36 Greco-Bactrian Civilization and Artwork

There was a succession of more than thirty Hellenistic kings, often in conflict with each other, from 180 BC to around 10 CE. This era is known as the Indo-Greek kingdom in the pages of history. The kingdom was founded when the Greco-Bactrian King Demetrius invaded India in 180 BCE, ultimately creating an entity which seceded from the powerful Greco-Bactrian kingdom centered in Bactria (today’s northern Afghanistan).(21)

The life story of the Buddha became the staple subject matter for all aspects of Greco-Bactrian art, and the sheer number of Buddha images enshrined in chapels, stupas, and monasteries continue to be found in great numbers to this day. The artwork was solely dedicated to the propagation of religious ideals to the extent that even items of everyday use were replete with religious imagery.(25)

One of the first representations of the Buddha, 1st-2nd century CE, Gandhara: Standing Buddha World Imaging | Public Domain

The Buddha was worshipped through these sculptural representations which had a distinct style associated with them that remained largely constant. The Buddha is always depicted in simple monastic robes, with his hair tied in a bun known as the Ushnisha and the expression on his face is almost always one of content. Whereas originally these sculptures were painted in bright colors, now only the plaster or stone remains; a handful of items have been found with their original colors intact. Images of the Buddha were made for the various cults in the region all of which had their own distinct identifying features such as the laksanas (divine marks), mudras (hand gestures), and different robes. Buddha always had the central role in these pieces and can be immediately identified by the halo and his simple attire. Many mythological figures are also seen as a part of these scenes along with couples, gods, demigods, celestials, princes, queens, male guards, female guards, musicians, royal chaplains, soldiers, and also common people.(25) In particular, Herakles (of the type of the Demetrius coins, with club resting on the arm) has been used aplenty as the symbol of Vajrapani, the protector of the Buddha. We see this, for example, in the image further above on this page.(21)



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