The Historical Origins and Development of Gandhara Art
The region of Gandhara was the part of Achaemenian Empire in the time of Cyrus the great in 6th century B.C. It remained under the Persian domination for more than two centuries until Alexander the Great conquered it in 326 B.C. By 317 B.C. the last of the Greek forces of Alexander had departed from the country and in just 20 years the Greek rule disintegrated ceding the region to Mauryan dynasty. Founder of the dynasty was Chandragupta Maurya and his grandson Asoka who made Buddhism the state religion of his dominion and sent missionaries to neighboring states to spread the faith. After Asoka’s death the dynasty underwent a rapid decline and from about 184 B.C. Gandhara returned to Greek rule, then Sakas or Scythians. For about a century and a half the Sakas were able to maintain themselves in Gandhara and were supplanted by another similar group known as Kushans. The Succeeding Kushan rulers consolidated and enlarged their territory turning it into an empire. Like Asoka, Kanishka too adopted Buddhist faith and with the true zeal of a convert fortified the religion in the region with the establishment of Stupas and monasteries.
After Kanishka, Gandhara was annexed by Persian rulers. Buddhism continued to flourish and develop at greater or lesser pace till about 460 A.D. when the whole North Western India was over run by white Huns who carried out the total destruction and devastation where ever they went. Buddhism had developed such firm roots in Gandhara that in spite of a number of invasions and a succession of foreign rules in the thousand years or so, majority of Gandhara population remained Buddhist.
The artistic manifestation of the faith further strengthened the bond unifying the people of Gandhara. The subject matter of Gandhara art was the depiction of various Buddhist concepts. Political, socio-economic and cultural structure of Gandhara has been studied in its Buddhist Art. However, Buddhist art of Gandhara has been clouded in mystery. Even today, after over a century and a half of research, many of its problems are still unsolved. Questions remain such as the date of its zenith and duration of its survival; the historical ambience from which it arose; the sources of its many cosmopolitan influences; the inspiration of the “classical” Buddha image; the circumstance; of its downfall and the destruction of its monuments. All these issues are part of discussion of the present research study.