The secret behind Buddha’s charm

“Every artist dips his brush in his own soul, and paints his own nature into his pictures,” said Henry Ward Beecher, American social reformer.  That is how art is born.

Artists give vent to their minds or more clearly, thoughts and feelings through imagination. In doing so, they would often express their beliefs as well. Now cut to Gandhara Art, dating back to between 1st century BC and 7th century CE. This genre of Buddhist visual art, developed in the northwestern Pakistan and eastern Afghanistan of the Indian sub continent, is of Greco-Roman origin.

What is today’s Swat Valley and Peshawar were once melting pot of art. As a result, Gandhara Art flourished largely during the reign of Mauryan Emporer Asoka and later under the Saka and Kushan dynasties. The reign of Emperor Ashoka in third century BC saw intense Buddhist missionary activity here.

And in the 1st century CE, the rulers of the Kushan Empire, which included Gandhara, had contacts with Rome. In its interpretation of Buddhist legends, the Gandhara School incorporated many motifs and techniques from Classical Roman art.

As a result, you find vine scrolls, cherubs bearing garlands, tritons, and centaurs in Gandhara art. The basic iconography, however, remained Indian. Gandhara sculptures were originally painted and gilded.

The chief materials used in the earlier phase of  Gandhara sculpture included green phyllite and gray-blue mica schist.  After third century, stucco came into wide use. Thanks to figurines in Roman religion, Gandhara School portrayed Buddha in youthful Apollo-like face, wearing Roman imperial garments. However, their seated Buddha was less successful.

Studies say the schools of Gandhara and Mathura influenced each other. And the general trend slanted toward a more idealised, abstract image than naturalistic ones.  The Gandhara craftsmen made a lasting contribution to Buddhist art bringing events of the Buddha’s life into scenes.

Greek tradition is visible in the physical details like delineation of muscles, moustaches, and curly hairstyles. Dharmarajika Stupa of Taxila, Manakiala of Rawalpindi, Mohra Muradu and Julian monasteries bear the clear imprints of Gandhara Architecture and sculptures.

Corinthian capital, triangular pediments, medalians show the Hellenistic imprints. Iranian features like fire altars and animal capitals are also part of Gandhara Architecture. Cultural tryst between the Classical Greek culture and Buddhism flourished over a period of 1000 years between the conquests of Alexander the Great in the 4th century BC and the Islamic conquests of the 7th century CE.

The influence of Greco-Buddhist art spread northward towards Central Asia, influencing the art of the Tarim Basin, and ultimately the arts of China, Korea, and Japan.