Funny origins of Gandhāran art!

I have always wondered about this image that is associated with the earliest Gandhāran Buddhist arts and decoration of stupas …

… and the holding and swinging of the near sacred lotus flower like that!

Today I finally found out about its (curiously inappropriate) origin, and thought to share it with you!

"THE artists of the Early Indian School in Malwa who were commissioned to carve the gateways of the Great Sūpa at Sāñchī, did not hesitate to include among their reliefs scenes of a sensuous and erotic character which were flagrantly opposed to the first principles of Buddhist teachings. With such a well-established precedent to guide them, it is not surprising that, after the revival of Hellenism under the Parthians, the sculptors of Gandhāra followed a like course. At that time a favourite theme of Graeco-Parthian secular art was the drinking-scene, and incongruous as it may seem, this was one of the earliest themes to be adopted for the decoration of Buddhist stūpas. At the outset such themes were incorporated, just as they were and without any modification, among the stūpa-reliefs, though no doubt appropriate labels, based on one or other
life-stories of the Buddha, were readily invented for them. But it was evidently not long before doubts began to arise as to the propriety of these drinking-scenes on the walls of sacred edifices, and so we find the sculptors giving them a more sober and holier air by putting lotuses instead of wine-cups in the hands of the revellers. The change was a simple and effective one, but it is worth remarking that the drinking-scene was much too popular to be so easily suppressed or camouflaged. We find recurring time and again in later reliefs of the Gandhāra School."


This is very funny to me also, as is the notorious disreputable well intentioned true history of Buddha’s head bump. Symbols, obscured and forgotten, reinvented with outrageous sweet innocence into absurdity. :slight_smile:

Curious- what’s that? :slight_smile:

I am going to reply from memory, knowing that corrections, links etc may be added later.

Greco -Roman sculptors of the Buddha always tried to incorporate local cultural symbols into religuous statuary. So… indian local (incredibly broadly speaking) meant dieties were indicated with luxurious hair, and often with hair buns. Buddha ws portrayed with a hair bun, and a disc halo. Later ?chinese explainations of the staturary explained Buddha has a skull bump, and extraordinary wisdom. There are even people who say Buddha’s distorted skull means, he was an alien from another planet,…

EBT somewhere includes some statement that Buddha was undistinguishable from other monks, to a mundane eye.


I thought this was due to the 32 marks, and the head bump being one of them? Curiously the other marks are not always as well represented :laughing:

with metta

Are you thinking about the sutta where one of the disciple of the Buddha meets him but does not recognize him? (only after the Buddha gives a sermon).
I don’t know what to think about the 32 marks but even without the suttas about them, some suttas do seem to indicate that he was quite special, like when he was spotted by the king before his enlightenment, when people commented about his bright and golden complexion (which is also generated by a well-developed samadhi) or when Rahula was pleased about his physical aspect inherited from his father. These are a few that I remember, there might be more. I could track the references if needed.

According to the EBTs, beauty is partly controlled by one’s past actions. So it would not be so surprising that past actions (like the past lives of a bodhisatta) could have an influence on the physical body in subsequent births, explaining the possible occurrence of specific marks on ‘great men’.

ah, classic…al Greece