Standing Buddha

  • Gandhara, Pakistan
  • latter half of second century
  • Schist; height 250 cm

Very few of the numerous extant examples of Gandharan images of the standing Buddha are this large.*1 Areas of loss are: the head nimbus, the lower end of the left ear lobe, the tip of the nose, the right forearm and portion of robe hanging from the right arm, the tip of the left index finger, and the tips of the first through third toes of the left foot. No repairs and joins, if present, can be detected by the naked eye. The head is relatively small in comparison with the full, stately body. Long, wavy hair is arrang-ed symmetrically to the right and left from a point in the center of the forehead, and a cord binds the hair into a knot on the top of the head. The ushnisha, described in texts as a fleshy protuberance on the top of the head that is one of the Buddha’s special attributes, was handled by the Gandharan sculptors as a topknot of hair. This is either an example of a trend toward logical expression and an avoidance of the unrealistic in sculptures of the region or a motif developed from a Greek hairstyle (krobylos) in which the hair was knotted on the top of the head. A small circular projection appears on the forehead between the eyebrows, the urna, an auspicious mark. Represented as a whorl of hair, it is believed by some to derive from the West Asian practice of placing a mark of makeup between the eyebrows. Some Gandharan Buddha sculptures have a round hole carved in this spot, probably for the inlay of a white or clear stone such as rock crystal. The Buddha’s eyes are partially closed and gaze downward. The thin lips are slightly rounded and there is a luxuriant mustache. The backs of both shoulders of the figure have traces that suggest the attachment of a nimbus like that on the seated Buddha figure in the next entry (cat. no. 73).

The Buddha has wide shoulders, and stands in a relaxed posture, with the left hip slightly raised. A voluminous cloth is worn over both shoulders and is folded and layered to form a neck band. The drapery falls in alternating wide and narrow ridges, which describe a leftward curve on the upper part of the body and a symmetrical pattern below the waist. The swell of the chest, hips, and left knee can be seen through the thick cloth, but the structure of the body from the torso to the feet is not clear. The Buddha’s left arm hangs down with the elbow barely bent, and the hand grasps a hem of the robe. The right arm is bent at the elbow, and the lost hand was most likely raised in the gesture that dispels fear in the hearts of the faithful, the abhaya mudra, characterized by the palm turned forward with all five fingers raised. The feet are relatively far apart, and the toes, with the exception of the great toe, are strongly expressed, showing the figure’s firm stance. Such details show the care with which the nuances of physique and musculature were carved. Although the figure has a powerful, impressive appearance from face-on, side views show that the area from chest to knee is flat and comparatively meagerly fleshed. Anatomical infelicities and the relative lack of dimensionality are not limited to this example, but rather are characteristic of Gandharan sculpture in general. Indeed, this image can be considered a typical example of the standing Buddha from Gandhara type. The strict formalization of the hair and pleats and the relatively quiet expression on the Buddha’s face suggest that this work was created somewhat after the reign of King Kanishka, whose reign marks the height of Gandharan sculpture.

1 It is one of the masterpieces of Gandharan provenance, and parallels, in size, the well-known standing Buddha (hight: 264cm) from Sahri-Bahlol in Peshawar Museum; See Ingholt 1957, fig. 210.