Buddha Narrative, 2nd - 3rd century
Schist 8 3/4 in. x 20 1/2 in. (22.23 cm x 52.07 cm)
Crocker Art Museum, anonymous gift
The Greeks, Sakas, Parthians, and Kushans successively ruled Gandhara from the mid-1st millennium bce to the mid-1st millennium ce. The region lay on the Silk Route, and its cities were important trading centers where Buddhism was widespread. Buddhist sites, which have been deserted since the end of the 1st millennium ce, usually consisted of a large stupa (reliquary mound), often surrounded by smaller stupas, and a monastery.
Buddha images, narrative reliefs of the life of the historical Buddha Shakyamuni and, less often, Western subject matter adorned the stupas and monasteries. This curved relief, which would have been placed on the drum of a small stupa, records the birth of Prince Siddhartha, who became the historical Buddha. Three scenes progress from right to left. On the far right Queen Maya travels to her family in a chariot; in the center Prince Siddhartha is born, emerging from her side in the Lumbini Grove; on the far left the gods lustrate the baby.
Greco-Roman style influenced Gandharan art in the treatment of the figures and clothing and in the partitioning of scenes with columns bearing ornate western-style capitals. The upper register of this relief, with its unidentified series of heavily robed, active figures, exemplifies this influence. The composition showing a rear view of the horseman leading Queen Maya’s chariot also seems more Western than Indian, as does the use of a chariot to transport the Queen. Yet the birth scene, with Maya grasping a tree as she kicks it into fruition, comes directly from the Indian depiction of the fertile female.