Balhae Stele Depicting Buddha

Balhae Stele Depicting Buddha

Burmese Buddhist Andagu Stone Stelae

The rare Burmese Buddhist Andagu Stone Stele carvings are extraordinary works of art, depicting in minute detail scenes related to the Buddhas path to Enlightenment whilst meditating under the Bodhi tree.

The Burmese andagu stone sculptures show the close relationship they had with their Indian neighbors, features found in similar Buddhist sculptures in black stone from India can also been seen in the andagu’s thought to be sculpted during the Pagan era. The Burmese sculptures usually show the Buddha in the earth touching gesture, seated crossed legged on a double lotus pedestal, flanked on either side by a Bodhisattva.

The scenes are intricately carved in minute detail around the central Buddha, each scene representing one of the great events in the life of the Buddha. Some of the large andagu stone stele also show the events of both the before and the seven weeks after Enlightenment.

The stone used in the carving of these small plaques is thought to be in the family of pyrophyllites, a soft stone with a beige/yellow appearance resembling ivory and easy to carve.

According to Claudine Bautze-Picron’s study (an excellent study, and one of the more in-depth studies we have found on Burmese andagu stone).

(quoted from her publication on andagu stone images) The original concept of this iconography with the central image surrounded by seven further ones is to be traced in Magadha (Bihar), probably in the region of Nalanda where a large number of images reproducing the eight major events of the Buddha’s life have been produced from the 8th century and onwards.

Known by art-historians since a long time already, such small images, together with a few more carved in the typical dark-grey, almost black stone of Bihar/Bengal, have been discovered in a wide area spread over North India, Sri Lanka, Tibet and Burma. Due to the fact that a group of fairly well preserved examples was initially collected at Pagan, it has generally been assumed that these sculptures must have been produced in Burma, more particularly at Pagan whereas examples recovered in India or Sri Lanka remained isolated in the context of their finding and whereas the images observed in Tibetan monasteries were clearly imported from countries located south of the Himalaya.

However, this pyrophyllite has also been used in Bihar and Bengal to illustrate other iconographic types, be they Buddhist or even Brahmanical, and subtle stylistic variances reveal conspicuously different geographical origins. (unquote)

Balhae Stele Depicting Buddha - History

yellow armed with vajra rat leader of the twelve generals also known as the Shintō deity Konpira (Kompira)

  1. Source: Butsuzō-zu-i 仏像図彙, Collected Illustrations of Buddhist Images, Published in 1783. The list above presents one common grouping. However, there are different groupings that associate each of the twelve with different zodiac animals.
  2. The 12 Heavenly Generals protect and serve the Yakushi Nyorai (the Medicine or Healing Buddha). They are also known as the Jūni Yakusha Taishō 十二薬叉大将 , or Jūni Shinnō 十二神王 . Taishō 十二薬叉大将
  3. These 12 deities are also referred to as the Yaksha, a Hindi term for “nature spirit,” or “warriors of fierce stance.” The twelve were derived from these earlier Hindu manifestations.
    , worshipped as a protection against fire and as the protector of warriors, is sometimes included as one of the twelve Yaksha Generals associated with Yakushi (the Medicine Buddha). <source:>

Heian Era wooden statues by Chosei, at Koryu-ji Temple in Kyoto
Above L to R: Anchira, Indara, Makora
Below L to R: Mekira, Sanchira

Below Text Courtesy of:
JAANUS Online Dictionary
The twelve protective deities Yasha 夜叉 who accompany Yakushi 薬師 . According to the sutra entitled YAKUSHI RURIKOUNYORAI HONGAN KUDOKUKYOU 薬師瑠璃光如来本願功徳経 , upon hearing the Buddha expound the worthiness of Yakushi, these Yasha chanted his name and vowed to protect those who spread his sutra. Thus, they are specifically the protectors of those who are devoted to Yakushi and who chant the YAKUSHIKYOU 薬師経 . Considered emanations of Yakushi, each of the twelve had 7,000 emanations, adding up to the number 84,000. Because the names of the Juuni Shinshou were transliterated from Sanskrit to Chinese, they tend to vary.

Although the appearance of the Juuni Shinshou is not described in the very early Chinese translation of the Yakushi-kyou, images appear to have been made in China from the Sui period (ca. 581-618) onward, and at an early point it appears that they were coordinated with the twelve emblematic animals, Juunishi 十二支 . In Cave number 220 of the Tun huang Caves (Tonkou sekkutsu 敦煌石窟 ), carved in 642, the Juuni Shinshou who appear in the depictions of Yakushi's Pure Land Yakushi Joudo Hensou 薬師浄土変相 have animals on their crowns. In Japan the association of the Juunishi and the Juuni Shinshou appears in both the iconographic manuals KAKUZENSHOU 覚禅抄 and ASABASHOU 阿婆縛抄 while the Yakushi Nyorai Koushiki 薬師如来講式 , written by Saichou 最澄 , mentions that the Juuni Shinshou have jursidiction over the twelve hours. Although one might expect the earliest representations of the Juuni Shinshou in Japan to show the animals of the Juunishi, they are not indicated in either the Houryuuji Kondou 法隆寺金堂 painting or the Shin'yakushiji 新薬師寺 sculptures. Instead, they appear from the Kamakura period on, when the Juuni Shinshou linked to the function of the Juunishi, protected time (i.e. twelve hours, twelve days and twelve months) as well as ritual space.

The earliest representations of the Juuni Shinshou in Japan are the four figures painted in Yakushi’s Pure Land on one wall of the Houryuuji Kondou. There are records that indicate that eight figures were part of the sculptural group that forms the Yakushi Joudo in the five-story pagoda, Gojuu-no-tou 五重塔 of Koufukuji Temple 興福寺 . The oldest extant sculptures of the Juuni Shinshou are from the Nara period set in Shin'yakushiji in Nara. There are also the late Heian period relief sculptures at Koufukuji 興福寺 . There are also sculptures (1064) by Chouzei 長勢 in Kouryuuji 広隆寺 , and the Kamakura period sculptures in the Toukondou 東金堂 of Koufukuji. Paintings include the Youchi-in 桜池院 Yakushi Juuni Shinshou from the end of the Heian period. From the Kamakura period on representaions of the Juuni Shinshou were common. <end JAANUS quote>

Below Text Courtesy of:

They are sometimes said to protect the faithful through the hours of the day, the months and the directions of space. They wage war on sickness and are said to command the 80,000 pores of the skin. They are said to relate to each of the twelve vows of Bhaisajyaguru (Yakushi Nyorai).

In some traditions, the twelve warriors are believed to protect the faithful by presiding over the daylight hours, the months, and the directions of space. There are typically twelve, but sometimes only nine, generals whose armies wage war on sickness. These twelve warriors are also representative of the twelve vows of Bhaisajyaguru. Although described in Sanskrit, Chinese and Japanese texts, the attributes assigned to them, as well as their colours (and sometimes their names), may vary.

Yakushi Nyorai with 12 Generals at base.
Yakushi is flanked by Nikkō and Gekkō (not shown in above photo).
Tōji Temple 東寺 (Kyoto), Wood, dated 1603. Carved by Kōshō 康正 (1534-1621).

JUNI SHI - 12 Astrological “ZODIAC” Animals
Click here for more information (origin China)
In Japan, by the end of the Heian Period, these twelve generals become associated with the twelve animals of the twelve-year cycle based on the twelve divisions of heaven in ancient Chinese astronomy. As a result, in Japan, it is not uncommon to see depictions of the Twelve Generals with the astrological animals in their headdresses. See M. W. de Visser's charts relating the twelve Yaksa to zodiacal signs in Ancient Buddhism in Japan, Vol. II (Leiden: 1935, pp. 551-553)

  • rat (Kubira, Kumbhira)
  • ox (Basara, Bazara, Bajira, Vajra)
  • tiger (Mekira, Mihira)
  • rabbit (Anchira, Andira)
  • dragon (Anira, Anila)
  • snake (Sanchira, Sandilya)
  • horse (Indara, Indra)
  • sheep (Haira, Pajra)
  • monkey (Makora, Mahoraga)
  • rooster (Shindara, Sindura)
  • dog (Shotora, Catura)
  • boar (Bikara, Vikarala)

Each animal represents one year of a twelve year cycle. It also represents a day in a twelve-day cycle, and a two-hour period in each day, and a compass direction (not shown in above chart). There are different naming conventions, and sometimes the 12 Generals are associated with a different animal than listed above. For example, below is another common grouping that differs from the above list:

  • Bikara Taisho - rat
  • Shotora Taisho - ox / bull
  • Shindara Taisho - tiger
  • Magora Taisho - rabbit
  • Haira Taisho - dragon
  • Indara Taisho - snake
  • Sanchira Taisho - horse
  • Anira Taisho - sheep (or ram)
  • Anchira Taisho - monkey
  • Mekira Taisho - cock / rooster
  • Basara Taisho - dog
  • Kubira Taisho - boar

Below is yet another grouping, which comes from Kakuonji Temple in Kamakura. The temple possesses life-size wooden statues of all 12, reportedly carved in the Muromachi Period, sometime around 1401-1411 AD.

  1. Kubira - rat
  2. Catura - ox
  3. Shindara - tiger
  4. Makora - rabbit/hare
  5. Haira - dragon
  6. Indara - snake
  7. Sanchira (Sandira) - horse
  8. Anira - sheep
  9. Anchira - monkey
  10. Mekira - rooster
  11. Bachira -dog
  12. Bikara -boar

Click here for details on the 12 astrological zodiac animals.

Kubira 宮毘羅
One of 12 Heavenly Guardians
Clay 塑像 & paint (saishiki 彩色)
H = 165.1 cm standing statue.
Above we present only
a closeup of the face.
Shin-Yakushiji Temple 新薬師持
Nara Era
Photo: Ogawa Kouzou

    (this site) (this site) for the 12 Generals
  • Carvings of All 12 Generals - Available Online,
  • Drawings & Charts for All 12, J-site,
  • Photo Gallery of All 12, Plus Yakushi Nyorai, from
    yakushi1.htm // pa-medb.htm // yakushi9.htm
  • Wooden Statues, Available Online,
  • Wooden Masks, Available Online,
  • Basara mask (shown at top of this page) at

Copyright 1995 - 2014. Mark Schumacher. Email Mark.
All stories and photos, unless specified otherwise, by Schumacher. | make a donation

Please do not copy these pages or photos into Wikipedia or elsewhere without proper citation !

Kizil Grottos / Kizil Thousand-Buddha Caves

Chinese name:
克孜尔石窟 (Kezi'er Shiku)
Location: Kizil Town, Baicheng County, Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region.
Open time: all day long
Entrance fee: CNY55
How to get there: take taxi or private coach.
Best time for visit: in summer and autumn

Brief Introduction to Red Hill Kizil Grottoes

Located at cliff of Mingwutage Mountain, Kizil Grottoes, which is also called Kizil Thousand-Buddha Caves (克孜尔千佛洞), is about 7 kilometers to the southeast of Kizil Town. As one of the Four Grottoes in China (the other three are Mogao Grottoes, Longmen Grottoes and Yungang Grottoes), it is the oldest one, which was built in the 3rd century and completed till in the 9th century. There are 236 grottoes had been numbered, except statues which are damaged badly, and many architectures and murals are in well preservation.

History of Kizil Grottoes

Kizil Grottoes had divided into four areas, namely East District, West District, Inner District and Back District, stretching about 3 kilometers with 236 grottoes. According to artistic survey, the history of Kizil Grottoes also can be divided into four periods.

The starting period lasts from the end of the 3rd century to the middle of the 4th century of which grottoes are quadrate painted with murals. The most well preserved grottoes are No.47, 48, 77, 92, 117 and 118, among which No.47 houses the largest preserved Buddha statue. It is also called Great Statue Grotto with high central hall and a big Buddha statue in the front hall which is a copy of the building style of Bamiyan Great Buddha Grottoes in Afghanistan. It is a 16 meters high Buddha standing in No. 47 grotto which was the largest and highest Buddha in Qiuci Area (龟兹, an ancient kingdom in the area of present Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region), but was damaged unfortunately due to the long time standing. However, murals in this grotto still can be identified which were painted roughly with bright colors portraying Buddhism stories of Theravada sect.

The second period, or the developing period, starts from the middle of the 4th century to the end of the 5th century. The representatives are grottoes No.13, 32, 38, 76, 83, 84, 114, 171, 172. Grottoes in this period are the Central Tower Grotto equipped with monk&rsquos bedroom, sermon room and praying room, all compose the structure of a temple. The painting style of this period is shading painting in diamond-type lattice depicting the stories of Tathagata who cultivate himself according to Buddhism doctrine before his turning into a god.

The third period, lasts from the 6th century to the 7th century, is a prosperous period during which about half of the all grottoes were built in Kizil. Most grottoes are Central Tower Grotto with statues adhered with gold dust or gold foil and murals are the stories of Tathagata who are preaching. This kind of stories covers thousands of murals during this period, and the one in No.8 grotto is the representative depicting the story of a monkey who offer honey to Tathagata and his disciples for two times as per the Tathagata&rsquos request however, it is so happy that slip into the water and drown to death while it is reborn afterwards as a rich man for his consecration to Tathagata.

The last period of Kizil Grottoes happens during the 8th century and the 9th century with existing murals in No.129, 135, 180,197, 227 and 229 and the writing by visitors on the wall indicates few monks staying in the grottoes. A broken stele by Buddha Tower of Kizil dating back to the 8th century tells that Kizil was becoming battle field in Tang Dynasty (618-907) with a battle picture in No.93 grotto as proof.

Architectural Characteristics of Kizil Grottoes

The main characteristic of Kizil Grottoes is Central Tower Grotto with main hall and back hall. According to historical materials, the front wall of the main hall should enshrine a statue of Tathagata with murals telling stories of Tathagata on side walls and ceiling. After visiting the main hall, visitors should enter the back hall clockwise to admire the Buddha nirvana image.

The most impressive part of Kizil Grottoes is its diamond-type lattice composition of picture which is different from serial pictures composition in Mogao Grottoes. One lattice of picture tells one story with main character in the middle and supported characters and items surrounding.

Grottoes and Murals in Kizil Grottoes

Grottoes in Kizil are divided into two kinds, one kind is monk&rsquos room which provides bed, simple kitchen and living equipment with passageway the other kind is Buddhism hall which provides room for praying and Buddhist preaching. Buddhism hall is subdivided into two kinds one is the great statue grotto which has standing Buddha statue with high ceiling and hole-shape doors, the other is the central tower grotto which is the quadrate room with pillars supporting ceiling in the middle. Functions of grottoes differ from their shape and decorations. With so many grottoes existing, visitors can imagine that Kizil Grottoes was a Buddhism center with temples and a large amount of monks.

The existing murals in Kizil Grottoes cover an area of 10,000 square meters which are praised as the largest Buddhism art treasure just second Dunhuang Murals. Murals here include flying gods, gods of arts, Buddhist pagodas, Bodhisattva, Arhat, the eight races of non-human entities described in Buddhist cosmological text Lotus Sutra (法华经), namely Deva (天), Naga (龙), Yaksha (夜叉), Gandharva (乾驮婆), Asura (阿修罗), Garuda (伽楼罗), Kinnara (紧那罗), and Mahoraga (摩呼罗迦), stories of Buddha, some other folk stories and social life of ancient times.

According to researchers and scholars, the murals showing stories of Tathagata before his nirvana are the highlight of Kizil Grottoes which has high art value and is larger in number than that in the other three famous grottoes. Except large numbers of murals, the unique painting skill is also a highlight of Kizil Grottoes which is painted to the wall directly instead of painting the wall in white firstly as other murals. The painting skill is called wet painting or concavo convex painting using coloring earth and other transparent paints, which is a combing of directly painting and shading painting skills. Historians believe that this painting skill is a unique one created by people in ancient Qiuci area long time ago.

Buddhist stele depicting debate between Weimo and Wenshu

This intriguing stela, or tablet, depicts a famous debate between Weimo (Sanskrit, Vimalakirti), the supremely wise Buddhist layman, and Wenshu (Sanskrit, Manjusri), the Bodhisattva of Wisdom. This was a popular Buddhist subject in China in the late fifth and sixth centuries, yet in Chinese sculpture there is no analogous representation of the two figures as seen here. This is the only known sculpture of this scale that features the debate as the sole focus of the work usually it appeared as a detail with other figures present.

In the stela, the figures sit behind low armrests. Weimo, on the right, is dressed as an elderly Chinese gentleman, appropriate for his role as a wise lay Buddhist. He holds a fanlike whisk, a common attribute for those involved in intellectual discourse. The bodhisattva Wenshu, on the left, grasps a scepter. Flanking bodhisattvas and three small monks witness the proceedings, and two celestials fly above. On the base of the sculpture, an incense burner is bordered by kneeling monks and lotuses. On the rear of the tablet, the incised image of a Buddha and two monks may have been engraved (and originally painted) much later than the carving on the front.

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Temple Shuanglin-si (双林寺) reputed as an ancient painted sculptures museum, was included in World Heritage List by Unesco in year 1997 as an important cultural site of Pingyao City. The Temple is notable for its collection of more than 2000 decorated clay sculptures dated to 12-19th century. The 2052 pieces of colored sculptures include images of Buddha, Bodhisattva, Arahat, deities, warrior guardians, heavenly kings and common people were patterned on the design of the artistic tradition of Dynasty Song, Jin, and Yuan period. The themes depicted though are generally religious in nature but related to daily life of people. They appear life-like in form, reflecting the exquisite skills of artisans from Song, Yuan, Ming and Qing Dynasty. The name Shunglin-si which means double tree was changed from the original name Zhongdu (中都寺)in Song Dynasty 960-1127). It was derived from description in a Buddhist Sutra mentioning that Buddha Sakyamuni entered Nirvana by the side of a river and between two trees in India. The two trees bloomed with white fragrant flowers after Buddha entered Nirvana. It was not clear when was the temple first established but the earliest restoration date indicated in The Stele relics was in year 571, which means the temple has at least a history of 1400 years. Worn out and gone through thousand years of wind and rain plus gone through several war period, the temple was near complete ruin condition in Yuan period, though repairs were carried on in many earlier dynasty. The present temple structures are mainly repaired and restored during Ming Dynasty.

The 8 of its 10 main shrine halls within its 3 courtyards are Heavenly King Hall, Arahat Hall, Mahavira Main Shrine Hall, One Thousand Buddha Hall, Sakyamuni Buddha Hall, Bodhisattva Hall, Dizang Hall and Guanyin Hall. At Heavenly King Hall, there are 4 Temple guardians and 8 Bodhisattva with Maitreya (弥勒菩萨)as the main. The 3 meter tall terracotta sculptures of the four Heavenly Kings (四大天王) below the eaves of Veranda, look mighty and magnificent. The plague under the eaves was written with 4 Chinese character Tianzhu Sheng-Jing (天竺胜境) which roughly means An Indian's Wonder-Land.

The man-like sculptures of the four Heavenly Kings are 3 meters in height, each hold in hand with a musical instrument Pipa (琵琶), a sword, a snake and an umbrella, had become sketching subject of many art students.

Bodhisattva Hall (菩萨殿)and Buddha Sakyamuni Hall (释迦殿) are among the ten magnificent halls at the temple site. Buddha Sakyamuni Hall enshrined an image of Buddha with Bodhisattva Manjusri (文殊菩萨) and Samantabhadra (普贤菩萨) attended at his left and right. Sculpted images depicting Buddhist legends relating to Buddha are suspended on the wall with height varied from 0.3-3.5 meter. Like most of the halls, sculptures are displayed behind caged chambers in a tableaux form.

1650 pieces out of its 2052 sculptures are reported to be extant. Embedded at the wall of Bodhisattva Hall, are 480 sculptures of Bodhisattva images. The most renowned is the sculpture of Goddess of Mercy with thousand hands (千手观音菩萨). The gilded sculpted Guanyin Bodhisattva in a cross-legged posture, was seated on a lotus.

The Clothing and ornaments decorated arms of the images in Bodhisattva Hall, were very rich and well sculpted.

The Skanda statue in the Hall of Thousand Buddha is considered a masterpiece of sculptural art of Buddhist culture from Ming Dynasty. The Chief deity is shown with his legs positioned over a coiled dragon. (photographing not permitted)


The Mahavira Main Shrine Hall enshrines three colored clay images of Buddha. And the Arahat Hall houses 18 Arahat images with exaggerated facial expressions differing from drunken, sick, dwarf, fat or thin. The mute arahat with eyebrows frowned and lips sealed, is most interesting. He looked as if he could not find a word to express how suffering was the world. (Photographing not permitted)

The 11 meter high ancient scholar trees in the central courtyard was said to be planted during Tang Dynasty ( 618-907). The tree continues surviving with two branches grown up from its hollowed trunk which is as big as to allow an adult to hide inside it.

Leaving Shuanlin-si heading for another ancient temple Zhenguo-si which is of equivalent importance in the history of Buddhism of China due to its wooden structure and the rare sculptures from 10th century.

Passing by villages where people are still staying in cave-form dwellings.

Shanxi is not a fertile land for crops due to the earth and drought. Millet and sorghum (gaoliang 高粱) are the only crops the local farmers can plant as they do not need lots of water to grow. Sorghum wine is popular among the Chinese and the red sorghum farm looks pretty in harvest time .

Temple of Zhenguo-si (镇国寺) is a key unit of presentation of cultural relics in Pingyao ancient town (平遥古城). The structure of its Ten Thousand Buddha Building (万佛殿) is a rare architecture of Wudai era (五代时期). As written on a beam in the hall and the date inscribed on the Stele, it was founded in 7th century during the reign of Emperor Tianhui of Northern Han Dynasty (北汉) in 963 AD and renovated in year 1540 and 1816.

The Temple site has two main halls plus a gate with two courtyards in between the three buildings. The Temple gate with Hall of Heavenly Kings are opened to the south at the entrance while to the north, is the Hall of Ten Thousand Buddha, the only building that survived from the short-lived Northern Han Dynasty. The Three Buddha Halls at the backyard was built in Qing Dynasty. The entire complex is surrounded by wall.

Temple of Zhenguo-si is located in the village of Hadong-cun, about 12km away from Pingyao and the site same as Shuanglin-si is also included in the world cultural heritage list. Temples of Zhengguo-si, Shuanglin-si and ancient walls are known as the three treasures of Pingyao city.


The original name of Zhenguo-si was Jing-Cheng Temple (京城宝刹). The name was changed to the present one in year 1540 during Ming Dynasty. Its Ten Thousand Buddha Hall was built in Northern Han Dynasty and renovated in Ming Dynasty with its original style maintained.

The Ten Thousand Buddha Hall measures 11.6 x 10.8 meter with average height of 8.8 meters, is almost square in shape. There are doors in front and at the back. The whole building is supported by 12 pillars directly plunged into ground without any stone pedestal.

The wooden structure of Ten Thousand Buddha Temple Hall, built in year 963AD, is the oldest structure and most important at the temple site.

The eleven colored sculptures inside the Hall of Ten Thousand Buddha are of high value. The structures are among the only example of 10th century Buddhist sculpture in China. The main image of Buddha Sakyamuni seated on a 6 meter long altar is flanked by his chief attendant, Ananda (阿南侍者)and Mahakashyapa (迦叶) plus other Bodhisattva. The sculpting design was quite close to the style of Tang Dynasty but contains some characteristic of Wudai period.

Ming murals found at the Three Buddha Hall (三佛殿) at the backyard of the site.

Frescoes depicting Sakyamuni Buddha's stories were the artworks of Ming Dynasty and they were preserved completely.

The Ten Thousand Buddha Temple Hall is one of oldest wood building in China, built slightly later than Temples Foguang-si and Nangchan-si of Wutaishan (五台山佛光寺和南禅寺)。

The Temple Hall of Ten Thousand Buddha Hall is notable for featuring very large brackets that hold up the roof and flying eaves. There is no ceiling inside the hall.

There are three halls at backyard dated back from Qing Dynasty. Guanyin Hall faces east and Dizang Hall faces west while the center is the Three Buddha Hall. The image of Kshitigarbha Bodhisattva (地藏菩萨)is enshrined in Dizang Hall with his followers and judges of ten level land underworld. All these Ming products are vivid and man-like. (photographing not permitted)

The building of Guanyin Hall and Three Buddha Hall.

Designed wooden doors and windows.

The 1000 yrs old dragon scholar tree at the courtyard


We met a military guest in the temple garden while visiting the Temple. Being VIP, they were specially escorted with an internal guide and we were so fortunate to be invited to join them to go around the temple site. They further invited us to stay in their house in our next destination as they appreciated our great enthusiastic shown in China and its history.

5 Napoleon&rsquos Conquest Of Italy

Setting an example for future dictators like Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin, Napoleon Bonaparte wished to fill his newly constructed Louvre museum with a virtual encyclopedia of artistic history. He, and much of France&rsquos elite, believed that the French people had better taste and would appreciate the plundered artifacts better than anyone else. Setting themselves apart from most entries on this list, however, they actually stole from fellow Europeans.

First on Napoleon&rsquos long list of victims, which included one of the first coordinated lootings of Egypt, was Italy. The Louvre, briefly known as the Musee Napoleon, was to be the home for the spoils of war, an idea which owes its origins to the Convention Nationale, which deemed valuable works of art as viable for payment for war debts. Some of Italy&rsquos greatest works, including Correggio&rsquos Madonna of St. Jerome and Raphael&rsquos Transfiguration, found their way to France thanks to that decision.

When he was done looting, Napoleon referred to the plundered art as harvest, saying that they would have &ldquoall that there is of the beautiful in Italy.&rdquo Although they initially felt the legality of their acquisition to be beyond reproach, the French government returned many of the paintings after Napoleon&rsquos abdication and subsequent exile. Some, however still remain in Paris.

A Buddha from Mathura

Seated Buddha with Two Attendants is an early example of the Buddha shown in anthropomorphic (human) form. The historic Buddha, born a prince named Siddhartha Gautama, is believed to have lived and preached in the fifth century B.C.E. When he died, his relics and the stupas that came to symbolize the Buddha became the primary focus of devotion for his followers.

Great Stupa at Sanchi, 3rd c. B.C.E.–1st c. C.E., Sanchi, Madhya Pradesh (photo: AyushDwivedi1947, CC BY-SA 4.0)

The Buddha was not shown in human form in early Indian art, but rather, in aniconic (symbolic) form. Stupas were adorned with visually engaging stories that celebrated the Buddha with symbols—footprints, thrones, and parasols, for example—that signified the presence of the Buddha and commanded the respect that the Buddha himself would receive.

The reasons for avoiding anthropomorphic representations of the Buddha in those early centuries may have centered on the belief that the Buddha—who had lived 550 lifetimes and had achieved nirvana (liberation from the cycle of karmic rebirth)—was freed of the human form. By the turn of the common era, however, Buddhist beliefs had changed. The Buddha was deified, and with the development of the anthropomorphic Buddha, devotees were given a new focus for their ritual practices in shrines and monasteries.

Seated Buddha

Smiling, the Buddha sits cross-legged and rests a closed fist on his left knee. Layers of cloth gathered on his left arm and shoulder fall gracefully down his back, while the curved indentation across his chest and across his calves suggests the lightness of his robe. The Buddha holds his right hand up in abhaya mudra— a gesture of protection and reassurance. Wheels (marked on the palm of his hand and on his feet) and lotuses on his feet announce the Buddha’s divinity. Other signifiers of his godliness, such as the ushnisha (cranial protuberance, see image below ) and urna (auspicious mark on the forehead) have been lost over time. The ushnisha would have been covered by a tightly twisted hair–bun and centered above the Buddha’s head, while the urna was likely once a small rock crystal. The historic Buddha’s life as a prince prior to his enlightenment is referenced by his elongated ears, which were caused by the heavy jewelry that he once wore.

To visualize the lost ushnisha and urna on the Seated Buddha with Two Attendants (left), 132 C.E. (Kimbell Art Museum), we can compare it with another early Buddha image, the Katra stele (right), end of the 1st century C.E. (Government Museum, Mathura) (photo: Biswarup Ganguly, CC BY-3.0)

Although the mottled red color of the stone in the Seated Buddha is striking, our attention is focused on the sculptors’ meticulous carving. A close look at the Buddha shows carefully outlined fingers on his left hand and a beautifully detailed thumb and fingernail, a realistic portrayal of the knees and wrists, and a softly modeled stomach. The face is also particularly compelling, and we can almost see the Buddha’s chin lift as he smiles.

The Buddha’s Attendants

Gods and goddesses in Indian art are often accompanied by attendants, and here the Buddha has two. The artists have employed a technique known as hierarchic scaling to emphasize the Buddha’s importance because the smaller scale of the attendant figures highlights his monumentality. Imagine how the Buddha would tower over his attendants if he were to stand! The attendants mirror one another in their stances and adornment, and they both carry a chauri (fly-whisk) in their right hand in a gesture that indicates their service to the Buddha . Subtle differences in their facial features and in their headdresses suggest individual personalities.

Seated Buddha shown with approximate halo (Kimbell Art Museum) and Stele with Bodhisattva and Two Attendants, c. 2nd century C.E., red sandstone, 7 5/16 x 8 7/16 x 2 3/4 inches (Harvard Art Museums)

This type of representation of the Buddha appears to have been popular in the second century C.E. Comparing the Seated Buddha to similar stelae from the same period helps us determine its missing parts. Looking at a stele known as the Katra stele (after Katra, an archaeological site in Mathura, India) and another titled Stele with Bodhisattva and Two Attendants in the collection of the Harvard Art Museums, we can see that the upper portion of the Seated Buddha may have once had a large halo and flying celestial beings. Halos (referencing rays of light) and celestial beings signify divine radiance and the attendance of a heavenly retinue.

Detail of relief panel (highlighted) and inscription on the dais, Seated Buddha (Kimbell Art Museum)

Inscriptions and dates

On the face of the carved dais are rampant leogryphs and a pair of attendants who flank a pillar. The Buddhist character of the pillar is evident by the wheel (the wheel symbolizes the Buddha’s teachings) that is shown in profile at its summit. The pillar and the wheel represent the Buddha and his teachings, and are flanked by attendants just as the figure of the Buddha is above.

The relief panel is framed by two lines of text in Sanskrit. [1] Inscriptions such as these record donors’ gifts for posterity and include the date of the donation. These dates followed the regnal years of the king who was in power at that time. The inscription on the Seated Buddha mentions the dedication of the image during the fourth year of the Kushan dynasty (c. 2nd century B.C.E.—3rd century C.E.) king Kanishka. Although scholars continue to refine the year in which Kanishka ascended the throne, the current consensus suggests that the image would have been dedicated in c. 132 C.E. Seated Buddha is one of only a few Buddha images that has been dated with an inscription to this early period in the common era. Having this frame of reference is invaluable because it helps scholars date stylistically similar images to this period.

The Kushan and Gupta period

Gandhara and Mathura

The sandstone from which Seated Buddha was carved was preferred by the artist workshops of Mathura, a city in northern India. Mathura and the Gandhara region (in present-day Pakistan) have yielded the earliest known anthropomorphic representations of the Buddha. Both Gandhara and Mathura were under the rulership of the Kushan kings at the turn of the common era and were important political centers the Kushans’ winter capital was located in Mathura and their summer capital in Gandhara.

A comparison of Buddhas from Mathura and Gandhara. Left: Katra stele, Government Museum, Mathura (photo: Biswarup Ganguly, CC BY-3.0) right: The Buddha, c. 2nd–3rd century C.E., from Gandhara, schist, approximately 37 x 21 x 9 inches (The British Museum). Note the differences in the style of the Buddhas’ hair, robe, and drapery.

Gandhara Buddha

The anthropomorphic form of the Buddha in Gandhara and Mathura developed simultaneously and yet resulted in remarkably distinct styles. [2] The Gandhara region’s encounter with Alexander the Great in the fourth century B.C.E. and its history of Indo-Greek rulers in the centuries thereafter meant that a classical and Hellenistic (Greek) style of art and architecture was a part of the Gandhara region’s artistic vocabulary. Buddhas from Gandhara show a familiarity with Greco-Roman styles of sculpture this is apparent in the comparison below, for example, in the drapery, hair, facial features, and musculature of the Gandhara Buddha.

Comparison of a Buddha from Gandhara with a Roman sculpture. Left: Buddha, c. 2nd–3rd century C.E., Gandhara, schist (Tokyo National Museum) right: “Caligula,” 1st century C.E., Roman, marble (Virginia Museum of Fine Art)

Mathura Buddha

As opposed to their Gandharan counterparts—with their inward-looking meditative expressions—Buddhas produced contemporaneously in Mathura look directly at us, as we see in the Seated Buddha. Their heads are smooth and topped with the kaparda (Sanskrit for a braided and coiled hairstyle ) in striking contrast to the stylized hair of the Buddhas of Gandhara. They are also most often depicted wearing monastic robes (known as sangati) with one shoulder left bare.

Left: Yaksha figure, c. 150 B.C.E., approximately 8 feet high (Government Museum, Mathura, photo: Biswarup Ganguly, CC BY-3.0) right: Bala Bodhisattva, c. 130 C.E., approximately 6 feet 7 inches (Sarnath Museum, ©Archaeological Survey of India)

Artists in Mathura were inspired by the regional style of sculptures. Art historians have suggested that one inspiration for the Mathura style of the Buddha may be images of yakshas (male fertility spirits). A comparison of a standing yaksha image with a standing sculpture known as the Bala Bodhisattva reveals shared commonalities in their monumental size, columnar character, emphatically frontal attitude, and broad shoulders.

Artists would have refined existing sculptural forms (like that of the Yaksha figure) to create the newly popular anthropomorphic form of the Buddha. Although Bala Bodhisattva is identified not as the Buddha but rather as a bodhisattva (a being who is on the path to enlightenment) the iconographic treatment of the Buddha and bodhisattvas is identical in this early period.

Images produced in Mathura in the Gupta period (c. 4th–7th centuries C.E.), like this Standing Buddha, would develop the Mathura style of the Kushan period even further. The Buddha’s facial features are softer, the folds on his robe (which will cover both of his shoulders) are a cascade of looped strings, his hair is beautifully coiled, and his eyes lower, looking inward.

Standing Buddha from the Gupta period and Seated Buddha with Two Attendants from the earlier Kushan period illustrate the development of the Buddha image in early history. Both images were produced in Mathura from the same stone and both represent a standard type of Buddha image from their respective eras. They are apt examples of how artistic processes and styles change over time.

[1] In particular, a type of “Buddhist Sanskrit.” See Gérard Fussman cited under References .

[2] The question of which style of Buddha came first (i.e., the Buddha from Mathura or Gandhara) and hence represents the earliest type of anthropomorphic Buddha image has been a long debated issue. See Ananda K. Coomaraswamy and Alfred Foucher cited below.

Ananda K. Coomaraswamy, “The Origin of the Buddha Image,” The Art Bulletin 9, no. 4 (1927): 287–329.

Vidya Dehejia, Indian Art (London: Phaidon Press, 1997).

Alfred Foucher, “The Greek Origin of the Image of Buddha.” In Alfred Foucher, The Beginnings of Buddhist Art and other Essays in Indian and Central–Asian Archaeology (Paris: Paul Geuthner, 1997), pp. 111–137.

Gérard Fussman, “Documents épigraphiques kochans (V). Buddha et Bodhisattva dans l’art de Mathura: deux Bodhisattvas inscrits de l’an 4 et l’an 8,” Bulletin de l’École française d’Extrême-Orient (1988), pp. 5–26.

Prudence R. Myer, “Bodhisattvas and Buddhas: Early Buddhist Images from Mathura,” Artibus Asiae 47, no. 2 (1986): 107–142.

Sonya Rhie Quintanilla, History of Early Stone Sculpture At Mathura, ca. 150 BCE–100 C.E. (Leiden: Brill, 2007).

Ju-Hyung Rhi, “From Bodhisattva to Buddha: The Beginning of Iconic Representation in Buddhist Art,” Artibus Asiae 54, no. 3 / 4 (1994): 207–225.


Carved in deep relief, with exquisite modeling and lifelike attention to detail, the present lot can be considered one of the most important and recognizable Gandharan sculptures to ever appear at auction. Extensively published and widely exhibited, this rare and important Buddhist triad has previously been described by Dr Pratapaditya Pal in Light of Asia: Buddha Sakyamuni in Asian Art, Los Angeles, 1984, p. 191 as “one of the finest extant Gandhara reliefs” ever known to international art historians and the art market. The figures of Buddha and his flanking bodhisattvas, Avalokiteshvara and Maitreya, as well as the boughs of the tree above, are carved with such depth as to appear almost in the round, and the emerging torsos of Brahma and Indra behind contribute to the sense of deep perspective, a masterful feat on the part of the sculpture considering the shallow actual depth of the relief.
One of the numerous aspects which distinguishes this magnificent triad, depicting Buddha Shakyamuni with a divine retinue of bodhisattvas, is its inclusion in a small group of inscribed figural sculpture from the ancient region of Gandhara. As recently as 2017, this group of five inscribed figural works included the present lot a seated Buddha from Manane Dheri a standing Buddha from Loriyan Tangai a standing Buddha from Hashtnagar and a standing Hariti from Skarah Dheri, the latter four all commonly known by their excavation site and subject matter, i.e. the Loriyan Tangai Buddha, etc. For further discussion, see J. Rhi, “Positioning Gandharan Buddhas in chronology: significant coordinates and anomalies”, Problems of Chronology in Gandharan Art, Oxford, 2018, pp. 35-49 and also C. Luczanits, “Gandhara and its Art”, The Buddhist Heritage of Pakistan: Art of Gandhara, New York, 2011, pp. 20-22. The present triad, however, has been known colloquially and frequently published as the ‘Brussels Buddha’ due to its previous inclusion in the collection of the late Belgian dealer and connoisseur, Claude de Marteau.
Since the initial appearance of the present lot in an advertisement in Oriental Art magazine in the spring of 1973, enthusiastic scholastic and epigraphical debate surrounding the chronology and interpretation of Gandharan inscriptions, and the methodology of translation of dated inscriptions into the Gregorian calendar, has followed.
The primary question for epigraphical debate pertains to the correlation of era (i.e. Kanishka Kharoshti Azes Vikrama, etc.) applied to the numerical inscription, which would give a modern dating anywhere between the first and fifth centuries CE. Although a median date of third-fourth century CE is presently accepted as a working hypothesis by art historians and epigraphical specialists, the question of accuracy still remains a subject of debate. Determining the correlation of the inscribed date to the Gregorian calendar has a significant and far-reaching effect, of course, on the dating of the present lot the beginning and end of the Kushan era and the greater understanding of the development and evolution of Gandharan art history.
Writing about the present lot in “Gandhara and its Art”, The Buddhist Heritage of Pakistan: Art of Gandhara, New York, 2011, p. 21, Christian Luczanits suggests a dating of third-fourth century (232 or 332 CE), based upon the premise “… of the Kushan era as beginning with Kanishka I at 127 CE” as well as the “… assumption of the development of iconographic themes based on the slowly increasing importance of concepts and ideas associated with Mahayana Buddhism.” The specifically Mahayanist iconographic themes to which he refers includes the worship of bodhisattvas, including Avalokiteshvara and Maitreya, both of whom flank the Buddha in the present lot. Luczanits further summarizes: “ .. the interpretations of art history and Buddhist studies on the one hand and those of archaeology, history and epigraphy on the other hand have been drifting apart, without the possibility of reconciliation.”
The inscription on the present lot has been presented by Juhyung Rhi in “Positioning Gandharan Buddhas in chronology: significant coordinates and anomalies”, in Problems of Chronology in Gandharan Art, Oxford, 2018, p. 43. and translated as:

sa[m] 41 Phagunasa masasa di pamcami Budhanadasa trepidakasa damamukhe madapidarana adhvadidana puyaya bhavatu
(In the year 5, on the fifth day of the month of Phalguna: the pious gift of Buddhananda, learned in the three baskets (pitakas), may it be for honoring the deceased [?] father and mother)

Based on an interpretation of the year 5 in the inscription as correlating to the Kanishka era, it is dated by Pratapaditya Pal in the “Light
of Asia” exhibition catalogue to the year 83 CE. Since the time of publication, however, the first century attribution has been widely debated as too early a date for a stele of this sophistication and subject matter vis-à-vis the current understanding of the trajectory of Gandharan sculpture.
Further distinguishing characteristics of this extraordinary sculpture include the unusual and divine assembly of deities and bodhisattvas surrounding Buddha Shakyamuni, seated at the center of the relief. In the present lot, Buddha is flanked on the proper left by the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, as evidenced by the diminutive Buddha figure at the crown of his head and flanked on the proper right by another bodhisattva, likely Maitreya, although losses to the forearms preclude positive identification by attribute. Behind Buddha float two smaller figures with hands raised in adoration: crowned Indra on the proper left and an ascetic figure depicting Brahma on the proper right. Surmounting Buddha and retinue is a heavy bough of luxuriant leaves, alternately described as the famous bodhi tree, or a celestial tree laden with flowers.
Compare this triad with a very similar relief in the Peshawar Museum depicting the same scene (published as the “Miracle of Shravashti” in H. Hargreaves, Handbook to the Sculptures of the Peshawar Museum, Calcutta, 1930, pl. 2, fig. a.). In the Peshawar example, the bodhisattva Maitreya flanks Buddha on the proper left. Beyond this difference, there is remarkable resemblance between the two triads, including the treatments of the leaves and flowers the elegant hairstyles and cascading style of the robes the particular crown style of Indra and the unusual treatment of the lotus throne petals, which resemble an artichoke and are more frequently seen in bronze sculpture from the Swat Valley.

Astronomical Significance: Sun, Moon, Stars

Although the megalithic builders left no literary remains, numerous signs have been found both on the stones and the pottery in the tombs. Many seem to have astronomical significance, depicting the sun, moon stars and directions. The megalithic tombs all have a high degree of cardinality, being orientated to the compass points. The porthole, an example of which is shown in the cist photograph, is too small to allow for deposition of the body, and must be equivalent of a soul door by which the living can continue communication with their ancestors. These portholes also allow for the rising sun and perhaps other asterisms to illuminate the tomb at dawn on important “twilight” points of the year, notably the winter and summer solstices.

The Sky Religion, what Professor Rao called “megalithism”, is still a living tradition amongst India’s many tribal groups. There are 645 tribes scheduled by the Indian constitution. For example, the Gonds, who worship the sun, moon and stars and offer a symbolic human sacrifice (see Bahadur 1978: 89 “castes, tribes and cultures of India”, quoted in KP Rao.)

Many tribal groups still erect menhirs in honor of the dead, usually as a response to the manifestation of a departed ancestor who has been a troublesome ghost. A religious specialist, a “shaman”, asks them what they want, which invariably turns out to be a feast and the erection of a menhir to give them respect amongst the other ghosts. To anyone who has studied the folk magic of for example Egypt, or Sudan, this is very familiar territory. This seems entirely parallel to funeral practices of many other cultures, including in our own, when funeral stele are still erected to commemorate the name of the departed soul. We are dealing with a universal of human nature.

Chris Morgan is a respected independent scholar, former Wellcome student, and holder of an advanced degree in Oriental Studies from University of Oxford. He is the author of several books on Egypt, specializing in folk religion, ritual calendars and the “archaeological memory” encoded in the religions of post pharaonic Egypt. He is also an Indologist, interested in the philosophy and technology of India, especially Ayurvedic medicine, and folk magic traditions. His latest book is Isis: Goddess of Egypt & India.”

Top Image: Deriv Ursa Major ( Public Domain ), stone megalith, India.

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