Sarnath was perhaps the most glorious site of Buddhist sculpture in the Gupta period (AD 320-550). Non-essential decoration was stripped away without compromising any iconographical requirements. The serene Buddhas often have heavy lidded eyes in a yogic gaze, and a gentle smile.
Buddhist images can be seen with many attributes and in a wide variety of poses and gestures. However, images of the historical Buddha, Shakyamuni, are found in a limited number of gestures, relating to the most spiritually important moments in the Buddha's biography. Instead of the more usual cross-legged position, this Buddha sits enthroned, and holds his hands in the dharmachakra-mudra, the gesture of preaching, or 'turning the wheel of Law'. The Buddha gave his first sermon in the deer-park at Sarnath, and by preaching his doctrine set the wheel of Buddhism in motion. This image is, therefore, all the more interesting since it comes from Sarnath. The half-closed eyes are those of withdrawn meditation, but his hands are active to bring his message to the world.
The clinging garment is characteristic of Gupta workmanship and adds to the controlled simplicity of the piece. Other features that are typical of the Gupta style include the oval face with high eyebrows and a prominent lower lip topped by tight snail shell curls on his head.