In early representations, the Buddha was indicated by symbols rather than in human form. The introduction of figurative Buddha imagery coincided with the division of the Buddhist community into the Theravada and Mahayana sects. The former emphasises monasticism as a route to enlightenment, while the latter developed into a more humanistic religion that promised salvation for all devotees. Around this time, two styles of Buddha imagery developed—one at Gandhara in Pakistan and Afghanistan, the other at Mathura in central India.
This Buddha from Mathura has several of the thirty-two marks of a great being, including a tuft of hair between the eyebrows (urna),
wheels on the soles of the feet, folds of flesh at the neck, elongated earlobes and the chest of a lion. Each of the Buddha’s toes is carved with a small swastika, another recurring symbol of Buddhism. The cranial bump (ushnisha) signifies spiritual advancement. The Buddha, dressed in sheer robes, is shown seated with legs crossed in the pose of meditation. He holds one hand, now missing, aloft in what would have been the fear-dispelling gesture (abhaya mudra). Characteristic of Kushan dynasty sculpture from Mathura, the Buddha is depicted with a robust torso, a plump, gently smiling face and wide-open eyes.
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
From: Ron Radford (ed), Collection highlights: National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2008