Other Indian sub-continent (after 100 CE)

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Gandharan Buddha
Frieze of Buddha and a naked Vajrapani
Wine-drinking and music mural
Gandhara frieze with devotees
Female riding a Centaur
An Ichthyo-Centaur
Trojan horse in the art of Gandhara
Seated Buddha, Hellenistic style
Bodhisattva Maitreya
Buddha triad and kneeling Kushan devotee couple
Head of a Buddha, Gupta period
Last stages of Greco-Buddhist art, Ghorband District, Afghanistan

Pala sculpture of Lalita
Sultanganj Buddha
Buddha, Bhumisparsha Mudra posture
Carved reliefs, Somapura Mahavihara temple
Pala painting of a Pancha Raksha

Sri Lanka:
Coronation of Vijaya
Sigira rock paintings
Avukana Buddha
Statue of Tara
Ceremony of the Tooth
Degaldoruwa Temple
Gal Vihara Buddha

Manuscript cover
Kesh Chandra and Gurumapa
Mandala of Chandra
Statuary, Durbar Square, Bhaktapur

Rock picture Padmasambhava
Padmasambhava or ‘Guru Rinpoche’
Painted thangka of Padmasambhava
Painted thangka of Milarepa
Lotsāwa Marpa Chokyi Lodro


Today Pakistan is the world’s 33rd-largest country by area and the fifth-most populous country, with the world’s second-largest Muslim population and has the sixth-largest standing armed forces.

Pakistan was the site of several ancient cultures, the Neolithic Mehrgarh, the oldest in South Asia, and the Bronze Age Indus Valley Civilisation. Between then and now Pakistan was passed between empires and dynasties, the Archaemenid; Alexander the Great, the Seleucid, Maurya, Kushan, the Gupta, part within the Umayyad Caliphate, the Ghaznavids, the Delhi Sultanate, the Mughals, the Durrani Empire, parts in the Sikh Empire, controlled by the British East India Company, then the British Indian Empire (1858 to 1947). Pakistan came into formal being in 1947, following partition.

Gandhāra was an ancient region (Today’s NW Pakistan and NE Afghanistan) that was centred on at the confluence of the Kabul and Swat rivers, bounded by the Sulaiman Mountains on the west, the Safed Koh mountains to the south. and the Indus River on the east. It’s capital was Pushkalavati but later moved to Peshawar. Gandhāra was at its peak, under the Kushan Empire, betweenthe 1st and 5th centuries. Following Alexander’s brief spell in the region, Gandhāra was a base for the fursion of Greek and Buddhist art. The Gandhara school is credited with having the first representations of the Buddha in human form. Some credit Gandhāra with influencing Indian Gupta art to its south.


This is a c1m statue of a Buddha in the Gandhara-style (Greco-Buddhist). It is dated to the 1st-2nd c and on show at the Tokyo National Museum.
Image source: Wikimedia commons

Image source: Wikimedia commons

Gandharan frieze showing Buddha with a naked bodhisattva Vajrapani in a frieze at Jamal Garhi, a Buddhist monastery in the Kyyber province.
A frieze at Stupa C1 of Chakhil-i-Ghoundi, Hadda in eastern Afghanistan is a banquet scene, wine-drinking and music. It is very Hellenistic in approach, dated to 1st-2nd c CE It is on show at Musée Guimet.
Image source: Wikimedia commons

Image source: Wikimedia commons

Gandhara frieze with devotees, holding plantain leaves, in purely Hellenistic style, and set within Corinthian columns. It is from Buner, Swat Pakistan, dated to 1st-2nd c and on show at the Victoria & Albert Museum, London.
Decorative relief from a stupa in Snachi, showing a female riding a centaur.
Image source: Wikimedia commons

Image source: Wikimedia commons

A Gandhara relief showing a mythical Ichthyo-Centaur. Dated to 2nd century it is on show at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
Depiction of the story of the Trojan horse in the art of Gandhara. On show at the British Museum.
Image source: Wikimedia commons

Image source: Wikimedia commons

The Seated Buddha, dating from 300-500 CE. It was found near Jamal Garhi, Pakistan, and is now on display at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco.
A 2nd c Gandhara Bodhisattva Maitreya.
Image source: Wikimedia commons

Image source: Wikimedia commons

Buddha triad and Kushan couple. On show at the British Museum, London UK.

A Buddha’s head from the Gupta period (influenced by Gandhara?). This 50 x 20 cm head is from Mathura in Uttar Pradesh, dated 430-435 and is on show at the Musée Guimet, Paris.
Image source: Wikimedia commons

Image source: Wikimedia commons
A late Gandhara statue (7th/8th c) from Ghorband in Afghanistan, The bodhisattva is depicted in a relaced pose.


Bangladesh sits on the Bay of Bengal and today has the world’s eighth largest population. It one of the most densely populated countries in the world. It was founded in 1971.

In the 5th c BCE, the original Vanga Kingdom was centred here and features prominently in the epics and tales of ancient India. The Vanga king Sinhabahu’s son prince Vijaya sailed across the Bay of Bengal and established a kingdom in what is now Sri Lanka.

The Gupta Empire controlled the region from c350-543 CE, therefater it was divided into two kingdoms, the Gauda and the Vanga, it is believed today’s Kotalipara was Vanga’s capital.

This Vanga developed a naval capability and was reference in the Greco-Roman literature for its war elephants. The Hindu epic Mahabharata, one of the two major Sanskrit epics of India, has numerous references to Vanga.

The region had a tradition or terracota pottery from the 3rd c BCE. In classical antiquity, a school of sculptural Hindu, Jain and Buddhist art was developed by the Pala Empire (750-1174) and the Sena dynasty (1070-1230). However the 13th c Muslim invasion destroyed much of its statyary.


A Pala basalt sculpture of Lalita flanked by Gaṇeśa and Kārttikeya. The goddess stands in front of an elaborate eastern Indian throne-back and holds a mirror in one hand, the object held in her upper right hand is suggested to be a stick for applying eye make-up.

It is dated to the 11th c, 111x 64 x 19 cm, and is on show at the British Museum.

Image source: britishmuseum.org

Image source: Wikimedia commons

The Sultanganj Buddha, a Gupta-Pala copper sculpture. It is the largest (2.3m x 1m, over life-size) almost complete copper Buddha figure known from that period, c500-700 CE.

It was found in the East Indian town of Sultanganj, Bhagalpur district, Bihar.

The figure is said to have a feeling of animation based upon its unbalanced stance and the movement suggested by the shape of the robe

It is on show at the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, Birmingham, UK.
Bronze Pala Period Buddha in Bhumisparsha Mudra posture. It is dated to 9th-10th c and is on show at the Indian Museum, Kolkata.
Image source: Wikimedia commons

Image source: buddhistdoor.net

Image source: Wikimedia commons

Somapura Mahavihara in Paharpur, (Naogaon District, Bangladesh) one of the best known Buddhist viharas (temple or monastery)) in the Indian Subcontinent and considered one of the most important archaeological sites in Bangladesh. This Pala-Gupta style temple was built for the emperor Dharama Pala in c8th c.

The top image shows terracotta plaque reliefs at the base of the Somapura Mahavihara. These diverse images represent mythical creatures and people.

The bottom image shows the vihara.
Pala painting of a Buddhist Goddess, one of the five Pancha Rakshas, personifications of the five early Buddha sutras (texts). It is dated to c1040.

Pancharakshya is a Sutra that is still in practical use among the Newar Buddhists in Nepal.

Image source: en.banglapedia.org

Sri Lanka:

Sri Lanka has traces of human remains dating 38,000 BP. Its history was shaped by the Indian subcontinent empires, kingdoms and dynasties. Pali chronicles are the first written histories, and these state that Buddhism reached the island in the 3rd c BCE.

Sri Lanka was ruled by several hundred monarchs between the House of Vijaya in 543 BCE (see Bangladesh section above), through the c1500 years of the Anuradhapura kingdom, the Chola-occupation, c200 years of the Kingdom of Polonnaruwa, the shorter-lived kingdoms of Dambadeniya, Gampola, Kotte and Sitawaka, to the 224 years of the Kingdom of Kandy. The British Empire took control in 1815 under the name of Ceylon, until 1948.


Image source: Wikimedia commons

Detail from the Ajanta Mural of Cave No 17. See more on the caves here.

The consecration or coronation of Vanga (Bangladesh) Sinhala-Prince Vijaya as King of Lanka island.
The fortress of Sigiriya contains ancient rock frescoes that merit it being a UNESCO world heritage site. It is in the northern Matale District near the town of Dambulla in the Central Province.

The lower image shows the rock, prominent in its landscape.

Image source: wellknownplaces.com

Image source: Wikimedia commons

Image source: Wikimedia commons

The Avukana statue is a 12m high standing statue of the Buddha near Kekirawa in North Central Sri Lanka. The statue, was carved out of a large granite rock face during the 5th century. It depicts a variation of the Abhaya mudra, its closely worn robe was elaborately carved during the reign of Dhatusena, it may have been made as a result of a competition between a master and a pupil.

The Avukana statue is one of the best examples of a standing statue constructed in ancient Sri Lanka, and is naturally a popular tourist site
The 143 cm high gilt-bronze statue of Tara (a bodhisattva) dates from the 7th-8th century. When the British annexed Kandy in the early nineteenth century, the statue was looted from the last King of Kandy and given to the British Museum by the former British Governor of Ceylon. The statue suggests that Tara may have been worshiped as a deity and not just as the consort of a male god.
Image source: Wikimedia commons

Image source: ajourneyaway.com

The Temple of the Tooth is the Buddhist temple that houses the sacred tooth of the Buddha. The tooth is said to have been retrieved when the Buddha was cremated and kept as a relic ever since. The ceremony takes place in the temple three times a day.

Image source: lanka-excursions-holidays.com

The ancient Buddhist Degaldoruwa rock temple is situated in Amunugama, Kandy. It is famous for its paintings of four Jataka tales (of former lives of the Buddha).

Image source: lanka-excursions-holidays.com
Polonnaruwa’s world-famous group of rock-cut statues,
a sedentary, a standing and a wonderfully carved reclining Buddha,
is considered as the masterpiece of art of the ancient Sinhalese civilization.


Nepal is mainly located in the Himalayas, but also includes parts of the Indo-Gangetic Plain. Neolithic tools have been found in the Kathmandu Valley, but the first written references appear from the first millennium BCE.

Perhaps a little surprising is that it is the 49th largest country in the world by population. It is landlocked and borders Tibet Autonomous Region in the north and India to the south, east and west. Bangladesh is located only 27 km from its southeastern tip and Bhutan is separated from it by the Indian state of Sikkim.

Nepal is first recorded in texts from the Vedic period (1500-500 BCE) of the Indian subcontinent. This the era in ancient Nepal when Hinduism was founded and became the predominant religion of the country. Gautama Buddha, who founded Buddhism, was born in 563 BCE to an aristocratic family in Lumbini in southern Nepal.

Nepal contains eight of the world’s ten tallest mountains, including Everest. The centrally located Kathmandu Valley was the seat of Nepal Mandala, the prosperous Newar confederacy. The Himalayan branch of the ancient Silk Road was dominated by the valley’s traders.

Sinja Valley, thought to be the place of origin of the Khasas and the Nepali language.

Nepali painting begins with the Newar people who produced religious paintings of Hindu and Buddhist subjects. These were in the form of wall paintings, cloth paintings (called paubha), or manuscripts.


Image source: metmuseum.org

This wooden cover, one of a pair, protected the palm-leaf folios of a Buddhist sacred text. It depicts nine Buddhist goddesses, holding a staff surmounted by the wish-fulfilling jewel (cintamani). It offers a protective field to a holy text within, probably the Perfection of Wisdom text, the Ashtasathasrika Prajnaparamita Sutra.
It is dated to the late 11th c, created in distemper on wood, 56 x 5 cms, and is on show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY USA.
The top image, dated 1223 CE, is Kesh Chandra, the subject of the best-known folk tale in Nepal. He is having a meal with his sister looking on. Kesh Chandra, some suggest he was a prince, lived in Kathmandu but lost his wealth due to a gambling addiction so had to go to live with his sister.

While with her, to fund his gambling, he stole the plate on which his sister served him meals. She responded by serving his food from the floor. He went out into the wild where he encountered Gurumapa, a flesh eating giant. To save himself Kesh Chandra agreed to take the creature to Kathmandu where there would be plenty of fresh human flesh. Gurumapa preyed on naughty children, or at least this was the threat made to children if they didn’t behave.

The bottom image is a plaque from Itum Bahal, the largest Nepali bahal (or Buddhist monastery courtyard) in Kathmandu’s old town.

Image source: Wikimedia commons

Image source: Wikimedia commons

Mandala of Chandra, God of the Moon, from the early Malla period (late 14th-early 15th c)
A mandala is a circular figure representing the universe in Hindu and Buddhist symbolism. The centre of this mandala depicts the moon god Chandra flanked by two female archers who shoot arrows of light to drive away the darkness. Chandra holds two lotuses and rides a chariot pulled by seven geese, an arrangement that parallels depictions of the sun god Surya, whose chariot is pulled by horses.
It was created as distemper on cloth, it is 41 x 36 cm, and on show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY USA.

Three examples of statuary from Durbar Square in Bhaktapur, the ‘City of Devotees’, in the Kathmandu Valley.

The top image shows King Bhupatindra Malla (who ruled from 1696 to 1722). He is in the act of worship. This is set on a pillar facing the Nge Nyapa Jhya Laaykoo, or Palace of Fifty-Five Windows.

The second image is of a stone statue of a Nepali Lion.

The third image depicts Ugrachandi. She has eighteen arms holding various Tantric weapons symbolising the multiple aspects of her character. For example, she is depicted casually killing a demon with a trident to symbolise the victory of wisdom over ignorance.

Image source: ancient.eu

Image source: Wikimedia commons


Bhutan is a landlocked country in the Eastern Himalayas. It is bordered by China to the north, India to the south, and though it has no deirect border it is near to both Nepal and Bangladesh. Its largest city and captail is Thimpu.

In the first millennium, the Vajrayana school of Buddhism spread to Bhutan from the southern Pala Empire of Bengal. During the 17th century, Bhutan controlled large parts of northeast India, Sikkim and Nepal. However, much of early Bhutanese history is unclear because their records were destroyed when the ancient capital, Punakha, was destroyed by fire in 1827.

There had been a developing friction with British India, but in 1910, a treaty guaranteed British advice in foreign policy in exchange for internal autonomy in Bhutan.

Two major schools of art domiated Bhutan artworks. The Kagyu, that focused on paintings of Buddhist masters and Bhutan’s leaders. While the second, the Nyingma school, is known for images of Padmasambhava.


Image source: Wikimedia commons

Padmasambhava, aka Guru Rinpoche, painted on a large rock outside Thimphu.

He is a legendary Indian Buddhist mystic who introduced Tantric Buddhism to Tibet. While teaching at Nalanda, a centre of Buddhist studies in India, he was invited to Tibet in 747 by the King. He is said to have exorcised demons inhibiting the construction of a monastery by causing earthquakes, and supervised the completion of the first Tibetan Buddhist monastery in 749.

An 18th/19th c statue of Padmasambhava fabricated in an amalgam gilt copper alloy. It is 14 x 10 cm and on show at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, CA USA.
Image source: Wikimedia commons

Image source: Wikimedia commons

Nyingma painted thangka of Guru Nyima Ozer, another manifestation of Padmasambhava. This is
dated to the late 19th century.

A thangka is a painting on cotton or silk depicting a Buddhist deity, scene, or mandala. Thangkas are usually unframed and rolled up when not on display, with a further silk cover on the front, so that despite their delicate nature, they can last, provided they are stored in a dry place.
Kagyu painted thangka of Milarepa (1052-1135), late 19th-early 20th century, from Dhodeydrag Gonpa, Thimphu Bhutan.
Image source: Wikimedia commons

Image source: Wikimedia commons
Kagyu painting of Marpa Lotsāwa, or in full, Lotsāwa Marpa Chokyi Lodro (1092-1097), the Buddhist teacher credited with the transmission of many Vajrayana teachings from India.

Marpa was born in southern Tibet, and journeyed first to Nepal where he studied with Paindapa and Chitherpa, two famous students of Naropa. Paindapa later accompanied Marpa to Pullahari, near Nalanda University, where Naropa taught. Marpa spent twelve years studying with Naropa and other great Indian gurus, most prominently Maitripada. Marpa was to travel to India twice more and Nepal three more times.

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