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The Buddha is carved for the first time in human form

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Buddha's followers were reluctant to produce realistic images of their holy leader. It was more than 500 years after his death that artists took the giant step of portraying him in human form.

Early Buddhist artists represented his being rather than depicting the Buddha himself. They showed the bodhi tree, one of his stupas, the soles of his feet, or an empty throne. Each of these had a specific relevance to his life and teaching. He was seated under a bodhi tree when he attained a state of enlightenment. The stupas were symbolic structures that housed relics of Buddha himself or of one of the great Buddhist teachers. In common with Vishnu, Buddha was frequently represented by the soles of his feet, usually adorned with the "Wheel of the Law" — the symbol of Buddha's teaching. Buddha's footprints were also used, and a small stool bearing the Buddha's footprints often accompanied the symbolic empty throne. The prints were highly stylized, with toes of precisely the same length.

The historical Buddha was Siddhartha Gautama, who was born c. 563 bce. Little is known in detail about his life, other than that he lived in northern India and was a member of the Shakya tribe. The transition that led to human depictions of the Buddha was aided by the fact that he was, to his followers, a man rather than a god. The reluctance to show him as mere man, however, can be easily understood. Artists were anxious to ensure that his image could not be confused with that of an ordinary mortal. They were assisted in this by the thirty-two lakshanas — distinguishing features — specified in early Buddhist texts. Artists were able to incorporate them into their carvings as stylized, symbolic features that identified the Buddha and set him apart.

The lakshanas included the ushnisha, a distinctive cranial bump on the top of the head, signifying both wisdom and spiritual enlightenment. On some


4 Standing figure of Buddha from Gandhora

Artist unknown, c. ce 1-100

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