Pratapaditya Pal, Reflections on the Gandhara Bodhisattva Images

Buddha and two bodhisattvas with Brahma and Indra, 232/233 C.E.
Buddha and two bodhisattvas with Brahma and Indra, 232/233 C.E.



During the first five centuries of the first millennium, Buddhism was the dominant religion in Gandhara (straddling today’s conflicted region of modern Afghanistan and Pakistan), and the bodhisattva was a popular figure in the art that was created to serve the faith. With a monumental schist Bodhisattva image from ancient Gandhara as the central focus, this article provides insight into the religious and artistic mores of the region’s culture which developed as the most eclectic on the subcontinent. Apart from discussing the identification of the bodhisattva as Avalokiteshvara, the article also throws new light on the origins of at least one later form of the deity in subsequent Mahayana/ Vajrayana Buddhism.