Pakistan-Afghanistan, ancient Gandhara Kushan dynasty, late 2nd—early 3rd century
Panel 2 - The Enlightenment
After meditating for forty days beneath a pipal tree in Bodh Gaya, the Buddha approached the moment of omniscience. Evil demons, including two toppled soldiers beneath the Buddha's seat, have failed to distract him. Calmly lowering his right hand, the Buddha touches the earth goddess to witness his attainment of enlightenment. (In Buddhist sculpture, the earth-touching gesture [bhumisparsha mudra] always signals the moment of enlightenment.) He is also depicted with the characteristic forehead mole (urna) and cranial bump (ushnisha) that symbolize his immense spiritual capacity.
Ancient Gandhara was a cosmopolitan crossroads with ties to India, western Asia, and the Hellenistic world. During the Kushan dynasty (mid-first to third century CE), Gandharan artists synthesized elements from these cultural regions to create an image of the Buddha that combined Greco-Roman ideals of beauty with Indian Buddhist concepts and iconography.
These panels, which adorned a monumental stupa (reliquary), depict the four great life events of the Buddha. Artists presented the climactic moment in each event, focusing every composition on a large image of the Buddha or his mother. Devotees viewed the scenes as they walked clockwise around the mound with their right shoulders toward the enshrined relics.