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HOME : Asian Art : Gandharan Artefacts : Gandhara Schist Sculpture of the Emaciated Buddha
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Gandhara Schist Sculpture of the Emaciated Buddha - LO.1224
Origin: Pakistan
Circa: 200 BC to 300 AD
Dimensions: 4.5" (11.4cm) high
Collection: Gandhara
Medium: grey schist

Additional Information: Hong-Kong

Location: Great Britain
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The minute sculpture of our emaciated Buddha portrays him seated in meditation, almost skeletal, his body reduced to a frame of bones, the skin tautly stretched with the veins and sinews visible on the surface. The face, with sunken eyes and prominent sockets and cheeks, elongated earlobes, aquiline nose and grown beard - the only instance in Buddhist iconography where the Buddha is portrayed unshaved-.

Images of the starving Buddha allegedly represent the historical Buddha during the six years of extreme austerities he practiced after leaving home and before reaching enlightenment at Bodhgaya. In his quest for enlightenment, Sakiamuni went through an experimental period of renunciation by embarking on various extreme ascetic practices, which he then abandoned in favour of a more moderate path, as they were not proving instrumental to reach his spiritual goal.

According to the account of the Buddhist monk Xuanzang on Bodhgaya, images of starving Buddhas were associated with disease and health and could cure those who worshipped it. The black and emaciated body of the Buddha is mostly associated with death, in opposition to what the Buddha most particularly accomplished, i.e. victory over it. His wasted body also suggests the pain he suffered through the process of physical starvation. Yet his voluntary withdrawal from starvation also proved his power over matter and ultimately death.

One of the most well-known sculptures of starving Buddha comes from the Sikri Stupa, now in the Lahore Museum in Pakistan, which features an almost identical depiction to ours, although much bigger in size. Other two impressing parallels to our sculpture are represented by the one from Takht-i- Bahi now in Peshawar and the one in the British Museum, London.

Only a handful of such images are known in the world today, occurring almost entirely from the Gandharan region and dating roughly to the Kushan period, in the first four centuries of the Common Era. This theme is not found anywhere else in Indian art and it will reappear only later in Chinese and Japanese art of the Chan-Zen tradition.

Considering the paucity and rarity of images related to such a theme in Buddhist art, our emaciated Buddha stands out as a unique example both for aesthetic refinement and historical poignancy. - (LO.1224)


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