82 Gandhara Grey Schist Head of the Buddha

82 • Gandhara Grey Schist Head of the Buddha

Afghanistan, 3rd century AD
Size: 36 cm high

The Kushan Empire: Gandhara & Mathura

The Kushans were one of five aristocratic tribes of Yuezhi. The Yuezhi reached the Hellenistic kingdom of Bactria around 135 BC.  The displaced Greek dynasties resettled in the South-East areas of the Hindu Kush and the Indus basin occupying the western part of the Indo-Greek kingdom.  The excavations of Surkh Kotal revealed a Kushana Zoroastrian temple where the Kushan royalty worshipped their deities.  The earliest documented Kushan ruler, also the first to proclaim himself  king, was Heraios, who ruled Bactria in early 1st century AD.  It was at this time that the Kushans initiated their invasion of India.  Vima Kadphises was a grandson of Kajula Kadphises and father of Kanishka I, as is detailed in the Rabatak inscription in Bactria.  Vima added Kapisa, Gandhara and the entire North India to the Kushan empire.  He issued gold and copper coins for the very first time, and the Kushans adopted the Bactrian script for their own language.   Scythians, Kushans and Huns had never issued their currencies before.  However, after capturing Gandhara they became a part of the established system, and learned how to mint coinage in their own names and in their own language, using the scripts of the area, Greek and Prakrit.  Vima’s son Kanishka I became governor of Mathura and conquered Ujjain, Pataliputra, Kausambi, Champa, as well as Khotan, Kashghar and Yarkand.  Turkmenistan and Tajikistan were the boundaries of the Kushan empire.  Kushans followed the Zoroastrian religion, with their royal deities Nana and Ommo.  At the time of Kanishka I the empire was established as a secular kingdom, where all religion could flourish.  To start with Buddha’s was always represented symbolically: footprints, halo, throne, three jewels and chakra.  During the early Kushan period the entire iconography of Buddhism was developed in North India.  Buddhism reached its zenith under the ruler Kanishka I, who organised the first Buddhist Council in Kashmir in the early 2nd century AD.  All the Buddhist and Hindu sculptures of the Kushana period have very strong Graeco-Persian influence, displaying great refinement and sophistication.  The school in Mathura used red mottled stone, while in Gandhara they adopted black schist, stucco and clay.  A direct road from Gandhara to China remained under Kushan control for more than a century, encouraging travel across the Karakoram and facilitating the spread of Mahayana Buddhism to China.  The Kushan dynasty had diplomatic contacts with Rome, the Sasanians, the Aksumite empire and the Han dynasty.  While much philosophy, art and science were developed within its borders, the only textual record of the empire’s history today comes from the inscriptions and accounts in other languages, particularly in Chinese.