Monday, 12 September 2011

The Bhudhist Heritage of Pakistan

Permanent Representative of Pakistan to the UN, Ambassador Abdullah Hussain Haroon arranged an exclusive viewing for UN envoys and art lovers of the ongoing exhibition in New York of a remarkable trove from Pakistan.
Ambassador Haroon played a pivotal role in facilitating the release of the precious artifacts from the museums in Pakistan to New York. He wants the people here to see the very rich cultural heritage of Pakistan that is less known here in the US.

Buddhism flourished in the region, near present-day Peshawar in northwest Pakistan, between the 2nd century B.C. and 10th century A.D., giving rise to a distinct style of Buddhist visual art. The statue of Athena and a gold carving of Aphrodite in the exhibit demonstrate the early influence of Greco-Roman culture in the region, which began with its conquest by Alexander the Great. Themes from classical Roman art persisted in Gandharan art even as Buddhism began to flourish in the first century A.D., fostered by Silk Road trade and cross-cultural connections from the Mediterranean to China.

The first textual mention of historical Gandhara, the region that lies in the northwest of Pakistan and eastern Afghanistan, was in the ninth century B.C. Over the next nine hundred years the region was conquered by Alexander the Great, the Indian Mauryan dynasty, the Parthians, the Indo-Greeks, and finally the Central Asian Kushan Empire. This complex history, with its many cultural influences, formed the foundation for a region where Buddhism and Buddhist art would flourish and develop unique characteristics.

This exhibition explores the primary characteristics that make works from Gandhara of such profound cultural significance, featuring stone sculptures and reliefs, bronzes, and works in gold dating from the first century B.C. to the fifth century —from the Indo-Greek through Kushan periods, and closing with the beginnings of Sasanian rule there. The Buddhist Heritage of Pakistan is the first exhibition to bring works of Gandharan art from Pakistan to the United States in more than fifty years.

Art from Gandhara is notable for its striking stylistic qualities, many of which reflect complex connections to Greco-Roman and Parthian art. The region was a crossroads where the early influences of the western classical world met with Indian imagery and local practices. At the same time, Gandhara is also important for the unique forms of Buddhist imagery that emerged there. These include an array of relief scenes from the life of the Buddha, images of multiple buddhas, and sculptures of bodhisattvas.

The legacy of Gandharan Buddhism and its remarkable art can still be detected throughout Asia. Although its heartland was located in present-day Pakistan, Gandharan culture spread through Central Asia and reached the Tarim Basin. Many ideas and images that developed in Gandhara eventually traveled to China, and from there to Korea and Japan. This extraordinary history makes Gandharan art of enduring importance to scholars east and west.

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