Earliest physical depiction of Buddha?

Vajra

Ad Honorem
May 2013
4,332
India
#1
As we all know,Buddha was never physically depicted in the early imagry.He was mainly replaced with anionic symbols of Stupas or Trees.But I have recently found an image from Chandraketgarh(dated to 2nd-1st cent BCE),which might possibly be the first ever physical depiction of Buddha or a Bodhisattva:




The image depicts an aura around his head,implying that he is a divine figure.He is also standing on the lotus nearby a tree,normally associated with Buddha.Also keep an eye on two deers beneath the tree,same deer iconography is later associated with Buddha.All these points taken,it appars that it is indeed Buddha who is depicted here.But what strikes me is that he is not wearing the normal ascetic robes,but robes of common man.

Similar is the case from Amaravati.This is a weird iconography where Buddha is depicted as coming out of a tree(aniconic symbol of Buddha).This one also wears normal robes and not ascetic robes.



What does these images imply?Could it be that a non-ascetic form of Buddha(probably as Chakravartin) was also worshipped during pre-Christian era?
 

Vajra

Ad Honorem
May 2013
4,332
India
#3
Nice find Vajra, I've never even seen that before. Certainly the oldest of the 'aura' image from India I've seen.
Yes! This became common with Gandharan and Mathura art.First time seeing it on native Sunga art.It might be a foreign influence but then again the area is in far east.
 
Feb 2013
724
#4
Yes! This became common with Gandharan and Mathura art.First time seeing it on native Sunga art.It might be a foreign influence but then again the area is in far east.
I think it is, Middle Easterners and Greeks have used that long before Indians, obviously. Even when it was introduced, that image wasnt used that extensively. So yeah, like you said, being used that deep in India and at that early point in time is interesting.

What's also interesting is the image of the two deers.






Which is still common in Buddhist images today. I dont know if they're related, but interesting none the less.
 
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Vajra

Ad Honorem
May 2013
4,332
India
#5
I think it is, Middle Easterners and Greeks have used that long before Indians, obviously. Even when it was introduced, that image wasnt used that extensively. So yeah, like you said, being used that deep in India and at that early point in time is interesting.

What's also interesting is the image of the two deers.






Which is still common in Buddhist images today. I dont know if they're related, but interesting none the less.
Yes,this aura thingy was quite widesrpead in the ancient world.Many cultures used it.

And here is the deer iconography from Ajanta:



Beneath Buddha.


Anyway,I wonder why Buddha is not depicted in his usual ascetic robes in Chandraketugarh.
 

Asherman

Forum Staff
May 2013
3,249
Albuquerque, NM
#6
Probably the most common and earliest Buddhist symbol is an Eight-spoked Wheel. It symbolizes the Eight-Fold Path, roughly similar to the Ten Commandments we find in the Abrahamic Religions. The reason you see deer depicted in early Buddhist iconography is that the Buddha's first and arguably most important sermon was preached at a rich man's Deer Park. The Four Noble Truths and the Eight-Fold Path are still fundamental to virtually all Buddhist sects and schools.

Siddhartha was, we are told a prince in what is today N.E. India, who gave up his wife, family and kingdom in an attempt to understand and end Suffering. For many years he wandered the forests homeless, listening to and following the extreme self-sacrifice common to Gurus of the time. When none of that brought him any closer to resoling the problem he had set for himself, he sat down beneath a tree vowing not to rise again before reaching his goal. He sat for days, if not the weeks/months/years of some legends. During that time Siddhartha was tempted, like Christ, to settle for wealth, fame and power. The "Gods" angered that Siddhartha would not budge, sent natural and supernatural forces to frighten him into submission without success. Feeling compassion for the tortured mortal, a many-headed serpent spread its cobra-like mantle to protect him. At the end of his rope, Siddhartha was on the point of giving up, but at dawn he saw a young maiden walking along the river bank carrying a jug of milk on her head. He then experienced Enlightenment, and understood completely the true nature of the Universe, of time, space, and most importantly the Causes and Solution for universal Suffering. He rose then, and drank deeply of the maiden's milk. He began eating again, and set off to share his insights with his companions in the quest for understanding and release.

Mostly his old companions rejected the new Buddha, and accused him of losing faith. Some were moved by the Teaching and followed the Buddha to a rich man's Deer Park where he preached the first of his many sermons. Early Buddhist iconography didn't use depictions of the the Buddha for some of the same reasons that Muslims have strictures against making human images, especially of their founder. What do see often is the Eight-Spoked Wheel, the Tree of Enlightenment, the Deer Park, the Sheltering Serpent, and Jugs of milk.

The lotus is another early bit that is still with us. Out of the mud, muck, and slime of material existence grows this white purity that floats above, in the sunshine, symbolizing the transformation that happens with Enlightenment. It is very rare to find humans and/or the Buddha depicted until relatively late and after Mahayana was beginning to replace the older Theravada Buddhist forms. After the Great Decease, the death of the Buddha, his followers followed his example of leaving the normal World in search of Enlightenment. They became wandering beggars trying to follow the strictures of the Eight-Fold Path, and they often went in groups that argued constantly over what the Teaching was and how it should be interpreted. From those early Buddhists we have the Pali Texts that still form the basis of Theravada, and are essential to understanding how Buddhism evolved during its earliest years.

From those same wandering monks and nuns there evolved the Bodhisattva concept that would eventually form the basis for Mahayana. The shift was from each individual being responsible for their own progress toward Enlightenment, Release, to a theology that was easier for laymen to understand and practice in hope of Enlightenment ... later. Human figures become more common then, and most often they depict the Buddha quite differently than the icons we are more familiar with today. For instance, the Buddha is often shown as a living skeleton at that moment just before Enlightenment. His dress, appearance and raiment all are what you would expect of common Hindu iconography of the same period. Siddhartha, The Buddha, after all was just a man who through self-discipline, perseverance, and determination eventually triumphed in his battle against Suffering. He gives us the foundations, and leaves us to discover it for ourselves. Quite early we also find a deep strain of the Teaching that preaches the "Middle Way". In a nut shell, it is that extreme behavior, thoughts, and words tend not to be as effective as a more moderate approach to the problem ... hence the Buddha's dealing with a young woman to get a long sweet drink of milk in violation of what was expected of him.

The West and East met, perhaps in Gandara, around the time that Mahayana was maturing. The Greek styles were a byproduct to Alexander's Eastern adventures, and they were very popular. Buddha was now depicted in a more natural way, but with an Eastern twist or two. Details of Buddhist iconography after this time are essential in determining where, when, and the basic theological message intended. We no longer see the Buddha on the brink of starvation, but as a healthy and serine Teacher often dressed in flowing robes in the Grecian style. There are three basic poses: Sitting, Standing, and reclining. Reclining Iconography is almost always about the Great Decease; Standing is about Teaching and preaching, and, most commonly, sitting with a very wide range of symbolic meaning. The positioning of hands, fingers, lotus/half-lotus postures, and objects become increasingly complex over time and distance from India.

Many Westerners think that depictions of the Chinese Ho-Tai is the Buddha. Not really. Ho-Tai was a Southern Chinese Buddhist monk and cook for the monastic community. He was a great believer in tasting his cooking, and loved sweets, but as a Buddhist monk he wasn't particularly well-thought of. On the other hand, Ho-Tai's habit of baking sweets and giving toys to the children of the surrounding villages made him very popular. Ho-Tai became a Taoist "saint" and roughly the equivalent of Santa Clause. His image then began appearing on Taoist, and even Confucian alters where Westerners first saw them. Some found their way as souvenirs back to Europe where they were ... statues of the Buddha. Oh well. I wish I had a dime for every time I've tried to straighten that out.
 

Vajra

Ad Honorem
May 2013
4,332
India
#7
Probably the most common and earliest Buddhist symbol is an Eight-spoked Wheel. It symbolizes the Eight-Fold Path, roughly similar to the Ten Commandments we find in the Abrahamic Religions. The reason you see deer depicted in early Buddhist iconography is that the Buddha's first and arguably most important sermon was preached at a rich man's Deer Park. The Four Noble Truths and the Eight-Fold Path are still fundamental to virtually all Buddhist sects and schools.

Siddhartha was, we are told a prince in what is today N.E. India, who gave up his wife, family and kingdom in an attempt to understand and end Suffering. For many years he wandered the forests homeless, listening to and following the extreme self-sacrifice common to Gurus of the time. When none of that brought him any closer to resoling the problem he had set for himself, he sat down beneath a tree vowing not to rise again before reaching his goal. He sat for days, if not the weeks/months/years of some legends. During that time Siddhartha was tempted, like Christ, to settle for wealth, fame and power. The "Gods" angered that Siddhartha would not budge, sent natural and supernatural forces to frighten him into submission without success. Feeling compassion for the tortured mortal, a many-headed serpent spread its cobra-like mantle to protect him. At the end of his rope, Siddhartha was on the point of giving up, but at dawn he saw a young maiden walking along the river bank carrying a jug of milk on her head. He then experienced Enlightenment, and understood completely the true nature of the Universe, of time, space, and most importantly the Causes and Solution for universal Suffering. He rose then, and drank deeply of the maiden's milk. He began eating again, and set off to share his insights with his companions in the quest for understanding and release.

Mostly his old companions rejected the new Buddha, and accused him of losing faith. Some were moved by the Teaching and followed the Buddha to a rich man's Deer Park where he preached the first of his many sermons. Early Buddhist iconography didn't use depictions of the the Buddha for some of the same reasons that Muslims have strictures against making human images, especially of their founder. What do see often is the Eight-Spoked Wheel, the Tree of Enlightenment, the Deer Park, the Sheltering Serpent, and Jugs of milk.

The lotus is another early bit that is still with us. Out of the mud, muck, and slime of material existence grows this white purity that floats above, in the sunshine, symbolizing the transformation that happens with Enlightenment. It is very rare to find humans and/or the Buddha depicted until relatively late and after Mahayana was beginning to replace the older Theravada Buddhist forms. After the Great Decease, the death of the Buddha, his followers followed his example of leaving the normal World in search of Enlightenment. They became wandering beggars trying to follow the strictures of the Eight-Fold Path, and they often went in groups that argued constantly over what the Teaching was and how it should be interpreted. From those early Buddhists we have the Pali Texts that still form the basis of Theravada, and are essential to understanding how Buddhism evolved during its earliest years.

From those same wandering monks and nuns there evolved the Bodhisattva concept that would eventually form the basis for Mahayana. The shift was from each individual being responsible for their own progress toward Enlightenment, Release, to a theology that was easier for laymen to understand and practice in hope of Enlightenment ... later. Human figures become more common then, and most often they depict the Buddha quite differently than the icons we are more familiar with today. For instance, the Buddha is often shown as a living skeleton at that moment just before Enlightenment. His dress, appearance and raiment all are what you would expect of common Hindu iconography of the same period. Siddhartha, The Buddha, after all was just a man who through self-discipline, perseverance, and determination eventually triumphed in his battle against Suffering. He gives us the foundations, and leaves us to discover it for ourselves. Quite early we also find a deep strain of the Teaching that preaches the "Middle Way". In a nut shell, it is that extreme behavior, thoughts, and words tend not to be as effective as a more moderate approach to the problem ... hence the Buddha's dealing with a young woman to get a long sweet drink of milk in violation of what was expected of him.

The West and East met, perhaps in Gandara, around the time that Mahayana was maturing. The Greek styles were a byproduct to Alexander's Eastern adventures, and they were very popular. Buddha was now depicted in a more natural way, but with an Eastern twist or two. Details of Buddhist iconography after this time are essential in determining where, when, and the basic theological message intended. We no longer see the Buddha on the brink of starvation, but as a healthy and serine Teacher often dressed in flowing robes in the Grecian style. There are three basic poses: Sitting, Standing, and reclining. Reclining Iconography is almost always about the Great Decease; Standing is about Teaching and preaching, and, most commonly, sitting with a very wide range of symbolic meaning. The positioning of hands, fingers, lotus/half-lotus postures, and objects become increasingly complex over time and distance from India.

Many Westerners think that depictions of the Chinese Ho-Tai is the Buddha. Not really. Ho-Tai was a Southern Chinese Buddhist monk and cook for the monastic community. He was a great believer in tasting his cooking, and loved sweets, but as a Buddhist monk he wasn't particularly well-thought of. On the other hand, Ho-Tai's habit of baking sweets and giving toys to the children of the surrounding villages made him very popular. Ho-Tai became a Taoist "saint" and roughly the equivalent of Santa Clause. His image then began appearing on Taoist, and even Confucian alters where Westerners first saw them. Some found their way as souvenirs back to Europe where they were ... statues of the Buddha. Oh well. I wish I had a dime for every time I've tried to straighten that out.
Beautifully summed up,thank you! I never knew Buddha almost gave up on his quest for the enlightenment! Could you explain what was so important about that maiden who carried milk?How did Buddha attained enlightenment after seeing her?
 
Jan 2015
955
EARTH
#8
Seems the contention from Ajan and Drona is that all these sculptures are symbolic representations - not actual clothing from literature sources.
So, it might just be artistic limitation that portrayed buddha without his robes?

Although I find the lack of clothed representation, and simultaneous clothed iranics vs nude indics somewhat suspicious.
 

Jinit

Ad Honorem
Jun 2012
5,274
India
#9
As we all know,Buddha was never physically depicted in the early imagry.He was mainly replaced with anionic symbols of Stupas or Trees.But I have recently found an image from Chandraketgarh(dated to 2nd-1st cent BCE),which might possibly be the first ever physical depiction of Buddha or a Bodhisattva:

Interesting find Vajra... Thanks for sharing it with us..:)

The curious thing is Kamandal (water pot) in his hand. did Buddhist monks or even Budhha ever carry Kamandal in their hand like the one shown in the image? Has it been mentioned in the literature or portrayed in painting or sculptures?

Another curious thing is the person washing the feet. Reminds me of Charanamrita kind of ritual. Has it been part of Buddhist rituals too? or did they ever observe it in past? any mention?
 

Jinit

Ad Honorem
Jun 2012
5,274
India
#10
I think it is, Middle Easterners and Greeks have used that long before Indians, obviously. Even when it was introduced, that image wasnt used that extensively. So yeah, like you said, being used that deep in India and at that early point in time is interesting.

What's also interesting is the image of the two deers.






Which is still common in Buddhist images today. I dont know if they're related, but interesting none the less.
May be Deers just symbolize the the deer park where Buddha gave his first sermon.
 
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