Gandhara exhibition in Germany

Daily Mail, Nov 15, 2008

Bonn, Germany -- Emirates SkyCargo, the cargo arm of Emirates Airline, transported 5,000-year-old antiques to Bonn, Germany, for the `Gandhara Exhibition - The Buddhist Civilisation' taking place on November 17.

A statement here on Friday said these rare and very precious artefacts were sent solely for the exhibit by the Government of Pakistan to the Government of Germany via EK 615 from Islamabad to Dubai, with onward connection of EK 045 to Frankfurt.

“To manage the transfer of these 5,225 kg, high-value antiques that depict civilizations thousands of year old, required special handling through the whole process. Starting from the on-ground handling to loading them into the freighter and also during the flight, special arrangements were made to ensure their safety and care”, said F.D. Malik, Emirates SkyCargo Pakistan Manager.

“It is a matter of pride and privilege for Emirates SkyCargo to be trusted to transport these valuables and is a reflection of the faith customers have in us and the exceptional services we offer as a leader in the cargo industry.”

Gandhara was a seat of Buddhist culture from the 1st century B.C. to the 5th century A.D. and greatly influenced the arts of Asia. The origins of Buddhism can be traced to this region in the 3rd century B.C. during the reign of Asoka who followed the Buddhist philosophy. It was during this time that numerous stupas and monasteries were built in Gandhara.

Seven of the eight stupas that housed the relics of Buddha were opened and their contents distributed as gifts to individual principal cities of the kingdom and enshrined as magnificent stupas. Asoka’s columns were often adorned with monumental figures of animals, bulls, lions, elephants, horses, lotus flowers and wheel of doctrine from Buddha’s first sermon. It was this interest in Buddhism that led to the recognition of the art of Gandhara.

The historic treasures of Buddhist art have for the first time been exhibited at the Mohatta Palace museum. Visions of divinity: the art of Gandhara is a celebration of the Buddhist philosophy that has dominated the cultures of Central Asia, China, Japan, Indo-China and Indonesia. The main gallery with images of Buddha and a presentation of his life reveal that the sculpture of Gandhara was essentially religious in character as it narrated the life of Buddha in stone, bronze, terracotta or stucco. Sculptures in relief showed the dream of Queen Maya, Buddha’s birth, his renunciation of material life in the palace, his preachings, important events and finally his death.

A particularly poignant sculpture is the fasting Buddha who is depicted an emaciated state. The sculpture in this exhibition is a replica that has been cast from an original in the Lahore Museum. A huge relief portraying the life of Buddha is adorned with Indo-Corinthian columns.

The first panel shows Buddha seated in a reassurance pose with four worshippers while the second panel represents him entering Rajafriha followed by Vajrapani, his protector, endowed with the attributes of Zeus and three devotees. The third shows Queen Maya’s dream. Panel were designed to be placed in niches or function as decorative elements on the bases of stupas and the facades of the monastic quarters. In later examples of this art style, icons legends, monuments and the motifs were further decorated with mythical creatures, flowers, trailing vines, cupids and garlands.

The influence of Greek gods in the figures in Buddha’s life are obvious as Vajrapani, Buddha’s protector is represented as Zeus, Eros, Heracles, or Dionysus and carries a thunderbolt as well. Hindu gods such as Indra and Brahma are also prominently placed in Buddhist symbolism was replaced by the iconography of a draped figure with a halo, a serene face with a hint of a smile and eyes half open. This became accepted image of Buddha along with other portrayals in a variety of meditative stances. What was a wandering religion during reign of Kanishka slowly took the form of an organized faith with monastries.

In the second gallery at the museum, various coins, jewelry, vessels and other objects are on display. Coins lend valuable evidence about historical and artistic influences on the art of Gandhara. The early coins have Greek gods on them, often with Kharoshti inscriptions on the reverse. Later coins show portraits of monarchs and scenes from legends with sacred Buddhist writing.

Buddhism spread all over the subcontinent with Gandhara and Taxila as important centers. After death of Asoka in 232 B.C., the area was subject to political turmoil. Later, Buddhism flourished under Kushans because it was during that time period when the image of Buddha was first portrayed in human form. Many art historians believe that Gandhara art adapted the artistic traditions of Graeco-Roman world at this time.

This exhibition represents the evolution of the art of Gandhara and the cultural linkages that Buddhism forged across the subcontinent. It also affirms that Lahore Museum has managed to come a long way despite all the odds. Commendation goes to its curator, the board of trustees and the concerned governmental departments that have sustained the superb caliber of this Museum.