India & South-East Asia

An important Indian pink sandstone head of Buddha, Mathuran district, Kushan Period, 2nd-3rd century CE.

Buddha, or Siddhartha, as he was originally named, was born in northern India in 624 BCE, into the royal Gautama family and lived a life of luxury until his late twenties when he retreated into the forest to pursue a life of spiritual meditation.

It is said that he sat beneath the Bodhi (enlightenment) tree for over six years until he attained Awakening and was given the title ‘Buddha’, granted only to those who achieve the highest form of enlightenment.

Buddhism spread throughout India and over the following centuries, via the trade routes, throughout the wider regions. As it spread, the images that were created to represent it gradually adopted different styles under different cultures.

This collection features an evocative image from the earliest period of Buddhist sculpture in India, Mathura region, dating from the first to second century ACE. Although it demonstrates Gandahran influences, the representation has already morphed into a different, more expressive form.

As the influence of Buddhism travelled by sea and land across Asia it reached the Funan Kingdom in Cambodia around the 5th century in an area which was to later become the centre of the Khmer Empire.

Later, a second stream of Buddhism entered Khmer culture during the Angkor Period (8th century) when Cambodia absorbed the Buddhist traditions of the Mon Kingdoms of Dvaravati and Haripunchai.

The majestic figure of Vishnu, illustrated below, is yet another rare and important highlight in this collection. The four-armed deity stands supremely in a long finely detailed sampot with a fishtail sash at the back, the face with downcast eyes beneath a finely detailed diadem, the hair in a conical chignon.

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