Bodhisattva meditating

Ancient province of Gandhāra (Northern Pakistan)
2nd-3rd century
H. 58 cm



The rich iconography of Gandhāra includes numerous depictions of bejeweled bodhisattvas in meditation. This statue is emblematic of them.

The person, with the mustache of a layman but an ūrṇā in the middle of his forehead, is seated on a throne covered with fabric that drapes elegantly down its front. His robe covers his feet, making it impossible to determine their exact position. His hands rest in his lap, expressing meditation (dhyāna mudrā). The precious gems he is wearing identify him as a bodhisattva, a spiritual being that cannot go backwards in the cycle of reincarnation, who feels compassion for all sentient creatures of the earth and only wishes to break free of the causal loop along with them. With the exception of Maitreya, such transcendent beings are not diversified, or only slightly.

The jewelry is characteristic of Gandhāra art: a first large, flat necklace, a second longer necklace with a rich pectoral, a sacred thread (upavīta) bearing a series of small relics, armbands and bracelets. Various jewels hold the bun in place. The pear-shaped ornament in the center is found on the turban of a head in the British Museum (Zwalf, 1996, Vol. 1, p. 112, Vol. 2, Fig. 82, Inv. OA 1972 1624.1) or on a statue in the Central Museum of Lahore that came from the Sahrī Bāhlol Monastery (Bussagli, 1996, pl. p. 377).

The major Gandhāra art collections, Lahore and Peshawar especially, display a vast variety, regardless of chronology. For instance, the almond shape of the eyes that are more or less open, as they are here, may hide a look that is more or less filtered. The best statues, such as this one, render the muscles in a beautiful way, carefully drawn, echoing the canons of ancient Helleno-Roman art.

Provenance: Private collection, USA, since 1992

  • Bussagli, Mario, L’Art du Gandhāra. Turin : Unione Tipografico. Editrice Torinese, 1984. Rééd. Paris : Libraire Générale Française, 1996.
  • Zwalf, Wadimir, A Catalogue of the Gandhāra Sculpture in the British Museum. Londres : British Museum Press, 1996