The Kushans ruled much of northwestern India and the ancient region of Gandhara (parts of present-day Pakistan and Afghanistan). Mathura was the second capital of the Kushans and a major center of art production, which developed there out of the indigenous Indian traditions, and made much use of the local mottled- red sandstone.
This seated Buddha conforms to a standard early Mathura type. In his personification as Shakyamuni, the teacher, the Buddha is portrayed as a traditional yogi, seated on a throne, and dressed as a monk. The thin, diaphanous robe is worn over the left shoulder, leaving the right shoulder bare. The sensitive modeling of the soft flesh gives little hint of the musculature underneath but still endows the body with a sense of solidity and mass. The hair is smooth like a cap, and the cranial bump (ushnisha), now missing, would have appeared as a twisted bun or coil of hair (kapardin). The right hand is raised in the gesture of reassurance (abhayamudra).
As prescribed by the scriptures, the palms of the hands and soles of the Buddha’s feet are marked with the lotus and the wheel, symbols of his divinity and teaching. Carved in high relief with generously modeled and sensuous torsos, the royal attendants flanking the Buddha have similar stylized facial features and archaic smiles as their lord. The sculpture is carved in the form of a stela and includes other symbols and figures referring to the Buddha’s life and exalted status as a universal monarch. The large halo behind his head represents the sun and proclaims his divinity. The pillar, topped by a wheel centered in the relief panel of the throne, is symbolic of preaching and refers to the Buddha’s first sermon at Sarnath. The two figures holding flywhisks, flanking the pillar, and the rampant lions signify the Buddha’s royal heritage.