Under the Kushans, conquerors from central Asia, two of India's most important styles were developed between the 2d and 5th cent. A.D.: Gandhara art and art of Mathura. Gandhara art, named after the region of Gandhara now in Pakistan, presents some of the earliest images of the Buddha. Earlier at Bharhut and Sanchi, the Buddha's presence was represented by symbols, such as the pipal tree, the wheel of life, footprints, and an empty throne. The Gandhara style was profoundly influenced by 2d-century Hellenistic art and was itself highly influential in central and eastern Asia. Ivories and imported glass and lacquerware attest to the cosmopolitan tastes and extensive trade that characterized the period. Stupas and monasteries were adorned with relief friezes, often carved in dark schist, showing figures in classical poses with flowing Hellenistic draperies.
Farther east and south, contemporary Mathura, also under Kushan rule, created a wholly Indian sculptural art. Reddish limestone was the usual medium. More sensuous, heavier Buddhas whose limbs are created according to canonical instructions, smile directly at their worshipers. Reliefs of the yakshis carved against railing pillars are more frankly sensual and erotic than those at Sanchi. Buddhist iconography was developed in Gandhara. Mathura, however, preserved and developed Indian forms for three centuries.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.