianity.

About the 1st century B.C. a large number of these foreigners settled in the Buddhist border kingdom of Gandhara that stretched from the Kabul valley to Rawalpindi. Most of these settlers were converted to Buddhism, built monasteries, temples and stupas, and created a vigorous art movement, the so-called Greco-Buddhist art of Gandhara. Though superficially there were Greco-Roman elements in this art, it was essentially an Indian art. These Hellenistic elements continued under the Central Asian rulers, the Kushanas, who conquered Mathura and Gandhara by the 2nd century A.D.

Standing figure of the Bodhisattva,
Schist stone, c 2nd century A.D. Sikrai
Click to enlarge
Standing figure of the Bodhisattva,
Schist stone, c 2nd century A.D. Sikrai
Click to enlarge

Stylistically, Gandhara art develops exactly like Indian art in other parts of India where there appear no Hellenistic elements at all. The four distinct periods are :
1st : the archaic or primitive style. Hellenistic elements are few. Figures are stiff and lifeless. The composition is clumsy and poor. (1st century B.C. to about 250 A.D.)
2nd : the classical style. Complete mastery of form, lovely idealization. Peace, serenity and dignity prevail. Much more Hellenistic influence. (About 300 to 500 A.D.) Until now all sculptures in Gandhara are in schist stone.
3rd : the mannerist style. The rigid canons of beauty of the classicist are slowly given up for novelty, more agility, richer decoration and a more romantic concept of beauty. A great deal of late Hellenistic influence. (About 500 A.D. to 650 A.D. with the gradual introduction of stucco, though schist stone is still much used).
4th : the baroque style. As in all parts of India where no Greek element ever penetrated, mannerism is followed by a romantic love of grace, individualism, dramatic surprise. Composition is crowded, full of movement, profusion of ornamentation. (From about 650 A.D. to about 800 A.D. by which time there is very little Gandhara art, mostly near Kabul).
(Dr. Charles Fabri May 6, 1968)

In the first 450 years after the death of the Buddha He was never depicted in human form. Only symbols were used: such as His footsteps, the Buddhist Wheel of the Dharma, the Bodhi Tree or the Stupa.

Seated figure of the Buddha, Schist stone,
c 2nd century A.D.,Gandhara
Click to enlarge
Head of the Buddha, Stucco,
c 4th century A.D., Gandhara
Click to enlarge

But Buddhism was slowly changed into a religion with worship and prayer, and it was in the Gandhara country that the many foreign converts clamoured for an image of the Buddha, and created a Buddha-image in human form. Naturally, this was a purely artistic invention, for the Buddha had been dead for 450 years, and no one knew what he looked like. Now, as in the minds of these newly converted Greco-Romans and Asians the Buddha was half a philosopher, half a god. They have invented a Buddha-image that is, in fact, half a Greek wandering philosopher, half a handsome god.

For many centuries they could not even decide whether he had a moustache, or not, and there exist many Buddha-images with a moustache. Later, the moustache disappears. On the other hand almost all Buddha-images show him with curly or with wavy hair, which is strange, as he must have been clean shaven for he had cut off his hair. Many images give him a protuberance on the top of his head (ushnisha), very long earlobes, and a ”radiance” on the forehead (urna); a few show a web between his fingers.

The Buddha and the other divinities,
Schist stone, c 3rd century A.D., Gandhara
Click to enlarge
Bust of the Buddha,
Schist stone, c 2nd century A.D., Gandhara
Click to enlarge

It is this image, invented in Gandhara, that is accepted in Mathura (one of the satrapies of the Kushana emperors) and then spread rapidly to the rest of India, but with fewer and fewer Hellenistic features. By the first century A.D. similar Buddha-images are made in South India too (Amravati, Nagarjunakonda). It must be emphasized that all these images are pure invention, and in no way likenesses.
By the 6th century A.D., the first attempts are made to show the Buddha with some jewellery; in the 7th and 8th century, many Buddhas appear with necklaces, crowns, ear-rings, armlets and bracelets.
(Dr. Charles Fabri May 6, 1968)


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