Buddhist art spread far and wide in the Indian subcontinent and beyond. Its origins date back to the 200BC -100BC when non-iconographic representations of the teachings of Buddha are found in sculptures, votives and friezes. The Buddha was not depicted in human form and aniconic forms with elaborate symbolisms are used. Some of this is seen in the art of the Amravati school. It is believed that the earliest Buddhist art is seen in the architecture of the Mahabodhi temple at Bodhgaya and in the frescoes at the Ajanta Caves, Maharashtra.
The earliest noted anthropomorphic form of Buddha in artwork can be seen from 100BC in Northern India, from the Gandhara area (North West province, now in Pakistan) and the region of Mathura, in central North India. The Gandhara art was influenced by the Greek culture, giving rise to the Greco-Buddhist art of that century. The Gandhara Buddha had distinct Greek influences and the concept of human-god was a Greek concept. The Gandhara Buddha is identified today by the wavy hair, drapery covering both shoulders, shoes and sandals, leaf decorations and nirvana symbols etc.
(Indus Valley Art – Bearded Man, Dancing Girl, and Pashupati Seal images are used only for illustration purpose)
While new discoveries come up on a regular basis from these archaeological expeditions, one often wonders what impact the Indus Valley Civilisation has had on the generations to come. There has been very little evidence to support the art of painting for example, from this era. Though there are remnants of vessels with pigments and colours found all over the sites, the purposes of these are yet to be determined. While it seems that metallurgy found a strong hold in the Indus Valley Civilisation, the evidence of sculptures, figurines, jewellery and carvings seem to have been the precursors to the aesthetic art and artistic expressions in a 3D format. This was of course apart form the huge contribution towards architecture and town planning, water supply and drainage systems, along with the culture of trade or barter.
When one looks back at a civilisation that died out and another one which steadily burgeoned there on, it has to be mentioned that it is not a strict cut-off point in time. This is a gradual evolution over hundreds of years. It is definitely possible that multiple layered belief systems co-existed and the dominant one having faded out, the ones that endured became the dominating culture in a specific ‘period’ in time. The decline of the Indus Valley Civilisation happened between 1700BC to 1500BC. It is often seen in many examples that the Vedic Age, which followed the Indus Valley Civilisation probably had been coexisting and it burgeoned with its own religious tenets, cultural, social, economical and political appropriations thereon. Hence we find many derivatives in terms of architecture, religion, aesthetics, social structures or stark examples like the forms and figures in the Vedic Age resembling the seal inscriptions from the Indus Valley Civilisation, be they bull figures or the forms of what came to be known regarded as Lord Shiva of the pantheon of gods and goddesses.