Art of Indic Asia: Central Asia and Gandhara -Early Iconography, Art and Archaeology

-  Prof Naman P. Ahuja

This course focuses on the art history of Ancient Gandhara from the third century BC to the fifth century AD. Gandhara is geographically, culturally and historically complex to define. At various stages in history, Eastern portions of Iran, Central Asia (Afghanistan, Uzbekistan), the North Western Frontier Province, Swat, Kashmir and Punjab have formed a culturally cohesive units. The region’s material culture is unique: one the one hand it is archaeologically rich as it was home to of some of the earliest settled societies of Central and Southern Asia, at the same time it is also home to shifting nomadic societies, with equally rich shifting, performative, ritual, intangible traditions that material culture studies are hard pressed to excavate. The region has been examined by scholars for evidence for the migration of Sanskrit speaking communities which coexist with the presence of several ancient animistic, Shamanistic, Zoroastrian, Vedic, later Hindu and Buddhist cultures along with traditions of its contiguous regions in North India, West Asia and China. Perhaps its most well-known epoch was the period of Hellenistic cultural impact in the centuries following Alexander the Great’s conquest which was to have a decisive impact on the history of Central and Southern Asia.

This course thus affords students to study complex historical forces as they manifest themselves visually, particularly during the third century BC to fifth century AD. Locating these wider historical and historical questions is of course predicated on a detailed understanding of the region’s archaeology, the fraught nature of its chronology and familiarity, of course, with its numismatics so that we can, ultimately, be better informed about the region’s diverse religious and cultural background, and be better equipped to critically appreciate the region’s statuary.

Essential Readings:



• Coomaraswamy,A.K.‘OriginoftheBuddhaImage’originallypublishedJournaloftheAmericanOrientalSociety 1926, first Indian Ed. Munshriram Manoharlal 1972, and widely reprinted since

• Errington, Elizabeth (ed.), From Persepolis to the Punjab : exploring ancient Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan, London : British Museum Press 2007

• Errington,E.,JCribbandMClaringbull(eds.)ExhibitionCatalogue:TheCrossroadsofAsia:transformationin image and symbol in the art of ancient Afghanistan and Pakistan; Fitzwilliam Museum. Cambridge : Ancient India and Iran Trust, 1992

• VanLohuizendeLeeuw,J.E.,The“Scythian”period:anapproachtothehistory,art,epigraphyandpalaeography of north India from the 1st century B.C. to the 3rd century. A.D. , Leiden : E.J. Brill 1949

• Marshall, Sir John, The Buddhist Art of Gandhara, Cambridge, 1960,

• Nehru, Lolita, Origins of the Gandharan Style: A Study of Contributory Influences, Oxford University Press, 1990

• Zwalf, Wladimir, A catalogue of the Gandhãra sculpture in the British Museum, British Museum Press, 1996