Gandhara School of Art

  • Gandhara was the name given to the land and its associated civilization that existed in what is now northern Pakistan and Afghanistan from the mid 1st millenium BCE to the beginning of the 2nd millenium CE and consisted of multiple dynasties which ruled over the same area but which were linked by their adoption of Buddhism as a religion for the most part and also of the Indo-Greek artistic tradition as its cultural identity.
  • It has been speculated that Gandhara was a triangular tract of land about 100 kilometers east to west and 70 km north to south, lying mainly to the west of the Indus River and bounded on the north by the Hindukush Mountains. 
  •  It really took flight during the Kushan era and especially that of the King Kanishka during the 1st Century CE who deified the Buddha and arguably for the first time introduced the Buddha image which went on to become so prolific as to define the entire Gandharan culture.
  • The combination of these Greco-Roman and Indian ideas along with the influence of other foreign traditions such as from China and Iran resulted in the formation of a distinct style known as the Gandhara School of art.
  • The life story of the Buddha became the staple subject matter for any and all aspects of Gandharan art, and the sheer number of Buddha images ensrhined in chapels, stupas and monasteries continue to be found in great number to this day.
  • The materials used were either kanjur stone finished with plaster and paint or Schist stone. Kanjur is basically fossilized rock which can be easily molded into shapes which are used as a base for various decorative elements in Gandharan art such as pilasters, Buddha figures, brackets and other elements
  • The characteristic pottery is red ware, both plain and polished, with medium to fine fabric. The distinctive pots are sprinklers and spouted channels. They remind us of red pottery with thin fabric found in the same period in Kushan layers in Central Asia. Red pottery techniques were widely known in Central Asia and are to be found even in regions such as Farghana which lay on the peripheries of the Kushan cultural zone
  • They popularized the use of reins and saddles, which appear in the Buddhist sculpture of the second and third centuries AD. The Shakas and the Kushans were excellent horsemen. Their passion for horsemanship is shown by numerous equestrian terracotta figures of Kushan times discovered from Begram in Afghanistan.
  • Indian religions underwent changes in post-Maurya times partly due to a great leap in trade and artisanal activity and partly due to the large influx of people from Central Asia. Buddhism was especially affected. This new form of Buddhism came to be called Mahayana or the Great Vehicle
  • Indian craftsmen came into contact with the Central Asians, Greeks, and Romans, especially in the north-western frontier of India in Gandhara. This gave rise to a new form of art in which images of the Buddha were made in the Graeco-Roman style, and his hair fashioned in the Graeco- Roman style
  • Laid emphasis, among other things, on the transformation of the Buddha into a great mythological, almost eternal, god, and on the deification of future Buddhas as holding providences. In the visual arts, the Buddha was permitted for the first time to be represented in human form 
  • Standing and Seated statues of the Buddha and the Bodhisattva Maitreya, and stone slabs depicting in low relief the legend of the Buddha’s birth stories, or Ja ̄takas abound.

  • The Gandha ̄ra Buddha is an idealized figure having a delightful face unaffected by age or affliction.
  • Standing barefoot or seated cross-legged he is always shown wearing an undergarment and a monk’s robe.
  • Among the signs of a maha ̄purus.alaks.ana (great man), the us.n. ̄ıs.au ̄rn.a ̄ and dharmacakra are usually visible.
  • The model of a standing Buddha might have been copied from a Greek god or a hero or even from a Roman emperor wearing pallium or toga, as the Kushans definitely had diplomatic and commercial relations with the contemporary Roman West.
  • The most characteristic feature of Gandha ̄ra sculptures is their frontality. Figures normally stare fixedly into one’s eyes or are turned completely to right or left. There is seldom move- ment in their bodies.
  • They are a step towards frontality and a sharp contrast to the highly emotional images of the Hellenistic world 
  • The Gandhara panels narrate the Ja ̄takas or birth stories of the Buddha, in a simple, clear and lucid way which is in sharp contrast to the confused style of earlier schools.   
  • The coins from Gandhara show a portrait copied from the bust of the Roman emperor Augustus, the first figure of Buddha and an array of twenty-eight deities of Hel- lenistic Irano-Babylonian and Indian origins, all identified by legends in Bactrian Greek script. 

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