Gandhara Art

mard-1Hiuen Tsang, the celebrated Chinese pilgrim, who visited Gandhara in the early 7th century AD, wrote that the Kingdom of Gandhara formed the tract of the country on the west bank of the Indus which included the Peshawar Valley and modern Swat, Buner and Bajaur. Gandhara was the cradle of Buddhist Civilization that gave birth to the famous Gandhara Art. Gandhara, first mentioned in the Rigveda, remained one of the provinces of the Achaemenian Empire as per the Darius inscription of 6th century BC. Pushkalavati (Balahisar-Charsadda), its first capital from 6th century BC to 1st century AD, was invaded in 32 BC by Alexander the Great. Later, Gandhara was ruled from Pushkalavati by Indo-Greeks, Scythians and Parthians. The Kushanas established their capital at Pushapura or Peshawar in the 1st century AD and King Kanishka built a Stupa and monastery at Shah-ji-Ki-Dheri, near Ganj Gate Peshawar. The Relic Casket discovered from this stupa with Kharoshti inscriptions, which mentions the name of the city as Kanishkapura, is now exhibited in the main hall of the Peshawar Museum. In the 7th century AD, the Shahi Dynasty of Kabul and Gandhara established their capital at Hund, which remained their capital till the invasions of the Gaznavids in 998 AD thus ending the rule of Gandhara after about 1600 years.

mrd2The cosmopolitan art of Gandhara, with influence from India, Greek, Roman and Persian artists, appeard in this region in the 1st century BC, strengthened in the 1st century AD, flourished till 5th century A.D. and lingered on till 8th century A.D. The purpose of this art was the propagation of Buddhism through images carved and made in stone, stucco, terracotta and bronze. These images were mostly enshrined in stupasand monasteries throughout the Gandhara region. Thousand of such stupas were mentioned by the Chinese pilgrim, Hiuen Tsang, who visited Gandhara in the 7th century AD, only few of which have been excavated so far. The main focus of the art was Buddha’s life stories and individual images, his previous birth stories (Jatakas) and future Buddhas. The most important among them represent the historic Buddha, his miracles and all episodes from his birth to death, beautifully and liberally carved. The local devoted artists, stimulated by the personality of Buddha, took advantage of contacts, motifs and technology from Greeks, Romans and Persians, and gave Buddha an eternal life. The life stories of Buddha, depicted in Gandhara Art are an authentic document of the Mahayana text composed during the time of Kanishka. In fact, the sculptors of Gandhara translated the Buddhist Mahayana religious text into details in stones, stucco, terracotta and bronze, thus making them more romantic and providing a base for the expansion of Buddhism towards the Far East via the Silk Route and China through pilgrims and traders. The current Buddhist religion in Korea and Japan is a wonderful example of the extension of Gandhara Buddhism. The sculptures were fixed to the bases and stairs of stupas, around which worshipers circumambulated. Individual figures filled the niches around the stupas and monasteries. Also the Harmika, the solid box in square above the dome of the stupa was carved on all sides with Buddha life stories. These stories were chiseled on stone tablets and fixed to the stupas, inside which relics of Buddha were kept in a casket for the purpse of worship. The Art, mainly a product of the land of Gandhara under the Kushana Rulers, is much more dynamic than the contemporary Mathura Art of India.

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