Gandharan Art In Context: East-West Exchanges At The Crossroads Of Asia, Edited by Raymond Allchin, Bridget Allchin, Neil Kreitman, Elizabeth Errington. The Ancient India and Iran Trust, Cambridge, 1997.

This is not an easy book to get hold of. If you want a copy then contact the Ancient India and Iran Trust. Telephone 01223 356 841. It is also available from Vedams books at a price of $95.

This is a collection of essays centred on an exhibition in 1992. The catalogue of the exhibition 'The Crossroads of Asia' is not essential to understanding this book. The sweep of the book is also very narrow by comparison to the exhibition. Where the exhibition covers a broad view, from Alexander the Great to the Kidarites, these papers concentrate on the Indo-Parthian and Great Kushan periods. The title implies an art centred approach but, with good reason, several articles on coins are included. The result is a study of foreign exchange in Kushan and Parthian art, which stands as a cohesive whole rather than a simple collection of essays.

The first, and largest, group of articles is concerned with foreign influence in Gandharan art. John Boardman sets the goalposts by asking why, how and where North-West India adopted foreign images. For this analysis he concentrates on a few friezes from Gandhara. His conclusion is that India adopted foreign images only if they could be adapted to local meanings is. It implies a much more active role for Gandhara than is often assumed.

Martha Carter's 'A Reappraisal Of The Bimaran Reliquary' also concentrates on a single item. She would like to date the Reliquary to some point in the first century BC. This goes against the palaeographic evidence which dates the item in the first century AD. Though, the inscription could have been added some time after the item was made. She develops an interesting theory that the Reliquary is part of a transition in Buddhist imagery. A transition from an earlier narrative tradition in which the Buddha was not represented in human form too an iconic tradition in which the Buddha's image becomes an item of worship.

'A Hidden Import From Imperial Rome Manifest In Stupas' is just as interesting. Shoshin Kuwoyama examines Stupas with a wheel design in their structure. These are concentrated in two regions, Gandhara and Andhra Pradesh. He dismisses the idea that these can be of a religious nature and argues that they are a sign of Roman influence. The origin, he claims, is the Mausoleum of Augustus. The design for this spread to Britain and the Northwest Roman Empire in the first century AD. He argues that it must have been transmitted in a similar manner to India. What makes such a transmission interesting is that these are internal, structural features. Casual tourists would not be able to pass on such a design. Either Roman architects went to India or the idea was transmitted by Roman pattern books. Both these imply the presence of architects that were trained in Roman construction methods. I have to disagree with his tentative conclusion that the Andhra Pradesh group precedes the Gandharan group. Dating the Andhra Pradesh group is very difficult but it is possible to date the Gandharan group. That at Shah-Ji-Ki-Dheri precedes the reign of Kajula Kadphises. This would put it before 25 AD and means it was built, at most, fifty-two years after the construction of Augustus Mausoleum. This is a fantastic rate of transmission and means that the arrival in Andhra Pradesh and Gandhara was probably simultaneous.

Most of the articles are concerned with Roman, Iranian or local impacts on the art of Gandhara but B.N. Mukherjee's article is concerned with the impact of Gandharan Art on Western Bengal. This is a good tonic to the earlier articles which show Gandharan art as receptive. In the case of Bengal they served as a conduit for Roman, Greek and Hellenistic ideas which were carried over an extended period to the region. It demonstrates that the Kushan Empire was an active exporter of new ideas for most of its existence.

The articles by Zeymal, Boperachchi, Cribb and McDowall are concerned with coins. The reason is that the arts of Mathura and Gandhara are still plagued by a lack of chronology. It is not entirely satisfactory, but it is inevitable that coins determine the archaeological dating of sites in India. In this situation it is terribly important to have a firm chronology for the kings who minted coins in India.

Boperachchi and McDowall's contributions are the most satisfactory. Cribb's article is simply a justification for the chronology which was adopted at the exhibition. The chronology he concludes with is shown below.

Cribb published this before the Rabatak inscription was located and he assumed that Soter Megas must be synonymous with Kajula Kadphises. The Rabatak inscription shows that Soter Megas was the son of Kajula Kadphises and ruled independently of Wima or Kajula. So about twenty years needs to be added to Kanishka's era. Careful examination of the articles by Boperachchi and Carter suggest that Kajula should be shifted backwards and that the casket belongs to a much earlier period. Whatever the need for a chronology the one presented by Cribb is inadequate.

The last two articles are concerned with analysis of the statues, glass and medallions. These are essentially the same as the technical analysis section at the end of The Crossroads Of Asia. So I will avoid any discussion of them here.

This collection of articles comes together well. There are plenty of illustrations, which are all of a high quality. The chapters are organised to gradually expand the readers knowledge of Gandharan art. The book can be read by anyone with a little knowledge of ancient India, but it is aimed at those with some interest in Gandharan art or Kushan history. Whether a beginner, or an expert, this collection can be highly recommended to any student of Kushan history.


Contents Page Buddhism and Gandhara  

Gandhara, Memory of Afghanistan

The Date of Kanishka History of Civilizations of Central Asia