Polynesian objects from early European exploration, £19.99
Height: 92.700 cm
Width: 33.600 cm
Diameter: 16.500 cm
Formerly in the India Museum, from the Archaeological Survey of India
Asia OA 1880-72
Room 33: Asia
Standing figure of a bodhisattva
From Jamalgarhi, Gandhara,
2nd-3rd century AD
A haloed and bejewelled grey schist standing bodhisattva
Bodhisattva are Buddhas-to-be, the name meaning 'one whose essence or being is knowledge' (bodhi). According to Buddhist lore, they are individuals who stand on the brink of Buddha-hood but defer final Enlightenment so as to dedicate their lives to the welfare of all beings. Their cult became exceedingly popular at an early date in Gandhara and spread from there into many parts of the Buddhist world. As Buddhas-to-be are usually born into princely families and apply the heroic virtues of warriors and rulers to the spiritual quest, they are often shown in royal attire, with elaborate jewellery and crowns.
Although his hands are broken off, most standing bodhisattva of this type from Gandhara hold their hands in abhayamudra (the gesture of reassurance), and we can assume that his right hand was in that pose.
Images of bodhisattva are similar in appearance to those of the Buddha, except that they are more heavily adorned. This figure has a roundish face set against a halo. He has a prominent moustache, shaped lips, rounded chin and eyes that are slightly slanting. His thickly pleated and heavy garments show the strong Graeco-Roman bias visible in Gandhara. However, his posture, shape of face, mouth and, most importantly, the underlying Buddhist philosophy have their origin in India.
W. Zwalf, A catalogue of the Gandhara sc, 2 vols. (London, The British Museum Press, 1996)