Gandhara Sculpture  - Album of Art Treasures

Gandhara Sculpture - Album of Art Treasures

Product ID: 27101

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Author: R C Sharma
Publisher: Indian Museum Calcutta
Year: 1998
Language: English
Pages: 17
ISBN/UPC (if available): N/A


As resolved in an International Colloquium on the Gandhara Art held in the Indian Museum, Calcutta on Feb. 3, 1991 ‘the core area of Gandhara should be the one bounded by the Hindu – Kush on the west, the eastern region of the Punjab area (or roughly the longitude of 75 in that section) on the east, northern bounded by the Hindu-Kush on the west, the eastern region of the Punjab area (or roughly the longitude of 75 in that section) on the east, northern boundaries of Swat, Hazara and Kashmir valley (or roughly upto the latitude of 35) on the north and Khawat, Guldarra and the southern limits of the Peshawar and Rawalpindi districts (or roughly upto the latitude of 34.5) on the south’.

The reference of Gandhara region in the Rigveda, Atharvaveda, later Vedic literature and frequent mention in the epics, classical texts and jataka tales suggest its close ties with India. It was the part of the Persian territory under Achaemenian Empire in the 6th-5th century B.C and in the beginning of the last quarter of the 4th century B.C. it was invaded by Alexander. After his retreat the Gandhara region was ruled by the Mauryan dynasty including the emperor Asoka.

The typical geographical position of Gandhara has made it a gateway between India and Central Asia and a meeting place of different stocks of people and various cultural currents. They settled here for a brief spell and some advanced further deep into India and others made a retreat.

The Gandhara style of art is known for the use of grey schist or slate stone quarries from the local hills, later on stucco and terracotta and occasionally metal; impact of late Greek, Bactrian, Roman, Iranian, Scythian and Indian (particularly of Mathura) plastic trends; development of the Buddha with minute details; the treatment of the Buddha figure as Apollo; wavy hair or notched curls and a top knot (ushnisha); sometimes moustaches on the Buddha’s face; mark of urna between the eye-brows; garment with thick pleats generally covering both shoulders and looking like the Roman toga; Bodhisattva sometimes wearing sandals; pointed and prickly petals of lotus seat; the plain halo round the head and muscular formation of body.

The standing Buddha is generally shown in abhaya (protection pose) but the seated figures are also in bhumisparsa (earth touching), vyakhyana (preaching), dharmachakra-pravartana (turning the wheel of law), and dhyana (meditation). Sometimes the Bodhisattvas are shown in pensive attitude keeping right leg across the left one and supporting the head near the temple with two fingers of his right hand.

Although extremely prolific in production the Gandhara School appears aesthetically less appealing. The elaborate life story of the Buddha imparts the feeling of over repetition and mechanization. It certainly helped in popularizing Buddhism in foreign countries but could not satisfy the people on the spiritual plane. The monotonous and rather expressionless treatment does not succeed in arousing the devotional sentiments.

Framing of chronology of Gandhara art has been a highly debatable issue. So far only eight dated inscribed sculptures have been noticed and these are of year 5 (Buddha – provenance unknown, Brussels Museum), year 56 (Maitreya, Indian Museum, Calcutta, code no. G.D.133) year 89 (Indrasila from Mamane Dheri Peshawar Museum)year 110 (Bodhisattva with inscription on halo now in a private collection in U.S.A), year 291 (Hariti from Skarah Dheri, Government Museum and Art Gallery, Chandigarh No. 1625), year 318 (Buddha from Loriyan Tangai, Indian Museum, Calcutta No. 4901/A23217), year 384 (Buddha from Hashtanagar, British Museum, (London) and year 400 (back of a sculptured panel from Loriyan Tangai, Indian Museum, Calcutta No. 5155/A23455).

Despite monotonous representation and somewhat inferior artistic rendering, the contribution of Gandhara school is memorable for its abundance in production, dissemination of the Buddha’s preachings, popularity of his life stories, assimilation of various art forms, confluence of different pantheons of East and West and thus creating an environment of interfaith harmony and understanding which was badly needed in the frequent turmoils and upheavals.

The Indian Museum, Calcutta is in the privileged position to house one of the richest repositories of the specimens of Gandhara School of sculpture, the number of which is about one thousand. It also had the good luck to receive the first antiquarian remain from Gandhara region, excavated by Dr. J.G. Gerard near Kabul in 1833-34. Subsequently, the antiquities revealed as the result of Gen. A Cunningham’s excavations and explorations at Jamalgarhi, Mardan, Sahri Bahlol, Takht-i-Bahai and Kharkai, saw their way to the Museum in the seventh decade of the last century. The Museum was further benefited by the excavations conducted by the Archaeological Survey of India on different Gandhara sites and the representative finds made available from time to time. Some sculptures have been acquired by the Museum by way of exchange or art purchase.

The notable receptacles of the Gandhara sculptures beside Indian Museum, Calcutta are : Chandigarh Museum, National Museum, New Delhi; State Museum, Lucknow; Government Museum, Mathura, Bharat Kala Bhavan, Varanasi and Allahabad Museum.

The present album imparts only a glimpse of the vast collection in the Indian Museum, Calcutta.


Buddha in Padmasana (cross legged) holds his two hands in the vyakhana mudra (preaching pose). The halo is devoid of any carving and the transparent drapery covers the left shoulder only. The wavy hair is arranged in a big top knot and the urna (mark of knowledge) projects in the centre of the forehead above the eyebrows.

The relief represents the birth of Gautama who emerges from the right side of queen Maya standing cross legged and holding the branch of the sala tree in the Lumbini garden.

The prince Gautama decided to renounce all worldly pleasures including his wife Yasodhara and son Rahula in quest of Supreme Knowledge and this great event is known as mahabhinishkramana (the Great Departure or Renumciation).

The sculpture displays another great event of the life of the Buddha i.e. the first sermon at Sarnath or Mrigadava after his enlightenment at Bodhgaya.

While camping at Rajagriha the Buddha once reached the door of a nirgrantha (Jaina) devotee named Subhadra who enquired about the fate of the child which his wife was expecting.

Bodhisattva holding a stalked lotus in the left hand (padmapani) sits on a high cushioned throne with his right leg bent across the left thing.

The head of the Buddha made in stucco is a beautiful specimen of the late Gandhara art traditions.

The Bodhisattva head with richly ornamented turban bedecked with central lotus and rosette, crocodile and other motifs, bears a subtle smile and inward vision.

The symbol worship is rather rare in the Gandhara art. The present sculpture shows the triratna symbol places inside a trefoil arch on the pedestal which is marked by two antelopes.

After the death (Parinirvana) the body of the Buddha was placed in a coffin before cremation. An elegant coffin box was made befitting a great king.