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Gandhara: From where Art and Ideas travelled across the World


A video recording of the session and the PPT used therein are available on request. Please write to us at for the same.


The first session in the Beyond the Textbook series walks us through the rare, important and exquisite collection of Gandhara Art at the State Museum of Chandigarh. Gandhara as a region has had a long history of a mix of cultural, religious and ethnic backgrounds. It is this syncretic culture that the art of Gandhara continues to symbolize and reflect. One of the aims of bringing this into the classroom is to enable students to critically recognize the non-homogenous nature of our pasts, to understand that the coexistence of diverse peoples in a space and the intermingling of cultures this births is a core component of human society.


The Gandhara region at the core of the Kushan empire was home to a multi-ethnic society tolerant of religious differences. Desirable for its strategic location, with direct access to the overland silk routes and links to the ports on the Arabian Sea, Gandhara had suffered many conquests and had been ruled by the Mauryans, Alexander the Great (327/26–325/24 B.C.), his Indo-Greek successors (third–second centuries B.C.), and a combination of Scythians and Parthians (second–first centuries B.C.). The melding of peoples produced an eclectic culture, vividly expressed in the visual arts produced during the Kushan period. Themes derived from Greek and Roman mythologies were common initially, while later, Buddhist imagery dominated: some of the first representations of the Buddha in human form date to the Kushan era, as do the earliest depictions of bodhisattvas.

Department of Asian Art.

“Kushan Empire (ca. Second Century B.C.–Third Century A.D.).” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. (October 2000)

Popular public imagination of ‘Gandhara Art’ lies in the tragic 2001 incident when the Taliban blew up the monumental statues of the Buddha at Bamiyan in Afghanistan. How do we bring students to explore the range and depth of this art that is the product of strong cultural assimilation? How do we bring to life realities from thousands of years back and make them relevant today with the aim of understanding and embracing a common heritage through meaningful engagement with these objects?

Medhavi’s talk has several interesting ideas, available from the video and here are a few other basic suggestions of classroom activities to get you going:

  1. Assign students with the task of creating a timeline of the various conquests that the Gandhara region experienced.

  2. Map Relay: Divide the class in groups. Group 1 draws a map that represents the first marker on the timeline the class has created. The map is then passed on to Group 2 to modifies the map to correspond with the second marker on the timeline. Group 3 then takes over the map . . . and so on. Each group should use different colours to do the markings.

  3. Follow this up with encouraging students to research the development of art and identify the different influences on the sculptures that were produced at the time. What was the most significant contribution of Gandhara Sculpture to the world. Locate the regions that were the centre of art and culture.

Activity : View the three images below. After careful observation, students fill the 'What do you see?' question card:

I noticed . . .

I wonder . . .

I was reminded of . . .

I think . . .

I’m surprised that . . .

I’d like to know . . .

Standing Bodhisattva, Monastery of Shahbaz Garhi. Sourced from

Buddha Shakyamuni with Attendants, Pakistan, Gandhara region. Sourced from

'Buddha, Gandhara North-west India (now Pakistan) Asia; Made in the 2nd-4th Century from Schist (flint); Photo by Ed Schipul, sourced from

Scholars believe that the earliest reference of the Gandhara region occurs in one of the oldest literature of South Asia—Rigveda. The assumption behind its nomenclature is that the Kabul and Swat rivers traversed throughout the region before converging into a single stream and merging into the Indus. During monsoon these rivers converted the valley into a huge reservoir or lake or Kund, thereby giving the region its name: Gandhara or Kandhar or Kundhara—the land marked by reservoir.

Throughout its ancient history of one thousand years, Gandhara region was only ruled for one hundred and thirty years by a local ruling dynasty. as in rest of its history it was invaded by foreign invaders successively and ruled it. The foreign masters did not come to rule with only troops or soldiers but they brought with them their cultural traits, religion, philosophy of life, traditions, mode of constructions as well as languages. Unfortunately, no connected history of the time has survived to us regarding the process of assimilation of the cultures of these invading people into the land they occupied. However, Gandhara art seems the only surviving source to tell us the real story of cultural interaction and process of assimilation into Gandharan life.

-Tauqeer Ahmad Warraich, 'Gandhara Art: An Appraisal'.

(Read here:


For years Gandhara Art has been an inspiration and for many generations, an education tool. How does such a syncretic art form, a culmination of shared cultures and migrations, respond to an event such as the Partition— an immediate fallout of the negotiations between divisive forces of modern nation states of the time?

At History for Peace we would like to draw attention to the period just before and after the 1947 partition of the sub-continent when entire histories and geographies of the region changed forever impacting individual lives, institutes, businesses, cultural realities and much more. We bring you a few classroom activity ideas to help your students understand these complex issues through the medium of Gandhara sculptures.

There is much by way of literature, poetry and cinema that has recorded the colossal human tragedy. However, several other important dimensions of the impact of the Partition are only now getting attention. For example, the migrations that happened at the time had a huge impact on businesses and subsequently on economic policies of both the countries. The film industry, radio, sports, music, cultural institutes, medical institutes, archaeological sites—the list is endless—all had to bear the brunt of the exchange.

One of the many important institutes that became a major point of contention was the Lahore Museum, established in 1865, which housed a major collection of centuries' old artefacts—the cultural inheritance of undivided India. A decision was taken to divide the artefacts on the lines of the division of the artefacts of the Anthropological Survey of India and after complex negotiations half of the museums’ artefacts travelled to this side of the border and were eventually housed at the newly built Government Museum of Chandigarh.



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