Buddhism and Buddha Image

Although Buddha preached in the 6th century BC, Buddhism first took a firm root in India only in the 3rd BC when Mauryan king Asoka embraced Buddha’s doctrine after he witnessed human misery as result of his war with Kalinga. Prior to Buddha the predominant religion in South East Asia and neighboring countries was Brahminism or Hinduism. Buddha himself was probably a reactionary to the practice of Vedas by the Brahmins who were ritualistic and sacrificial, in contrast to Buddhism which practiced compassion to man as well as other animals.Tantrism is a fusion of the Vedas, Upanishads with sexuality, art, sculpture, theology, mythology, philosophy and cosmology. Tantric Buddhism appeared in Tibet in the 6th century AD following the introduction of Vajrayana Buddhism with the appearance of female (Taras), and male (Avaloketsvara) Bodisattvas (Buddhas to be). When Buddhism arrived at Khmer state in the 13th century, the preexisting Hindu gods such as Vishnu, Linga (Shiva), Uma and Bramah fused with the worship of Buddha giving rise to another form of Buddhist Tantrism as we would observe from the bronze and sculpture from this period. As Buddha himself did not sanction personal worship the early images of Buddhism for veneration were confined to Buddha’s foot marks and stupas.

Buddha secretly leaving his royal life on his horse with Channa

Gandhara in the present Pakistan is credited with the first representation of the Buddha in human form; the portrayal of Buddha in his human shape, rather than shown as a symbol. As Buddhist art developed and spread outside India, the Gandhara style spread to most eastern regions of the world. The adjacent Swat Valley, the land of romance and beauty, is celebrated as the holy land of Buddhist learning and piety. It is said that the Swat was filled with fourteen hundred imposing and beautiful stupas and monasteries, which housed as many as 6,000 gold images of the Buddhist pantheon for worship and education. There are now more than 400 Buddhist sites covering and area of 160 Km in Swat valley alone.The earliest discovered statue at Gandhara is that of the seated Buddha from 2nd or 3rd century AD. Other Buddha images from this period too are of Greco-Roman style. They seem to have flourished during the adjacent Kushan reign of Mathura (Uttar Pradesh). Gandharan’s role in the evolution of the Buddha image has been a point of considerable disagreement among scholars. It now seems clear that the schools of Gandhara and Mathura each independently evolved its own characteristic depiction of the Buddha about the 1st century CE. The Gandhara school mostly drew from the traditions of Rome and Greece and represented the Buddha with a youthful Apollo face, dressed in royal garments. The ancient Gandharan artisans in their composition of Buddha’s images and his experiences have transformed the religion into Buddhist Art.

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