Gandhara School of Art

The Gandhara School of art had also developed in first century AD along with Mathura School during reign of Kushana emperor Kanishka. Both Shakas and Kushanas were patrons of Gandhara School, which is known for the first sculptural representations of the Buddha in human form. The art of the Gandhara school was primarily Mahayana and shows Greco-Roman influence.

Salient Features

Gandhara School was based on Greco-Roman norms encapsulating foreign techniques and an alien spirit. It is also known as Graeco-Buddhist School of art.  The foreign influence is evident from the sculptures of Buddha in which they bear resemblance to the Greek sculptures. Grey sandstone (Blue-grey Mica schist to be precise) is used in Gandhara School of Art.

Examples of Gandhara Art

The Bamyan Buddha of Afghanistan were the example of the Gandhara School. The other materials used were Mud, Lime, Stucco. However, Marble was NOT used in Gandhara art. Terracotta was used rarely. Bimaran Casket has yielded the earliest specimen of the Gandhara Art.

Major Centres

Jalalabad, Hadda, Bamaran, Begram & Taxila were the main centers where art pieces of Gandhara School have been found.

The Buddha image of Gandhara Art

The Gandharan Buddha image was inspired by Hellenistic realism, influenced by Persian, Scythian, and Parthian models.  In contrast with Mathura School, the Gandhara School images are known for their anatomical accuracy, spatial depth, and foreshortening. In this art, Buddha’s curls were altered into wavy hair. The head of the Buddha matched very much with Greek God Apollo.

The Various Mudras of Buddha in Gandhara Art

In all the Buddha depicted in the Gandhara Art is shown making four types of hand gestures and this is a remarkable feature in this art. The gestures are as follows:

  • Abahayamudra : Don’t fear
  • Dhyanamudra : meditation
  • Dharmachakramudra: a preaching mudra
  • Bhumisparshamudra: Touching the earth.

Greek & Roman Influence on Gandhara Art

Gandharan sculptures show strong Greek influences in the depiction of a ‘man-god’ and of wavy hair, sandals and extensive drapery. The depiction of Buddha as a ‘man-god’ in Gandharan sculpture is believed to be inspired from Greek mythology. Some examples of Gandharan art depict both Buddha and the Greek god, Hercules. Stucco plaster, which was commonly observed in Greek art, was widely used in Gandharan artwork for the decoration of monastic and cult buildings. The Roman and Greek Influences in Gandhara Buddha are enumerated as follows:

Roman influence
  • Artistic interpretation: The legendary interpretation of Buddha is sometimes presented through roman motifs like triton.
  • Artistic techniques: In artistic interpretation; Buddha of Gandhara is sometimes presented through roman art techniques using vine scroll; cherub wearing Garland
  • Anthropomorphic tradition: The tradition of representation of Buddha in human form is inspired from roman anthropomorphic tradition .
  • Dresses: The outer robe of Buddha of Gandhara like kaaya; antarvasa resembles to attire of roman gods.
Greek influences
  • Greek god as protector: In many images of Buddha in Gandhara ; he is seen under the protection of Greek god Hercules.
  • Vajrapani: Vajrapani found in the right hand of future Buddha is told as transformed symbol of Hercules who is seen as protector of Buddha.
  • Greek architectural influence: Some images of Buddha in Gandhara are presented in Greek architectural environment bearing the affinity of Corinthian.
  • Artistic beauty: The Apollo like face of Buddha; natural realism; wavy hair as seen in images of Buddha in Gandhara resembles to Hellenistic tradition.
  • Intellectual affinity: The hello and bun of Gandhara Buddha signifies intellectual imbibitions of Buddha from Greek

However, Gandharan sculpture owes as much to Roman art as it does to Grecian art. Even though the iconography of Gandharan sculpture was Indian in nature, it also incorporated motifs and techniques from Classical Roman art. Some of the features of Classical Roman art observed in Gandharan sculptures are vine scrolls, cherubs with garlands, tritons and centaurs. Additionally, the Gandharan sculptors drew from the anthropomorphic traditions of Roman religion. The depiction of Buddha in Gandharan art is reminiscent of sculptures depicting a young Apollo. The draping of the robes on Buddha was also very similar to the drapery on Roman imperial statues.

Comparison of Gandhara and Mathura Buddha

In the Gandhara school Buddha portrayed had Hellenistic features whereas in the Mathura school the Buddha was modelled on earlier Yaksha images. The Gandhara School had also roman as well as Greek influences and assimilated Archimedean, Parthian and Bactrian. The Buddha has curly hair and there are linear strokes over the head. The forehead plane has protruding eyeballs, eyes are half closed and the face and cheeks are not round like the images found in other parts of India.  The ears are elongated especially the earlobes.

Overall the image is very expressive and calmness remains the centre point of attraction in Gandhara style of Buddha. An example of Buddha in Gandhara style is the Buddha head at Taxila which is in the Gandhara region.

However, there are certain drawbacks of Gandhara school portrayal of the Buddha. The Buddha image of Gandhara school has been claimed to be an original contribution but its aesthetic quality is indifferent and it lacks the vigour and independence of expression that characterise the free standing Bodhisattvas of Mathura. The Indian elements derived from the ideal yogi type, namely the lotus seat and the meditative gaze could not be properly assimilated, and the schematic folded drapery, heavy ornamentation and very often the moustaches betray a taste lacking in refinement.

In the Mathura art, Buddha image have fleshy body and the shoulders are broad. The Sanghati (garment) covers only one shoulder. Buddha is accompanied by attendant figures like Padmapani and Valrapani Boddhisattvas. The Buddha image is accompanied by Halo around his head which is very large. With respect to the face of Buddha, it is round with fleshy cheeks.

FactorMathura SchoolGandhara School
OriginNo foreign Influence, however, later it cross fertilized with the Gandhara School.Strong Greek influence.
Its development took place indigenously.Was based on Greco-Roman norms encapsulating foreign techniques and an alien spirit. It is also known as Graeco-Buddhist School of art.
Initially inspired by Yaksha ImagesAssimilating various traits of Acamenian, Parthian and Bactrian traditions into the local tradition is a hallmark of the Gandhara style
Initially inspired by Hellenistic features.
Material UsedSpotted Red SandstoneBlue-grey Mica schist / Grey Sandstone
Image FeaturesEarly period: Light volume having fleshy bodyFiner details and realistic images
Later Period: Flashiness reduced.Buddha carved out in various Mudras.
Not much attention to detailed sculpting. Buddha is stoutCurley hair, anatomical accuracy, spatial depth, and foreshortening
Buddha is sometimes thin
HaloThe halo around the head of Buddha was profusely decorated.Not decorated, generally.
Images are less expressiveThe images are very expressive,
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