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Buddha in Gandhara Art and Other Buddhist Sites

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Item Code: NAL253
Author: Shantilal Nagar
Publisher: Buddhist World Press
Language: English
Edition: 2010
ISBN: 9788190821216
Pages: 407 (Throughout B/W Illustrations)
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details 11.5 inch X 8.5 inch
Weight 1.40 kg
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Book Description
About The Book

The Genesis of the Buddhist art in India, is traceable in the stone art of Bharhut dating back to the second century B. C. followed by the art of the Buddhist stupa at Sanchi (1st century B. C.) the Art of Mathura and Amaravati dating back to a century or two later. Numerous stone artefacts relating to the life of the Buddha were discovered from these sites. The early tradition of the Buddhist art and Bharhut and Sanchi does not project Buddha in human form. He is projected at these sites in symbolic form of empty throne, a chariot with a rider, a Bodhi tree or a horse without a rider. This was ostensibly done by the followers of the Buddha, out of the great reverence and respect, they had for the master.

The Gandhara region includes parts of North-West frontier province, Punjab, Afghanistan and Swat Valley of Pakistan. The Buddha, however, started appearing in human form in Gandhara Art, which starts from the 2nd-3rd century A. D. Onwards. The Projection of Buddha here at Gandhara, in human form, is so wide spread, as if it had been started with a vengeance. In early Buddhist sites on Bharhut, Sanchi,.Mathura, Amaravati and Nagarjunakonda, the Buddhist Art was executed in the hard stone. But in Gandhara the religious art was not restricted to the stone sculptures alone but Its exceIIence was projected in terracotta and stucco at Taxile, the Cave at Bamiyan, In Afghanistan and other sites, where two standing images of' the Buddha were found, one of which is the tallest in the world with a height of 177 feet.

The life scenes. of Buddha right from the . dream of the queen maya to his parinirvana started appearing in the Buddhist art from Bharhut onwards, and Gandhara started doing so by about the 2nd-3rd Century A. D. In the present work an attempt has been made to portray as my life scenes of Buddha as possible from Gandhara and while so doing, the evidence of some other ancient Buddhist sites, like Bharhut, Sanchi, Amaravati, Nagarjunakonda, Mathura etc. has also been included with the twin purpose of (i) comparative study and to supply the missing links with the related illustrating, some of which are of rare type.

The Buddhist texts also refer to the past Buddhas and a brief description of the same has been included with the related illustrations. Another salient feature in the Gandhara art has been the designing of the Buddha's headress, in which the artist did not restrict its projection to the traditional style of curly hair, but various styles were introduced in hair style in making of the images, a few specimens of which have been included in this work. Initially only the symbolic worship of Buddha was in vogue but in due course of time several modes of worship like the worship of the footprints of the Buddha, his hair, headdress, the begging bowl, the stupa, the relic caskets etc, were also introduced in the Buddhist pantheon. This aspect also finds place in this work. Taking into consideration various aspects of the Buddha's life as projected in stone, bronze, terra cotta and stucco, as found in Gandhara, the work is likely to interest thereaders.

About The Author

Shantilal Nagar, a graduate of the punjab university , served in the curatorial capacity in the Centeral Asian Antiquities Museum, New Delhi, the Archaeological Museum, Nalanda, Archaeological Section of the Indian Museum , Calcutta for a number of year. He has to his credit the scientific documentation of over fifty thousand antiquities, in these museums , representing the rich cultural heritage of the country and comprising of sculptures, bronzes, terracottas, beads, seals and sealing , ancient Indian numismatics, wood work, miniatures and paintings, textiles and Pearce collection of gems, ranging from the earliest times to the late medieval period. He was awarded in 1987, a fellowship, for his monograph on the temples of Himachal Pradesh by the Indian council of historical Research, New Delhi. He has authored more than fifty books.


Ever since the dawn of civilization on the Indian sub-continent, numerous deities have appeared over the Indian religious horizon from time to time in the past. Some of them as rapidly disappeared from the country as they had mushroomed, while some of them vanished after having lost their following or becoming irrelevant in due course of time. Still there had been certain deities, who after once emerging over the Indian religious horizon, never lost their relevance and inspired the humanity facing various periods of adversity, occasional rise and fall. Buddha happens to be one of them. He after emerging on the Indian religious horizon in the sixth century B.C. gradually became the inspiration of the masses and the religion founded by him deeply influenced the lives of the people in general, besides the monarchy to a considerable extent. However, his teachings got a big boost during the time of Asoka the Great who made the Buddhist teachers to travel far and wide for the propagation of the faith, crossing the boundaries in the countries like China, Japan, Tibet, Burma (Myanmar), Cambodia, Thailand in the east and touching the borders of Iran in the west. Though Buddhism declined to a considerable extent in India as well as other countries in the West, but in India, it never lost its relevance, because, the sites connected with the life of Buddha like Sarnath, Nalanda, Rajgir, Bodhgaya, Lumbini and several others became the places of pilgrimage for the people from India and abroad. Many of the life scenes of the Buddha have been found depicted in the archaeological remains at Lumbini - the birth place of the Buddha, Bodhgaya-the place of Buddha's enlightenment, Sankisa or Sahet Maheta - relating to the descent of the Buddha from the thirty-third heaven, Sravasti, where the Buddha performed the miracle, Vaisali-where the monkey offered the honey bowl the Buddha, Rajagir where the wicked elephant Nalagiri was tamed by the Buddha, Sarnath where the first sermon was delivered by him, and Kushinagara, where the Buddha attained Mahaparinirvana.

The life scenes of the Buddha were in due course of time, with the spread of Buddhism, depicted in the stupas at Bharhut (2nd century B.C.), Sanchi (1st century B.C.), Nagarjunakonda, Amaravati, Mathura and Gandhara. It may be recalled here that Buddha was never represented in human form in the sculptural art of Bharhut and Sanchi sculptures. He was conceived present in the form of an empty throne, Bodhi-tree and a horse without a rider. But the position suddenly changed when we come across the evidence of the Buddhist art as found in Gandhara, Mathura, and other archaeological sites like those of the Krishna valley of the early Christian era.

With the developing of the sculptural art the need for the prescribing of the iconographical features of the images of the Buddha also was envisaged. It would however be of interest to know what the Buddhist texts speak about him. When the Buddha was nearing his parinirvana, there reached a stage, "where he could hear nothing, see nothing, and feel nothing. He ceased to be an individual or to the effect, the universe in anyway. They proclaimed the doctrine of Pratyeka Buddha, but his disciples would not leave him alone to enjoy the peace of nirvana. They resuscitated him from his Buddhahood and brought him back to the world of beings. They did it under the doctrine of triratna (Dhammam saranam gacchami, Sangham saranam gacchami, Buddham saranam gacchami). It is possible that the Buddha might have referred himself as the last of the line of the Buddhas. By Maurya times, a belief in twenty five such Buddhas had been in vogue. In the Dharani literature, the Vajrayanists declared that the Buddhas had been (or will be) more numerous as the grains of sand on the bank of the Ganga (Aparmitadharini). The Tibetan koh-gyur speaks of one thousand Buddhas. The theory of a thousand Buddhas is also popular in Japan (Cave of thousand Buddhas). The Mahayana Buddhist text known by the title of Lalitavistara, highlights the life of the Buddha and mentions fifty-six Buddhas, besides Manusi Buddhas viz: Vipasyin, Sikhi, Visvabhu, of the preceding kalpa, Krakacanda, Kanakamuni, Kasyapa and Sakyamuni of the present kalpa. The Manusi Buddha is always portrayed in sculptural form in monastic garments without ornaments, with the right shoulder and the breast bare, or only the breast leaving bare. The urna-fourth of the thirty two divine marks of the Buddha is represented by a small round protuberance above the bridge of the nose, besides the usanisa and a long lobed ear. As already stated in early Buddhism, no images of the Buddha were worshipped and he was worshipped in the form of Bodhi tree or an empty throne. In this connection K.D. Bajpai has observed, "The problem of the origin of the Buddha image has been a topic of absorbing interest for a long time. Several scholars have discussed its various facts, including the mythological and historical aspects. The conceptional evolution of the early Buddhist iconography, based on the study of literary and archaeological source materials was discussed by A.K. Coomaraswamy. He traced the development of the Buddha image from its earliest symbolic representation to the anthropomorphic form, in a coherent and convincing way. In his discussion, he also took into account the relevant philosophical source materials. Dr. Sukumar Dutt has rightly shown the evolution of the human form of the Buddha embodying the devotional aspect in place of the archaic symbology of Buddhism."

The symbolic representations of Gautama Buddha and those of the previous Buddhas were primarily the sacred trees. In the Bharhut art, different trees representing the five past Buddhas are Patali, Sala, Udumbara, Nyagroda etc. The label inscriptions on the Bharhut panels call these trees as Bodhi. The literary and epigraphical references help us in determining the names of the past Buddhas, who were designated as Vipasyi, Visvabhu, Kaksusandha, Kasyapa, Sikhi and Kanakamuni. The last mentioned name is known from an inscription of the Maurya emperor Asoka. In the Nigliva edict of Asoka he is mentioned as Konagamuni. In the early Indian art of the pre-Christian era Gautama Buddha was represented by the symbols of Bodhi- tree, cakra, stupa, chatra and pada. These symbols gradually became well-known almost throughout the country. The question of the actual provenance of the earliest Buddha image in human form has been discussed by several scholars. The cogent arguments given by Coomaraswamy in favour of Mathura as the earliest centre of the Buddha image have recently been supplemented by Lahuizende Leeuw after the discovery of a new archaeological evidence in Afghanistan. She has discussed the problem in detail, basing her study on the comparative analysis of the early Buddha images known from Mathura and ancient Gandhara regions. The growth of the Bhakti movement during the 2nd-1st centuries B.C. was responsible, in a large measure, for portrayal of the Buddha images in Mathura and. Gandhara regions. The Sarvastivadins and the Mahasanghika Buddhist sects were mainly responsible for the carving of those images in human form. Besides the sculptural art, Buddha was also represented in early Indian coins and K.D. Bajpai has informed in this connection as under -

"As regards the earliest representation of the Buddha on coins, it may be stated that the Buddha appears in human form first on the gold and copper coins of Kaniska-I, The view that the figure of the Buddha occurs on the coins of Manes, Azes-I and Wema Kedphises, does not seem to be tenable. The supposed figures of the Buddha on these coins are not clear, nor do they indicate any distinct features of the Buddha as we find in the case of the coins of Kaniska."

In the Indian plastic art, several types of Buddha figures are met with, some of which are detailed as follows:

(A) (i) Mathura Type

In this type, the Buddha is shown seated in the Vajrasana (adamantine pose) or in Padmasana, in dhyana on a lotus seat. This type is purely Indian. The curly hair of the later sculpture is not seen. The hair looks smooth and tied above in a knot. In this variety, there is no usnisa but the urva and the long-lobe are present. The dhoti covers two-third of the legs and is taken above to cover the left breast and shoulder. The right breast and the right shoulder are left bare. The neck has a kantha-like mark.

(ii) The Gandhara Style

In this school of art, the Buddha is shown as seated in Padmasana on lotus seat. His hands are shown in dhyana-mudra or dharma-cakra-pravartana-mudra. The usnisa in such cases is developed into a top-knot.

(iii) Typical Indian style

In this style, the protuberance of the skull is marked, and the usnisa is covered with curly hair. This form is commonly found at Ellora and other sites in north India and was also carried to China, Japan, Indonesia and Indo-China. In a comparatively later form the usnisa is surrounded by a pointed flame; while the curls loose their curly appearance.

(iv) Crowned Buddha

The figures of Buddha with a crown on their heads were patronised in the Pala art of eastern India. The most important aspect of the Buddha figures in the Buddhist shrines have been the hand poses which include (i) Dhyanamudra placing the hands in the lap, one above the other, the palm facing above; (ii) Bhamisparsamudra wherein, the Buddha's right hand touches the earth below, representing his victory over Mara; Dharma-cakra-mudra symbolises the preaching of the first sermon by the Buddha at Sarnath, In this case both the hands are held near the breast. As to the costumes, the Buddhist texts provide tricivira which is a close fitting robe extending from the neck to ankles. In some cases the antriya falls into folds and the zigzag pattern it makes in between the legs lending it a decorative pattern. The end of the dhoti is taken over from the right to cover the left shoulder and the left breast. The end of the garment is held by left hand, when it is in dharmacakra-mudra and sometimes it is allowed to fall on chest in front.


List of Platesxvii
2Birth of Siddhartha, his Childhood and Education293
3The Marriage and Renunciation303
4Enlightenment and First Sermon317
5The First Sermon at Sarnath329
6The Conversions etc.337
7Gifts and Miracles347
8The Events357
9Parinirvana (Before and After)361

Sample Pages

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