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Peshawar Museum displays largest collection on Buddha’s life

The Daily Times, Sept 15, 2008

PESHAWAR, Pakistan -- The almost century-old Peshawar Museum is unique for displaying the most important and world’s largest collection of architectural pieces.

The unique stone sculptures carved in Gandhara Art not only speak of the artists’ competence, but also tell a complete life story of Buddha from birth to death and his miracles.

In the main hall of the museum, the antiques and sculptures put on display represent the stories on the life of Buddha from his birth to death – all the episodes.

The Buddha’s life story in stones is beautifully carved with all details from the Queen Maya’s dream, interpretation of the dream, birth of Siddhartta (historic Buddha), bath scene, seven steps, going to school, writing lessons, wrestling matches, palace life, marriage scene, renunciation, great departure, ascetic life, fasting, first meditation, demons attacks, attaining enlightenment, first sermon, death scene, cremation of Buddha, distribution of relics and construction of stupas on the relics.

The collection includes different types of architectural pieces, relics caskets, stupa models of schist and bronze, stucco sculptures, terracotta figurines, toiletry objects along with life size Buddha statues.

“The life stories of Buddha, depicted in Gandharan Art, are an authentic document of the Mahyana text composed during the time of Kanishka (1st Century AD),” said Prof Fidaullah Sehrai, renowned archaeologist and former director NWFP Department of Archaeology and Museums,

Prof Sehrai said the cosmopolitan art of Gandhara, with influences from Indian Greek, Roman and Persian artists, appeared in this region in 1st century BC for propagation of Buddhism through stone carved as well as images in stucco, terracotta and bronze.

These images were placed in chapels of monasteries and in stupas across Gandhara region by Buddhist followers for worship.

“The current Buddhist religion in Korea and Japan is a wonderful example of extension of Gandharan Buddhism,” Sehrai said. “The sculptures were fixed to the bases, drums and stairs of the stupas, around which the worshippers gather and worships.”

Prof Sehrai said in the old Buddhist art the Buddha was not represented in human form but shown by symbols.

The four important events of Buddha’s are his birth at Lumbini Garden, his enlightenment under the Bodhi tree, his first sermon in the Deer Park and his death at Kusinara. All these events are symbolised by a lotus, a tree, a wheel or a deer and a stupa, respectively.

But in Gandhara Art, Prof Sehrai continued, the Buddha was represented in human form in these and other events in shape of sculptures.

The main focus of the art was Buddha’s life stories and individual images, his previous birth stories (Jatakas) and future Buddhas.

The devoted local artists, stimulated by the personality of Buddha, took advantage of contacts, motifs and technology from Greeks, Romans and Persians, which gave Buddha an eternal life.

The art, mainly a product of the land of Gandhara under the Kushan rulers, is more dynamic than the contemporary Mathura Art of India.

“Peshawar Museum has the largest collection of Gandhara art in the whole world, consisting of 4247 (936 on display and 3311 in stores) antiques of Buddhist stone sculptures and panels, architectural elements, stucco sculptures, terracotta figurines, relic casket and toiletry objects,” said Saleh Muhammad, NWFP Archaeology and Museums director.

The major poses of Buddha in Peshawar Museum were Dhayana Mudra or Medtation Pose, Abhaya Mudra or Reassurance Pose, Dharma Chakra Mudr or Turning of the Wheel of Law Pose and Bhumispersa Mudra or Earth Touching Pose, Saleh said.

The main Gandharan collection of Peshawar Museum came from excavations of the Archaeological Survey of India, Frontier Circle from 1902 to 1941 and donations from public and purchases, he informed.

These sculptures mainly recovered from the sites of Shari Bahlol (1906-26) in Mardan district, Shah Ji-ki-Dheri (1908-10) in Peshawar district and Palatu Dheri (1902-03), Mamane Dheri, Akhun Dheri, Ibrahimzai, Utmanzai, Hamid Garhi Turangzai, Bala Hisar and Sheikan Dheri in Charsadda district.

Saleh Muhammad said the true story of Buddha’s life was not known and what we had displayed was a canonised version of his life.

“It is the miraculous story that is narrated in stone. This story was developed in greatest detail in Gandhara Art while in other schools of art only a few events are told,” he added.

The Gandharan Art pieces in the museum can be dated back to 2nd century AD to the 5th century AD, except a few Hindu sculptures, which can be dated from the 9th century AD to the 11th century AD.

The story begins from his birth and continues through his human career until his death and even later when his relics and reliquaries became objects of worship.

Total collection of antique is reckoned at 14,156 items in five main sections; Gandharan Coins, Islamic, Ethnological and Iranian and due to unique and most extensive Gandharan collection, Peshawar Museum is famous worldwide.

Saleh Muhammad said earlier large number of foreigners, especially from Japan and Korea, visited Peshawar Museum to see Buddha’s unique sculptures. But now the number of visitors had reduced due to law and order situation.

He suggested for proper projection of Peshawar Museum at international level, in special reference to Buddha’s sculptures, with renewed spirit for attracting tourists and followers of Buddhism.



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