Gandharan Bodhisattva head

Contributed by Oriental Museum Durham

Gandharan Bodhisattva head

This Bodhisattva belongs to the corpus of Buddhist schist statues from the ancient territory of Gandhara, which lay north of the Indus and south of Pamirs. This region, also known as the Crossroads of Asia, witnessed the exchange and mixing of many different cultural impulses under the patronage of the Kushan Emperors. Thus Indic philosophy was mixed with Hellenistic and Greco-Roman traditions of sculpture to produce some of the earliest attempts to depict the Gautama Buddha in the first century of the Common Era. Carving from soft schist, Gandhara's sculptors soon began to facilitate the introduction of a new Mahayana philosophical development - the Bodhisattva. Unlike the Gautama Buddha, who had achieved nirvana, an ultimate state of nothingness, and was unable to intercede on the behalf of those in need, the Mahayana conceptualised a powerful, princely figure who had achieved enlightenment, but whose worldly role was solely to assist others obtain bliss.

Through the style and quality of the carving this statue epitomises established strength and wealth. It is likely that this Bodhisattva was a key icon in a major shrine.

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Pakistan (Kingdom of Gandhara)


2nd Century CE


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