Art, Sculpture and Architecture in Kushana Empire


The Kushana period witnessed a remarkable development in art, sculpture and architecture. The Gandhara School of Art and Sculp­ture marked a happy blending of the Graceo-Romano-Buddhist style and techniques. The distinguishing features of the Gandhara Sculp­ture owed their origin to Greek and Roman styles yet the art essen­tially was Indian in spirit. The Gandhara artists had the hand of a Greek but the heart of an India.

The most remarkable contribu­tion of the Gandhara School of art is to be seen in the evolution of the image of Buddha, perhaps in imitation of the Greek God Apollo. Images of Buddha and Bodhisatva illustrating the past and present lives of Buddha were executed in black stone. The figures show an excellent idea of human anatomy that swayed the artists.

These works of art offer a striking contrast to similar art that we witness else­where in India. The smooth round features of the idealised human figures, draped in transparent and semi-transparent cloth closely fit­ting to the body and revealing its outline were due to the influ­ence of the Hellenistic art of Asia Minor and the Roman Empire.

The images of Buddha pertaining to the Gandhara school cen­tres of which were Gandhara, Jalalabad, Hadda and Baniyan in Afghanistan, Peshawar and Swat Valley, were more animated and anatomically perfect than those found in other parts of India. While the former are more beautiful physically and accurate in anatomical details as such more realistic, the Indian art and sculpture which pro­duced the images of Buddha were more idealistic giving a spiritual and sublime expression to the images.

The technique of the Gan­dhara School of art of the Kushana period spread through China to the Far East and influenced the art of China and Japan. The Gandhara art, according to V. A. Smith, was based on the cosmopolitan art of the Asia Minor and the Roman Empire.

There were also purely Indian schools of art in India during the period of the Kushanas. There were the schools of art at Amaravati, Jagayyapeta and Nagarjunikonda. In the Amaravati human figures are characterised by slim, blithe features and have been repre­sented in most difficult poses and curves. The technique of art reach­ed a high standard of development. Plants and flowers, particularly lotuses, have been represented in the most perfect, lifelike manner.

Two Chaityas and a Stupa discovered at Nagarjunikonda are the relics of the indigenous school of art and show a high standard of development. The limestone panel of figures depicting the nativity of Buddha is an excellent piece of sculpture of the Kushana period which was entirely indigenous.

Architecture of the Kushana period was not so remarkable as the sculpture of the period. There were beautiful temples, monas­teries, Stupas which indicate considerable development during the period although the technique of architecture did not attain the standard of excellence of sculpture. The famous tower of Kanishka at Purushapura (Peshawar) was one of the wonders of the world. Much of the architectural specimens of the period perished with time.

Caves hewn in solid rock with pillars and sculptures, hundreds of which have been found in different parts of the Kushana Empire show a great improvement upon the technique of excavation that was in use during the time of Asoka. A Chaitya with rows of columns on two sides was a fine work of art of sculpture and architecture. The Chaitya at Karle is an excellent illustration.

Fa-hien who visited India during the rule of Chandragupta II {5th century) was struck with wonder to find a large number of Stupas, dagobas (small stupa), Chaityas and images of Buddha carved out of stone during the Kushana period.

There has been a sharp difference of opinion about the celebrity, and the extent of influence of the Gandhara art upon the Indian art during the reign of the Kushanas. Modern scholars think that the Gandhara School of sculpture has attained a celebrity perhaps beyond its merits.

According to some European scholars, the Gandhara School of art was the only school in Ancient India which can claim a place in the domain of art. There are others who are of the opinion that the source of subsequent development of Indian art as well as of the Far East was the Gandhara School of art which developed as a result of a happy blending of the Graco-Romano-Buddhist art.

But despite the foreign influence upon the school of Gandhara art, scholars like Havell, Will Durant, R. C. Majumdar and others are of the opinion that the influence, Hellenistic and Roman, upon the Indian art which was the Gandhara School of art was technical but spirit and the subject matter of the art was purely Indian.

  1. D. Banerjee’s view that the Gandhara art influenced the Indian art for nearly five centuries to follow is untenable on the ground that there were indigenous schools of art at Ainaravati, Nagarjunkonda, etc. where there was no influence of Gandhara School of art. The influence of the Gandhara art failed to penetrate into the interior of India and had no influence on the later development of the Indian, art. But the Gandhara School of art achieved a grand success in. becoming the parent of the Buddhist art of Eastern and Chinese Turkestan, Mongolia, China, Korea and Japan.


The Kushana period witnessed a remarkable development of literature and Sanskrit language. Under the patronage enjoyed by the scholars and Buddhist philosophers of the time a massive develop­ment in secular and religious literature took place. A large number of standard works in Sanskrit language were written during the period.

Asvaghosha’s Buddhacharita, Saudarananda Kavya, Vajrasuchi, Sariputta Prakarana, Vasumitra’s Mahabibhasa—regarded as the Bud­dhist encyclopaedia, Nagarjuna’s Madhyamika-Sutra in which the theory of relativity was propounded, Charaka’s work on medicine, etc. contributed to the fund of human knowledge. Under the Kushanas the royal court became a seat of luminaries mentioned above as also of the Political Scientist Mathara, Greek engineer Agesilaus, etc.

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