The Gandhara Art, justifying its name, is localized to a particular region in the north-west within a definite period and of a particular material. It is also known as the Graceo-Buddhist art. On the one hand in its origin, it is considered to be a blend of Graceo-Roman and Indian forms that for a span from the 2nd century to the 4th century AD provided the way to a definitely classical style. However, this major Roman, Palmyrene style was lost in the last phase of Graceo-Buddhist art in a fully Indian type of sculpture resembling to the work of the Gupta period.
On the other hand, Gandhara art is considered iconographically to be a local phase of Hellenistic, not Roman art. It ascended from the art of the Greek period in Afghanistan and the Punjab. It is also considered as an eastern extension of Hellenistic civilization blended with Indian elements or most probably a western extension of Indian culture.
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The Hellenistic motifs observed in the Gandhara art are the Persepolitan capital, crenellation and fantastic monsters like the Sphinx and gryphon. The other major aspects of Hellenistic art comprise forms like the Atlantic, garland bearing erotes, and semi-human creatures like the centaur, triton, and hippocamp. These forms were introduced by the Romanised Eurasian artists in the service of the Kushana monarchs.
Impact of Rome
That there was an intimate cultural relationship between India and Rome and that there was Rome’s impact on the Gandhara art can be substantiated by the presence of foreign objects that include the statue of Hippocrates and Dionysius, bronze Heracles, steatite plaques or cosmic dishes with erotic scenes popularly called toilet trays, Syrian glass and Roman Metal and Stucco sculptures. It can be inferred that foreign influence was strong in the earlier phase which gradually receded. The Buddha image in Greek gradually reduced. The Buddha image in Greek drapery dominates the entire scene of the Gandhara Art.
The Gandhara Bodhisattvas
They are displayed in royal attire with the elaborate head dress and ornaments. Their style in Gandhara is supported to be a blend of techniques. The stiff swallow tail folds of the loin-cloth or dhoti are considered an adaptation of the neo-Attic style of the time of Hadrian in Rome.
The Bodhisattvas figures comprise those of Avalokitesvara, Padmapani, Manjusri and the later Maitreya who is prominent in Gandhara art several statues of this Buddhist divinity, standing, sitting in meditation and in attitudes of protection and contemplation have been found in Gandhara.
Avalokitesvara has the seated image of the Buddha in meditation. This Bodhisattva is marked by the lotus flower in his hand. Among the other Buddhist divinities, Panchaka-Kubera and his consort Hariti also figure prominently in the Gandhara art. This ogress converted to Buddhism is displayed with her children clinging to her.
Besides these, the two Brahmanical divinities, Brahman and Indra (Sakra) are also depicted in Gandhara art but not independently. Some foreign divinities such as Athena-Roma, Hippocrates, Silenus, Parro and Ardoksho, Demeter, Atlantes and the Marine deities are also portrayed. There was a tendency towards Indianisation that can be observed in Amohini Yakshas, Garuda the mythical bird, Yakshas and Yakshis, Kinnars and Gandharvas.
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Role of Architecture
In the context of the architectural sphere, Gandhara art is distinguished by the use of different orders, floral designs, and animal motifs as decoration. The architects who were known as navakarmikas showed their talent in constructing stupas and Viharas and ornamenting these with floral designs.
The famous stupa in the shape of a tower built by Kanishka near Peshawar to a height 700 feet in thirteen storeys, Hiuen-Tsang says, was the greatest architectural achievement of this period. The Corinthian columns, pilasters, and capitals are modified in Gandhara art.
The Corinthian order is presumed to dominate in Gandhara architecture that shows an absence of the Doric and Ionic types. The type of masonry that is used in the buildings at Taxila points to the time of the formation of the structures.
Gandhara art: a controversial subject
In the context of its chronology, the Gandhara art continues to be a controversial subject. The Foreign impact is clearly evident as it is apparent in the Apollo-faced figure of the Buddha, chiton, and himation in dress, in the Corinthian orders and floral designs and also in the depiction of some foreign divinities.
They might indicate to an earlier phase of strong Hellenistic impact, dating roughly from AD 140-240, from the time of the accession of Kanishka to the throne to the end of the Kushana dynasty.
The other three phases are assumed to be from AD 240-300, 300-400 and 400-460, with Sassanian impact in the second, Indian influence from Mathura in the third and Sassanian influence again in the last. This classification, however, is problematical and arbitrary. Nonetheless, it appears certain that Kanishka’s companionship with Gandhara art has to be tracked to its blooming stage rather than to its beginning or its end. Despite the Western impact, Gandhara art continued to flourish distinctly in India with the Buddha and Buddhism dominating it comprehensively.