The ancient civilization of Gandhara was located in the region encompassing modern northeastern Afghanistan and northwestern Pakistan. Situated at a confluence of trading paths along the Silk Route, the area was flooded in diverse cultural influences ranging from Greece to China. Gandhara flourished under the Kushan Dynasty and their great king, Kanishka, who is traditionally given credit for spreading the philosophies of Buddhism throughout central Asia and into China. This period is viewed as the most important era in the history of Buddhism. After the conquests of Alexander the Great, the creation of Greco-Bactrian kingdoms, and the general Hellenization of the subcontinent, Western aesthetics became prominent. Greek influence began permeating into Gandhara. Soon sculptors based the images of the Buddha on Greco-Roman models, depicting Him as a stocky and youthful Apollo, complete with stretched earlobes and loose monastic robes similar to a Roman toga. The extraordinary artistic creations of Gandhara reveal link between the different worlds of the East and West.
The historical figure, Buddha Gautama Sakyamuni is the Buddha of compassion who, having achieved the highest evolutionary perfection, turns suffering into happiness for all living beings. Born around 560 B.C. somewhere between the hills of south Nepal and the Rapti River, his father was a Raja who ruled over the northeastern province of India, the district including the holy Ganges River. The young prince was married to Yashoda when he was about 17 years old and together they had a son named Rahula. At the age of 29, he left his life of luxury, as he felt compelled to purify his body and make it an instrument of the mind by ridding himself of earthly impulses and temptations. This sculptural fragment depicts the bust of the Buddha. An inner calm and complacency is visible in his sweet smile. His elongated ear droops down, pulled from the weight of heavy earrings he once wore in his aristocratic youth. His sharply defined eyebrows arch gently curve downwards becoming his long, narrow nose. His hair is composed of rows of curly waves rendered in low relief and features a prominent ushnisa, or topknot, a symbol of his divine wisdom. The artists of Gandhara were the first to represent the Buddha in his human form, as opposed to a symbol such as his footprint. This gorgeous head is a reminder of an ancient civilization that, although vanished, helped spread the teachings of enlightenment throughout the heart of Asia.