With its masterly craftsmanship, harmonious proportions, and exceptional size, this majestic image of a standing bodhisattva is distinguished by the rich dress and jewelry of a Kushana prince or nobleman from the ancient region of Gandhara, in northeastern Pakistan, in the first or second century A.D. The princely bearing of the figure is further emphasized by the powerful, fleshy torso, the rounded breasts and abdomen, and the long, flowing hair. The strong, round chin, straight nose, and smooth oval face adorned by an elegantly twirling mustache suggest the mixture of races and cosmopolitan nature of first millennium Gandharan art and culture. Gandharan sculptures were heavily influenced by the artistic traditions of the Hellenistic world, which were transplanted in the wake of Alexander the Great’s conquest of Bactria (western Afghanistan). This sculpture is strongly Hellenizing in profile, but dressed as an Indian ruler, wearing the dhoti, bare-chested, with a sash casually slung over the shoulder and draped in an elegant curve over the forearm. The juxtaposition of distinctly Western classical features, such as the realistic and rigid rendering of the drapery, with the stylized indigenous treatment of the face and body typifies Gandharan Buddhist sculpture.
Although both arms are missing, the position of the left arm when compared with similar figures seems to indicate it held a water pot (kundika) containing amrita (the elixir of life) and a symbolic promise of salvation in the future, the spiritual role of the bodhisattva Maitreya. In this case, the right arm would have been raised in the abhayamudra, the gesture of reassurance. The relaxed pose and worldly attire represent the bodhisattva’s continuing association with mankind as, through compassion, he has voluntarily postponed his own achievement of nirvana in order to devote his superhuman powers to relieving suffering and furthering the spiritual progress of others. This impressive sculpture illustrates the emergence of the bodhisattva as a distinct iconographic image in the Buddhist religion and artistic tradition.