Maitreya, 2nd century
Pink sandstone 10 3/4 in. x 12 3/4 in. x 3 in. (27.31 cm x 32.39 cm x 7.62 cm)
Crocker Art Museum Purchase from the William P. & Edith E. Cleary Fund2007.118
During the reign of the Kushans (late 1st–3rd century ce), the earliest known Buddha images in India proper were created in Gandhara and in Mathura, where this relief was carved. The style of the Gandharan region reflected Greco-Roman influence, while the Mathuran sculptures followed pre-existing Indian sculptural tradition. While scholars have debated where the first Buddha images appeared, many now believe them to have been carved in Mathura.
The figure depicted here is immediately identifiable as Maitreya, the future Buddha. Maitreya had a large cult following from an early period, largely because of the belief that one would proceed directly to Tushita heaven if born during the period of his coming as the next Buddha. Before achieving buddhahood, Maitreya (like all Buddhas) lives many lives, during which he is known as a bodhisattva. The Mahayana text, the Saddharma Pundarika sutra, explains that each future Buddha hears of his destiny from the preceding Buddha. Hence, it is to be understood that Maitreya is a figure who is in this life a bodhisattva and will one day be a Buddha; this carving includes aspects of both.
Maitreya’s identifying characteristics as a bodhisattva are either a stupa (reliquary mound) in his headdress or a kamandalu (flask) in his hand. In the Kushan art of both Mathura and Gandhara, he is frequently depicted as a standing bodhisattva holding the kamandalu. In seated depictions from Mathura, where this sculpture was created, he sits in padmasana (full-lotus), as a Buddha would be seated, but he wears the royal clothing and bears the attributes of a bodhisattva.