[UPSC GS 1 Solved] Highlight the Central Asian and Greco-Bactrian elements in Gandhara art

Gandhara school of art was the epitome of CulturalRevolution in present day’s west Pakistan and east
Afghanistan during Kushana’s rule, of which Gandhara sculpture was an important part, which depicts
sculpture of Buddha.

How geographical location of Gandhara art facilitated the interaction of various artistic components:
•Geographical position of the region was at the crossroads of cultural exchange, which resulted in interaction
of artistic components.

•This area witnessed the advent of a number of foreign powers and political configuration ranging from the Greek,
Bactrian to Kushanas. Thus, the Gandhara style was an amalgam of Hellenistic-Roman, Iranian and indigenous art.

The central Asian and Greco-Bactrian elements in the Gandhara art:

Greek Influence

•It can be observed in the form of Buddha’s wavy hair,draperies covering both shoulders, footwear, Buddha
shown under the protection of Greek God Herakles standing with his club and so on. In fact, the very
concept of man-God is attributed to the Greeks. The Buddha’s mythological statue can also be related to

•Some examples of Gandhara art depict both Buddha and the Greek God Herakles from Greek Mythology.
Stucco plaster, which was commonly observed in Greek art, was widely used in Gandhara artwork
for the decoration of monastic and cult buildings.

Roman influence

•It is evident from the sculpture of Gautama Buddha, with a youthful Apollo-like face, dressed in garments
resembling the scenes of Roman imperial statues.

•Gandhara sculpture incorporated many motifs and techniques from classical Roman art too, as seen from
the vine scrolls, cherubs bearing garlands, tritons, and centaurs.

•Additionally, the Gandhara art drew from the anthropomorphic traditions of Roman religions. The
realistic sculpture of Buddha is also associated with Romans.

Central Asian influence

•In Gandhara art, specific types of Buddhist cult structures were elaborately constructed.

•Paintings, bas-reliefs and sculpture richly decorated secular and especially cult buildings.

  • The Gandhara school drew upon the anthropomorphic traditions of Roman religion and represented the Buddha with a youthful Apollo-like face, dressed in garments resembling those seen on Roman imperial statues. Its significance lies in the fact that until then Buddha was not represented in a human-like figure.
  • Wavy hair in a top knot, sometimes a mustache on the face, urna (a dot or third eye) between the eyebrows, elongated earlobes, garment with thick pleats usually covering both shoulders, and muscular formation of the body are other resembling features.
  • Other motifs and techniques that Gandhara school incorporated from classical Roman art, include vine scrolls, cherubs bearing garlands, tritons, and centaurs.
  • The images having physiognomic features depicting symbolic expression such as of calmness, sharp outlines, smooth surface, expressive images etc. are the centre point of attraction.

•Columns, plasters (mainly derived from the Corinthian order) and other architectural elements usually had
a magnificent plastic arrangement.
•Temples built in the area influenced by Gandhara art normally included central square structures with
circumambulatory corridors (Haa, Swat, and Miran).

The idea of circumambulatory corridors was undoubtedly
of Iranian origin, since fire temples with such corridors appear in Iran from the Achaemenid time.

•Schemes for the ground plans of monasteries display many varieties. When space was limited, ‘glued’
plans could be applied, combining two or three isolated parts with different functions: the sacred one (temple) with a large stupa in the middle; living quarters with monks cells and a prayer hall, etc.

•This architectural pattern was widespread in Central Asia both in the Kushana period (as in Fayay-tepe
and later (as in Ajina-tepa).

other elements of influence

Elements of influence

  • Muscular structure
    The art depicts muscular form of Buddha, which is in line with Greek and Roman gods, who possesed a similar sculpted body.
    Ex: Well developed biceps and broad shoulders in sculptures.
  • Hellisnistic facial features
    The facial features of Buddha is similar to that of central Asians and Greco-Bactrians such that it looked more of a foreigner rather than a native Indian. The hair is also wavy and curvy like Greeko-Romans.
    Ex: Eyes were similar to that of Central Asians. Face was broad with a prominent jaw line.
  • Cloth draping
    The style of cloth draping seen in this art form is clearly influenced from the clothing style of mediterraneans like Greeko-Romans.
    Ex: The Angavastram draping is different from the existent style in India.
  • Halo around the head
    The Halo around the head is a unique feature taken from Greek and Roman gods, who can be seen possesing such features in ancient sculptures and pictures.
  • Ornaments
    The sculpture of Buddha is decorated with ornaments, which is unique as well as questionable. Buddha not wearing any ornaments in other styles was a symbolic ode to him for being as a renouncer of worldly pleasures.

Conclusion: The above influences can be well-justified because of the strategic location of Gandhara school. Thus, in this regard, it can be claimed that the art that flourished in the Gandhara valleys was a blend of different cultures.

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