Bodhisattvas are compassionate Buddhist beings who voluntarily vow to remain on earth until all sentient beings achieve enlightenment. Bodhisattvas play a key role in Mahayana Buddhism, which stresses universal salvation over personal liberation. Bodhisattvas are often depicted as royalty. Their bejewelled hair and sumptuous clothing and ornaments symbolise both material and spiritual wealth, and remind worshippers that these beings are still of this world despite their spiritual status.
Gandharan sculptures were among the first to portray the Buddha in human form. Although Gandhara was under Greek control for only a relatively short time in the fourth century BCE, the Mediterranean influence on the arts of Afghanistan and Pakistan created a distinctive early Buddhist sculptural style. This youthful male figure stands on a plinth on which a seated bodhisattva is also depicted, flanked by four attendants and two Corinthian columns. The figure has thick, shoulder-length curly hair worn with a fringe and a topknot, and a now largely missing halo behind his head. The urna (mole) on his forehead is one of the special marks of a great man. The legacy of the era of Alexander the Great is evident in the costume, physiognomy and naturalism of this figure.
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
From: Ron Radford (ed), Collection highlights: National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2008