Monday, 1 October 2012

Gandhara Art: Huge Development of Buddhist Art

Devendra Pratap Mishra & Preeti Pandey

            The Gandhara School of art was devoted to service of Indian religion. The Gandhara School art was typically Buddhist in origin as well as content. Early Buddhist art was aniconic. The Buddhist art-forms before the 1st century B.C. was typically  symbolic ; at Bharhut, Sanchi and Amaravati, the Buddha as represented variously through a rideless horse, the tree or wheel, stupa and the rest indicating the grat renunciation, enlightment, preaching of the doctrine and nirvana1 . But the earlier aniconic art was completely transformed at Gandhara. This school of art came to represent the Buddha in human form for the first time, sculptures representing bodhisatvas were forthcoming from this area. A proper analysis of the different facets of this school of art will bring out the contributed of Buddhist art to its origin as well sustenance more vividly.
            The sculptures of the Gandhara School of art, geographically covering the area of north-western provinces of India and parts of Afghanistan, represent an artistic development which at the first sight seems to be outside the traditional development of art in Ancient India.2 This is certainly an interesting development linked up with contemporary historical- cultural context of that area. Geographically this region was so situated that it lay exposed to all sorts of foreign contacts and foreign influences-Persian, Greek, Roman, Saka and Kusana. The result was the birth of hybrid cosmopolitan culture that found expression in an electric school of art, naturally outside the scope of the natural and consistent growth of the Indian art movement. The Gandhara School is often described as Greeco-Buddhist, but it is strange, to note that art forms and motifs of Gandhara do not come to view before Greek domination of this area became a thing of the past3 and that the patrons of this art were principally the central Asiatic Sakas and Kusana. No doubt, the technique employed is unquestionably borrowed from Hellenistic standards, as modified by such trends as Iranian, etc. but the themes depicted are Indian, almost exclusively Buddhist. Moreover, the technique too seems to be gradually indianised. Thus, in the so called Greeco-Buddhist art, there is nothing directly associated with Greece.
            It should be bornellenistic e in mind that already in the centuries proceeding the Christian era the different peoples who had settled in the Gandhara region had come in contract with the Indian ethos. The process of acculturation that was initiated led to certain fundamental changes in the way of life of these groups. In a way they were Indianised and absorbed within the indigenous cultural mainstream obviously with certain modification as a result of their differing cultural patterns. But in general they come under the influence of Buddhism.4 The Gandhara school of art, devoted primarily to the service of Buddhism, represents really a stage and process of this Indianisation and should be viewed in that light instead of emphasizing the extraneous factor.
            Marshall's excavation at Tekshashila coupled with the results of other excavations and finds, appear to indicate that the ruler associated with the earliest remains of Buddhist art of Gandhara was Azes I belonging roughly to the middle of the 1st century B.C.5 . Thus the school had started manifesting itself after the Greek power had already declined, but before the Kusana power had appeared on the scene. This certainly implies the lack of any direct link between Greece and the Gandhara School of art. The days of its expansion and flourish coincide with the period of Imperial Kusana, especially Kaniska, and the school continued to make prolific contribution to Indian art in the 3rd, the 4th and the 5th centuries A.D.6
            The earliest specimen of this art, so far discovered, is the Bimaran reliquary which circumstantially, has to be dated in the reign of Azes I (c. 50 B.C. at the earliest)7. This is followed about half a century later, i.e. in the first century, A.D. by two headless standing images of the Buddha - one from Loriyan Tangai (A.D. 6)8  and other from Hastnagar (A.D.72)9, a standing Hariti figure from Sakrah-dheri (A.D. 87)10 , the Kaniska reliquary from Shah-ji-ke-dheri (A.D. 78-100) and a few others that may be dated only approximately11.  The early group of the Buddha figures is characterized by clear and impressive heads with long and beautifully drawn curves outlining the lineaments. Preference for long and rhythmic lines, a strong outline of the structure, a wide and vast treatment of the usnisa and loose heavy hair are equally manifest.
            The situation, changes in the 2nd century A.D. Quantitatively there is certainly advancement over the past but qualitatively there are distinct signs of decadence. The 2nd century A.D. records a large number of finds-stone and stucco reliefs at the various sites of Takshashila which can be dated approximately with the help of the data furnished by Marshall's excavations. There are distinct changes in the Buddha images. The drapery is shown in distinct changes in the Buddha images. The drapery is shown in small and narrow folds and the figures themselves are shorter in stature, stumpy in appearance and treated in a rough manner. This degenerate and debased art of this period implies that the extraneous influences felt in the earlier productions become less manifest and a schematisation of the 2nd century A.D. led to the changes in the earlier artistic forms.
            From the 3rd century A.D. onwards, there seems to be a revival of artistic forces that were  current in the 1st century. The 3rd, 4th and 5th centuries are characterized by a large number of finds in stucco and terracotta. Stone sculptures are rare and the few known examples are qualitatively inferior to that of stucco and terracotta figures. The most significant specimens of this phase come from Mohra Moradu and Jaulian, but more profusely from Hadda, near Jalalabad. The style is once again free and erythematic. This revival certainly derived a lot from the traditions of the 1st century12 but it was much more softened down. It is this phase of Gandhara art which was taken on the shoulders of Buddhism and Buddhist monks through hadda and Bamiyan to central Asia and China. It was into this last phase that the contemporary arr of the Ganga valley contributed some of its contents and spirit.13
                        The above survey amply bears testimony to the meaningful contribution of Buddhism not only to Indian art but also to the artistic traditions of central Asia and China. The Gandhara School of art not only drew its sustenance from Buddhism but also thrived on Buddhist traditions, myths and legends. Thus, the Gandhara art is strictly Buddhistic in nature as well as content. It has been suggested, however, that this school of art was a contribution of Mahayana Buddhism, a suggestion which needs careful evaluation in the context of the contribution of Buddhism to Indian art. It is generally presumed that the Gandhara art is a manifestation of the Mahayana form of Buddhism. The tone was set in this direction towards the close of last century when Foucher asserted that entire responsibility for the development of Gandhara art belongs to the Mahayana school.14 Zimmer expressing identical views credited this departure in the Buddhist art to a new fundamental teaching Mahayana.15 Percy Brown even goes to the extent of suggestions the evolution of the Gandhara composition as marking the beginning of the movement leading to the supersession to the Hinayana or primitive system of Buddhism by the Mahayana or theistic system.16 This view is rather reinforced by the discovery of Bodhisatvas of the Gandhara origin.
            It is universally accepted that at its inception the Gandhara art received considerable encouragement from Kaniska who, according to tradition, convened the fourth Buddhist council either at Jalandhar or Kashmir where the Vibhasa or the commentaries on the three Pitakas were composed. Obviously it was dominated by the arhats of the Sarvastivada a school of the Hinayana. There is therefore hardly any evidence of Mahayana Buddhism being patronized by Kaniska or even so of being prevalent in this area. It is interesting to note that even in the time of the Chinese traveler; Fa-hsien (5th century A.D.) and Hsuan-Tsang (7th century A.D.), when the Mahayana had fully developed in India, it did not appear to be a very popular or widespread faith in this region. From their accounts it is clear that the Hinayana was the predominant school of Buddhism in the region of Gandhara and Kabul valley. In the 5th century A.D., at the time of Fa-hsien's visit, the predominance of Hinayanism seems to be almost unquestionable.17 this situation is further corroborated by the inscriptions of this region. The inscription of the year of Kaniska on the reliquary discovered at Shahji-ki-dheri,18 the Zeda inscription of year 11 (A.D. 139) near Ohind19 and the Kurram Casket inscription of the year 20 (A.D. 148)20  all relate to gifts etc. to Sarvastivada teachers. Other inscriptions of the area like Takshashila Copper Ladle Inscription,21 and the Palatu Dheri Jars inscription22 also after to the gifts to the different Hinayana sects. Thus from the religious point of view its beyond doubt that the Gandhara region was dominated by the Hinayana school of Buddhism, a situation which warrants a lot of rethinking in terms of the alleged association of the Gandhara art with Mahayana.
            This theory is further undermined if one analysis the form in which the Buddha is represented at Gandhara. The Gandhara art primarily centers around the Buddha ; only two bodhisattvas have been identified with Padmapani23 or Avalokitsvara,24 the former identification not being very certain. The only other identifiable bodhisattvas are Siddhartha25 or Maitreya26 . It is significant to note that in the earliest phase only the Buddha is represented, the Mahayana bodhisattvas appear late.
            The theory of Mahayanist association of the Gandhara art is further weakened if viewed from yet another angle. From a perusal of the Gandhara Buddha images one gets the impression that this school was aware of the tradition which believes in eight Buddhas27, including six who preceded Siddhartha Gautama and Maitreya who was to follow him in the Buddhavamsa, belonging to the Pali canon and a late addition to the Khuddakanikaya, the number of the previous Buddhas is extended to 24 beginning with Dipankara and ending with Maitreya. But the number of the Buddhas in the Mahayana is innumberable, as the Parinirvana of a Buddha does not mean his exitinction. Thus, the representation of eight Buddhas (including Maitrey) in the Gandhara school explicity implies that the school belonged to a period when the number of Buddhas had not multiplied and hence Per-Mahahanic. Moreover, the representations of Maitreya and Vajrapani at Gandhara too are quite distinct from the later day representations of these two figures in the Mahayana artistic tradition.28
            Here it may be pointed out that the Gandhara region has yielded certain artistic remains which are clearly of Mahayanic, including Tantric, inspiration. They include the paintings in the vaults and safts of the gigantic Buddha at Bamiyana, the steel or the rock carvings found in Swat representation Lokeshvara and the paintings on a rock near Skardu. But all these artistic remains are posterior to the period in which Gandhara art flourished.  The Bamiyana paintings have been dated to the 6th, 7th centuries A.D.29 whereas the Swat30 and Skardu31 remains belong to the 7th - 8th centuries A.D. and 10th century A.D. respectively. They also seem to be the product of a different artistic tradition.
            In the light of the above survey of the nature and content of the Gandhara School of art it can be asserted that it hardly contains anything which can be considered as an expression or manifestation of the Mahayana Buddhism. This assertion is further confirmed by the Buddhist paintings at Miran discovered by Aurel Stein and dated to about the 3rd or 4th century A.D. These are probably "the only examples of the same (Gandhara) art expressed in paintings, at present known."32  The Miran Buddha is only an ordinary man in the act of teaching, distinguished just by his plain nimbus and the colour of his robe.33 It is pertinent note that the Bodhisattvas of the Mahayana pantheon have no place in these paintings.34
            Now when it is reasonably established on the basis of the accounts of Chinese pilgrims, contemporary epigraphic recores and an analysis of the form and content of the Gandhara art that the emergence of an anthropomorphic art at Gandhara was not due to any change in the doctrinal content of Buddhism. If viewed in a proper perspective it will see that the art of Gandhara was certainly not a break with the prevalent art tradition. Its anthropomorphism was the logical of a powerful personality cult which is the most outstanding feature of the early Buddhist art.35 Moreover, in every art tradition it is but natural that the transition from aniconism to anthropomorphism is made in due course of time. The contemporary milieu is more relevant in this context than changes in religion. In the early centuries of the Christian era certain important developments were taking place. The royalty was not only getting increasingly associated with divinity but even feudal hierarchical formations were appearing on the scene. This naturally exalted the status of the royalty. This together with the origin of the idea of  bhakti added new dimensions to the personality of the ruler. These changes were bounded to affect the world of artists and the increasing emphasis on the element of personality pervaded the domain of art. The anthropomorphic representations of Mathura and Gandhara School were only a step forward in this direction.
References :
1.             For different symbols symbolizing the Buddha, see A.K. coomaraswamy, History              of Indian and Indeonesian art, Newyork, 1965, pp. 27-32.
2.             Burgess, JAS., the Gandhara Sculpture, New Delhi, 1978, pp. 6011 ; S.K.          Saraswati, A Survey of Indian Sculpture, Calcutta, 1957, p. 70.
3.             Mazumdar, R.C., (ed), The age of Imperial Unity, (Bombay, 1960), p. 519.
4.             Saraswati, S.K., op. cit., p. 71
5.             Barges, JAS., op. cit., p. 6-20
6.             Coomaraswamy,A.K., op. cit. p. 52
7.             Mazumdar, R.C., (ed), op. cit.,  p. 520
8.             ASI, Annual Reports, 193-04, p. 254
9.             Ibid.
10.           Ibid.
11.           Saraswati S.K., op. cit., p. 74-75
12.           Burgess, C.F. James, Buddhist stupas at Amaravati and Jaggayyapea in Krishna district,    Madras presidency, London, 1887.
13.           Mazumdar, R.C., (ed), op. cit.,  p. 521
14.           Quoted in Grunwedel, Buddhist art in India, London, 1901, p. 147.
15.           The Art of Indian Asia, New York, 1955, pp. 340.
16.           Indian Architecture (Buddhist and Hindu), Bombay, 1949, p.41.
17.           Krishan, Y., Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland, Pt. 3-            4 (1962), pp. 106-08.
18.           Sten Konow, Corpous Inscriptionum Indicarum,Vol. II, Pt. I, London,1929, pp. 137.
19.           Ibid; 142-145
20.           Ibid; 152-155
21.           Ibid; pp 87-88
22.           Ibid; pp. 122
23.           Lyons & Ingholt, Gandhara Art in Pakistan, Descriptive Catalogue No.324,pp. 142.
24.           Ibid; Catalogue No. 326, p. 142.
25.           Ibid; Catalogue No. 277-287, p. 644
26.           Ibid; Catalogue No. 288-312, 542, 563
27.           Krishna, Y., op.cit., p. 110.
28.           Ibid; pp. 111-13,
29.           Rowland, wall paintings of India, Central Asia and Ceylon, Plates 11 and 12, p. 64;             Plate 13, p. 69; Plate 14, pp. 70-71.
30.           Tucci, G., 'Preliminary Report of an Archaeological Survey in Swat, East and West,            Vol. 0, No. 4, pp. 322-324.
31.           Mariani, F., Karakoram (tr. James Cadell), p. 60
32.           Andrews, F.H., Wall paintings from Ancient shrines of central Asia, pp. xx.
33.           Ibid; p. xxi.
34.           Andrews, F.H., Indian Art and letters, Vol. VIII, p. 12.
35.           Krishna, Y., 'The Origin of Buddha Image', Marg, Apri, 1962, pp. 15-16.

Dr. Devendra Pratap Mishra
AIHC & Arch., B.H.U. Varanasi &
Dr. Preeti Pandey
                        Anc. Ind. History Culture & Arch.

                        University of Allahabad