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Theresa McCullough

Bodhisattva, possibly Prince Siddhartha
Ancient region of Gandhara, Kushan period
2nd c. - 3rd c.
Height: 125 cm (49 1/4 ins)

A large image of a Bodhisattva standing with his weight on his right leg allowing the left leg to bend at the knee making the pose relaxed and suggesting a movement in the body which is emphasised by the folds of his monastic robe. He wears an undergarment which is belted at the waist, visible from the left hand side and a large over garment wrapped diagonally around his body leaving the right shoulder uncovered, a style based on Graeco-Roman prototypes.

His jewellery includes a jewelled basuband on his right arm, the corresponding left side piece indicated by a raised shape beneath the robes. A large, multi-strand pearl necklace culminating in two collars in the form of mythical beasts (makaramukha) connected to a central bead overlaps a repousse torque (kanthi). Strands of pearls decorate and hold in place the chignon of hair on top of his head while long curly strands drape over his shoulders behind ears decorated with large earrings.

His youthful face has a soft and serene expression with eyes slightly downcast, a long slender nose and soft, full lips with no moustache. A small raised urna can be seen between the eyebrows. The fleshy nature of the beautifully modeled body can be seen through and are emphasised by the diaphanous robe.

Both arms were made separately from the elbow down and attached by a tenon which explains why both are now missing. The grooves for the tenons are still visible. From the position of these grooves it can be ascertained that the right arm was bent at the elbow and projected forwards and upwards and would probably have formed either abhaya or vitarka mudra while the position of the left arm seems to have had a more gentle downward incline.

The Bodhisattva, the most popular image in the art of Gandhara after the Buddha, is an enlightened Being associated with Mahayana Buddhism who voluntarily renounces Nirvana to intercede for others to find the path to salvation. He is distinguished from the Buddha by the garments and jewellery that he wears which are in the style of a Kushan prince. In large images of this type and for reasons given above it is not unusual for the arms to have broken off making the exact identity difficult to ascertain due to the lack of attributes often held in the hands. In some cases the headdress contains tiny iconographical details which identify the Bodhisattva, for example a small Buddha or a stupa in the headdress will denote Maitreya. However this piece does not contain any of these elements which could indicate that this is Prince Siddhartha, the Buddha prior to his enlightenment.

Published: British Museum Magazine, The Journal of the British Museum Society, No 26, Winter 1996, Back Cover.

Comparable: Czuma, S; Kushan Sculpture, Images from Early India, Cleveland 1985, fig 115.

Provenance: private English collection since 1996.

all text, images � Theresa McCullough


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