After the dawn of Christianity, the Vedic culture saw a decline in the Indian subcontinent because of its rigid rituals that ostracized many from god worship. Commoners and subsequently, the royalty was becoming deeply influenced by the Buddhist philosophy. As art and religion at those times were inseparable, this development and change led to the advancement of three schools of art In India with their distinct features and techniques. These schools of Indian Paintings identified as Mathura, Gandhara and Amravati School of art christened after their geographical origin.

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The Development of Gandhara School of Art

It originated under the patronage of Indo-Greek rulers in the northwestern frontier of India that lies in the current day Peshawar in Pakistan. But, this style was appreciated and widely promoted by the rulers of Sakas, Kushanas, and Kanishka Dynasties.

Northwestern parts of India witnessed an influx of artists from West Asia after the invasion by the Greeks due to the establishment of the Silk Route. This immigration continued to the reign of Kushanas. These artists kept Greek-Roman art in high regard and incorporated it into their indigenous practices.

Kanishka was the main patron of Gandhar School amongst all the rulers of the Kushana Dynasty. He motivated artists to get inspiration from the Jataka tales based on the life of Lord Buddha. He encouraged them to carve motifs to spread the beauty of Buddhists philosophy professed by Boddhisattvas.

Greek-style of painting was applied to Buddhists motifs to reproduce new styles in Indian paintings. Owing to this fusion, the Gandhara School of art is also known by the name of Greco-Buddhists school of painting. With the heavy influence of Greek and Roman art, the Gandhara School of art is an amalgamation of Persian, Mauryan, Saka, Synthian, and Kushana style of painting too. According to V.A. Smith, this school is a crossbreed of Indian and Greco-Roman Style.

Some of the famous sites where archaeologists unearthed one of the finest specimen of Gandhara art like the statues of Buddha carved out in monumental rocks of Bamyan Valley in the 6th century AD are as follows:-

  1. Jalalabad
  2. Begram
  3. Hadda
  4. Bamaran
  5. Taxila

Characteristic features of the Greco-Roman or Gandhara School of Indian Paintings

The relics found belonging to the style portray life events of Gautama Buddha from his birth to his renunciation at the age of 30, and his life as a monk. Some of the mesmerizing pieces of art relating to that were produced during the first and the second centuries.

By this period, art as a whole was becoming more sophisticated. The human forms were realistic and not imaginative or exaggerated. The drapes of the figure were drawn with finesse, their folds hanging just right. Attention to minute details was given like the shape of moustache, curls of the hairs, fringes in the facial expressions depicting different emotions, contouring of muscles of the whole body, etc.

Some features that directly stand out are as follows:-

  1. Inclusion of the iconic top knot and wavy hairs.
  2. A well-formed moustache frequented the Indian paintings.
  3. Carving of Urna or a third eye. It could also be represented by a single dot between the brows. It is symbolic of the realization and spiritual awakening that Buddha had achieved.
  4. Garments worn by the figurines, kike heavy pleated rugs worn on both shoulders resembled the Toga that Romans used to wear.
  5. Halo behind the head of the Lord to depict him as a source of divinity and holiness. It resembled the Greek god of Apollo, the god of Medicine and one of the twelve Olympians.
  6. Defining the human anatomy with accuracy and subtlety.

It could be said that the intermixing of realism and skill into the indigenous art of India resulted in the formation of classical Buddha’s images.

The existence of over fifteen monasteries in the ruins found around the region in Peshawar and Rawalpindi establish that a large number of shelters were built for monks over four centuries i.e. from the first to fourth century AD. The effect of the new style could be explicitly seen in them. The stupas were beautified with intricate details. Stupas built under the influence of Greek-Roman art were bigger in form. These changes increased the attractiveness of stupas manifold.

It is believed that the style travelled as far as Saurashtra and Gujrat to the banks of Yamuna. Before that infiltration, the Peepal tree, the chakra, empty throne, and footprints were symbolic of Buddha in parts of Sanchi and Village Bharhut in district Satna, Madhya Pradesh.

The iconology involved was inspired by Romans. The level of spirituality in the paintings produced in the Gupta Period was more. But, the level of Grace, elegance, empathy, and details inculcated in the artwork of Gandhar style is of no match.


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