Buddha Sculpture

The trend of Buddha sculptures began in the 3rd century BC, when the Mauryan Emperor Ashoka adopted Buddhism and set out on a mission to spread the teachings of the faith. He had 85,000 dome-shaped monuments or stupas constructed with the teachings of Buddhism engraved on rocks and pillars. These can still be seen in Buddhist monuments in Gujarat, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. The famous Ashoka Pillar at Sarnath (Madhya Pradesh) is still bright in polished sandstone representing the art of the Mauryan Empire.

The lion capital of the pillar has been adopted as the official emblem of the Indian Republic and the sacred wheel of law or the ‘dharmachakra’ is symbolic of the first sermon of Buddha. The Great Stupa at Sanchi is one of the finest surviving relics of the Mauryan Empire and is a renowned Buddhist sculpture. Its finely carved gateways depict Buddhist legends and lifestyles of two thousand years ago. In the 1st century AD, the position changed somewhat radically in Buddhist art and Buddha sculpture. Though Buddha opposed the idea of idol worship, his cult image was established and became essential for acts of worship. The humanoid image replaced the symbolic representation of Buddha and his teachings. The Mathura and the Gandhara schools of sculpture imparted human form to Buddha's image. To emphasize his divinity, these Buddha statues were depicted with features like a halo around the head, the dharmachakra engraved upon his palms and soles of his feet, and the lion throne representing his royal ancestry.

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