Sculptors of Gandhara.

The standing Buddha sculpture at the National Museum Delhi is unique in two ways. One it is among the earliest representations of the Buddha as a human and two it is Greek. But strangely, the sculptors who created it were not Greeks themselves – they were an eastern people ruled by a king whose ancestors, in an even more bizarre twist, came from a region located in present day China.

Tucked away in the rugged mountain valleys of present day Afghanistan and Pakistan, Gandhara was a much contested land in ancient times. The region had been settled in turns by the Indo-Aryan tribes mentioned in the great Indian epic Mahabharata, the Persians, the Greeks and finally the Kushans – a nomadic clan of horse archers similar to the Scythians of the European steppes – who ousted the Greeks but not the Hellenistic realism they had sowed into the hearts and minds of sculptors.

File Fact, The Gandharan statue of Buddha: Across the ancient world, people who adopted the ways of the Buddha had him created bearing their own facial features. The only exception were the people of Gandhara. They created him in the image of a Greek God.


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