Thinking Bodhisattva



Gandharan culture, Hadda region
4th–6th century CE
more object details

General Description

This sculpture is an example of the rich cultural interplay and hybrid art styles of the Gandharan empire in the first centuries CE. It represents the bodhisattva who will be born as the historic founder of Buddhism, Prince Siddhartha, sitting in a celestial abode called the Tushita heaven, where he teaches the gods and meditates on his future birth. Like other Gandharan bodhisattvas, he looks like an earthly prince, richly dressed and bejeweled, and impressively enthroned. The headdress and the figure's heavily moustached face belong to the Indian world, while the Buddha's body, with its naturalistic treatment of flesh and muscle and contrapposto pose, suggest Roman sculpture.

The lion throne has Persian antecedents as an image of regal power. The lion supports on his throne recall the Buddhist epithet Shakyasimha, "lion of the Shakya clan" as well as the pillars erected during the first Indian empire, the Mauryan Dynasty (322-185 BCE) by the Buddhist emperor Ashoka (r. 279-232 BCE), many of which feature a lion on the capital of the column. The Buddha was born into the Shakya, or lion, clan. In Buddhist iconography, lions are also protectors of dharma, the teachings of the Buddha.

The use of hard-fired ceramic instead of stone reflects the later Gandharan period from the 4th to the 6th centuries C.E. The medium of fired clay was expensive in the area around Hadda, from which the sculpture comes, as wood was scarce. Such an expensive sculpture would have been a very meritorious Buddhist offering.

Adapted from

Anne Bromberg, "Thinking Bodhisattva," in The Arts of India, South East Asia, and the Himalayas (Dallas: Dallas Museum of Art; New Have: Yale University Press, 2013), 49.