Maitreya in Gandhara

My research on the depictions of the Bodhisattva Maitreya in Gandharan art, and during the Kushana period in general, was taken up in October 2000. I had worked on this topic with Prof Maurizio Taddei at an early stage of my studies, and his untimely death in February 2000 urged me to continue this work.

Although frequently discussed, relatively little precise information can be found on the role of Maitreya in Gandhara. Nevertheless, even the scarce information available, when considered as part of the general development towards Mahāyāna Buddhism, provides a very differentiated background for the Gandharan iconography of this Bodhisattva. In addition, the more developed cults of Maitreya in Central Asia and China, roughly contemporary with later Kushana art or slightly later, provide further clues for possible roles of Maitreya in Northwest India during the Kushana period. In general, this wider viewpoint has proved fruitful with regard to determining dates for the arising of certain Buddhist beliefs that are directly reflected in the function and depictions of Maitreya.

Considerable progress in this research was made during a one year fellowship at the Lumbini International Research Institute (> LIRI). This research not only resulted in the specific articles listed below, but greatly profited all my recent work on Gandharan art and enabled me to co-curate the exhibition "Gandhara—The Buddhist Heritage of Pakistan" at the Art and Exhibition Hall of the Federal Republic of Germany in Bonn, which opened on 20th November 2008.

  • “The Bodhisattva and the Future Buddha Maitreya.” In The Buddhist Heritage of Pakistan. Art of Gandhara, edited by Proser Adriana. New York: Asia Society Museum, 2011: 59-64.
  • “The Bodhisattva and the Future Buddha Maitreya.” In Gandhara – The Buddhist Heritage of Pakistan. Legends, Monasteries and Paradise, Mainz – Bonn: Zabern – Kunst- und Ausstellungshalle der BRD, 2008: 249-53.
  • “The Bodhisattva with the Flask in Gandhāran Narrative Scenes.” East and West, dedicated to Maurizio Taddei 55, no. 1–4 (2005): 163-88.

The Diffusion of Gandharan and Indian Models in South Asia

My contribution to a conference on Intercultural Encounters in the Hellenized Orient, UNESCO, Paris, 28 to 30 September 2009. The subject has been encouraged by the organizers of the conference.

  • “The diffusion of Gandharan and Indian models in South Asia.” In Art et civilisation de l’orient hellénisé: Rencontres et échanges culturels d’Alexandre aux Sassanides, edited by Pierre Leriche. Paris: Editions A&J Picard, 2014: 245–250.

The Buddha Beyond. Figuration in Gandharan Cult Imagery

In this contribution to the festschrift of Christoph Cüppers, I take a closer look at the relationship between figures as expressed through the figuration of Gandharan cult images, in particular the relationship of the depiction on the pedestals of a cult image to that image. Given the sophistication of Gandharan art, there can be no doubt, that the choice of figuration is not the result of a random copying process, but one of a conscious artistic expression the details of which are imbued with meaning. To me the figuration conveys an understanding of the main image that is far from a simple depiction of a well known historical personage of the past. When considered together with their pedestal reliefs the main images acquire a sense of remoteness.

In addition, the Buddha or Bodhisattva in the pedestal is occasionally marked as an image rather than a Buddha or Bodhisattva active at a particular time and place. Such meta-images only occur in the latest phase of stone sculptures in Gandhara with the main image shown invariably with the teaching gesture. Rhetorical relations between the worshippers on the pedestal and the main image also only occur in this latest period and with the same types of images. These representations communicate, that the main image is considered accessible in his own world.

  • In Nepalica-Tibetica. Festgabe für Christoph Cüppers, edited by Franz-Karl Ehrhard, & Petra Maurer. Beiträge zur Zentralasienforschung, 28, 2. Andiast: International Institute for Tibetan and Buddhist Studies, 2013: Vol. 2, 1–21.


New Light on (and from) the Muhammad Nari Stele

together with Paul Harrison.

One expression of later Gandhara art are elaborate steles expanding on the triad of the Buddha flanked by two Bodhisattvas, Maitreya among them. Maitreya's role in these triads and the more elaborate steles was one of the open questions

This is a revised version of a paper that formed the basis of our presentation in the Special International Symposium on Pure Land Buddhism held at Ōtani University, Kyoto, on 4 August 2011. Later that year, the Muhammad Nari Stele has been on show in New York, which allowed us to study it more closely. This long and detailed paper represents our first attempt of a systematic study of complex steles in Gandharan art an has been published in both Japanese and English.

We continue to work on this topic towards a monograph.

  • In 2011 nendo dai ikkai kokusai shinpojiumu puroshīdingusu: Jōdokyō ni kansuru tokubetsu kokusai shinpojiumu, BARC International Symposium Series 1: Special International Symposium on Pure Land Buddhism, Kyoto: Ryukoku University Research Center for Buddhist Cultures in Asia, 2012: 69-127 [plates 197-207].
    - Also published in Japanese in the same volume: P.ハリソン & C.ルクザニッツ「モハマッド・ナリー浮彫に関する新解釈」[上枝いづ み・尾白悠紀・吉岡慈文訳、宮治昭・福山泰子監修](『2011 年度 第1 回 国際シンポジ ウムプロシーディングス― 浄土教関する特別国際シンポジウム』龍谷大学アジア仏 教文化研究センター、2012 年 3 月、131-194 頁[図版 197-207 頁]).


The Bodhisattva with the Flask in Gandhāran Narrative Scenes

The starting point for this discussion is a group of Gandharan narrative relief sculptures with a Bodhisattva in the center sitting in meditation (padmāsana) below an umbrella or canopy on a throne with a footstool. He performs the gesture of fearlessness (abhayamudrā) with his right hand and holds a flask (kalaśa, kamaṇḍalu) in the left. He is attended by seated figures, mostly wearing turbans, of which at least one is usually portrayed in a vague attitude of conversation or discussion.

Images of this type are usually identified as the future Buddha Maitreya in Tuṣita heaven, but have also been interpreted as representing Buddha Śākyamuni in Tuṣita heaven before his last rebirth. In this article the identity of this Bodhisattva and his narrative context is reconsidered. Comparing a large number of relevant relief panels several types of representation can be differentiated. An iconographic context for some of these representations provides clues for a possible identification of some of the different types. The analysis of the relevant relief panels, when strictly classified, also allows the provocative conclusion that, at least in some cases, the life of the future Buddha Maitreya had already been depicted during the Kuṣāṇa period.

While, in my opinion, this question can only be evaluated properly from a much wider perspective, this being one of the reasons why I was unable to complete this work at such an early stage of my studies, the present article focuses on a more narrowly defined aspect of it by considering the flask-holding Bodhisattva only within the context of narrative depictions. The reader must bear in mind that the conclusion suggested here is partly based on much wider considerations, namely the role of Maitreya in Gandharan Buddhism of the Kuṣāṇa period in general and its development, which will be dealt with in a parallel article.

  • In East and West, dedicated to Maurizio Taddei 55, no. 1–4 (2005): 163–88.