74 • Buddha Pada (footprints of Buddha)

Ancient Gandhara
Size: 64 cm wide × 56 cm high

In early Buddhism, before the imagery of Buddha developed, Buddha was presented with symbolic forms of a halo, a crown, footprints, a throne and a chakra.

The Hellenistic influence brought by Alexander the Great

In 326 BC, at the Battle of Hydaspes, Alexander the Great conquered the whole of Afghanistan and North India from King Porus. The battle was fought at the banks of the Jhelum River, which is a part of Indus River. As Taxila was the last satrapy of the Achaemenid empire, Alexander became the overlord of the Ancient World. In Taxila he met intellectuals, and was particularly fascinated by the Yogis there and their tradition of spiritual knowledge. He recognised the great potential wealth available through developing trade. Gold, precious stones and spices were the major sources of income. In order too achieve his targets he established two new cities on the banks of the Indus river; Nicaea (‘victory’ in Greek), where the battle of Hydaspes had been fought; and Alexandria Bucephalus on the other bank, in honour of his faithful horse, injured during the battle and dying soon after.

After the death of Alexander in 323 BC, the Greeks established their trading communities in the area, colonising the whole of Afghanistan and North India. They ruled the entire area for more than 250 years, and issued bilingual coins in their names in Greek and Kharoshti. During the time of the Achaemenids the prevalent religion was Zoroastrianism. Many Achaemenid works of art have been discovered in Pakistan and Afghanistan, but no Indian art of the Achaemenid period has so far come to light. The Greeks were the first to bring their art into the region. In a later period king Menander I and the Mauryan king Ashoka converted to Buddhism. Greek art was transformed, and the gods of their mythology were transformed into Buddhist and Hindu gods. For example, Herculese was transformed into the Hindu god Shiva; and Zeus became the Buddhist god Vajrapani (Protector of the Buddha). During the Mauryan period Ashoka built many Buddhist monasteries and stupas all over his empire. Excavations of Taxila, Thakht Bhai and Ai Khanum show Graeco-Persian influence on early Buddhist and Hindu art. Gandhara was the place where the scholar Kautilya wrote the first known book of political science; where Arthashastra, and Panini compiled the first dictionary of Sanskrit. The Vedas were read for the first time in Gandhara.