Explore the early development of Indian art, from the artefacts of the Indus Valley to the Hindu and Buddhist sculpture of north India and Gandhara.
Under the Kushan rulers such as the great Kanishka (AD 127-155), Gandhara became a major regional centre of Buddhism and a conduit for the spread of the faith to Central Asia and China. As elsewhere in India, the sacred relics of the Buddha were enshrined in domed stupas or reliquary mounds. By this time, a more devotional and popular form of Buddhism, known as Mahayana or ‘the Great Vehicle’, was developing. It included the cult of Bodhisattvas or future Buddhas, who in their compassion have renounced final enlightenment until every being in the universe attains nirvana also.
Stone sculpture was produced in great quantities for the Buddhist monasteries of Gandhara. Carved in the grey schist of the region, these images (like much other Indian sculpture) would once have been coated with a fine stucco plaster and painted, giving a more colourful appearance. Stucco itself, skilfully modelled around a mud core, was also used as an alternative to stone.
The sculptors’ main subjects were the Buddha and Bodhisattvas, as well as various popular deities. Narrative relief panels, often showing scenes from the life of the Buddha, were also produced to line the outer walls of shrines or stupas.