We love Buddhist art. Earliest examples dating from the few first centuries before the common era (CE) do not show a direct presentation of Sakyamuni (Siddharta Gautama) since according to his teachings he was gone and no longer available for advice and intervention. The earliest examples from this time show only an empty throne with his followers around. This early form of Buddhism that’s still practiced in the Theravada tradition is neither a religion or even a philosophy. It’s advice on how to minimize suffering and achieve enlightenment. It denies the existence of a soul and deities.


Around the beginning of the common era, a new form of Buddhism emerged, called Mahayana Buddhism. The big change is the appearance of Bodhisattvas, humans that have achieved enlightenment and could enter nirvana, but decided to stay around and help people. Mahayana Buddhism is a religion with deities (that now also include Buddha) accessible through prayer. It is this change that produced images of Bodhisattvas and Buddha that could be worshipped. Accordingly, by the first century CE, Buddha images in human form began to emerge as well as Bodhisattvas.


It’s interesting that the very first Buddha images were in Hellenistic (influenced by the classical Greek art) style! Earliest examples come from the area of NW Pakistan and southern Afghanistan, an area which was occupied by the ancient kingdom of Gandhara. Gandharan or Greco-Buddhist art is without doubt influenced by artisans left behind by Alexander the Great’s conquest of the area (the background of this website shows the famous Alexander coin). Gandharan or Greco-Buddhist art is characterized by the strong idealistic realism of Hellenistic art which has helped define the artistic (and particularly, sculptural) canon for Buddhist art throughout the Asian continent up to the present. It is also a strong example of cultural syncretism between eastern and western traditions.


The image above is a meditating Buddha dating from the 2nd – 5th c. CE.




Taxila is a UNESCO world heritage site located west of Islamabad. It was an important Vedic/Hindu and Buddhist center of learning from the 6th c. BCE to the 5th c. CE. It contains some of the earliest Buddhist iconography.


The images above, right and below are examples of Greco/Buddhist or Gandharan art. They are from the Julian I stupa and monastery site in Taxila dating from the 2nd – 5th c. CE.












Another site in Taxila is Sirkap, a city founded in the 2nd c. BCE by Bactrian Greeks. The double-headed eagle stupa above is decorated with three significant architectural styles of arches: Greek, Central Asian and Indian toranas (gateway). On the central Asian arch in the middle, a double-headed eagle motive is carved, presumably brought here by the Scythians and signifying royal sovereignty.


While we walked around, we saw these two goats and their own special bird.




This is the earliest Buddhist monument in Pakistan, the Dharmarajika stupa built by King Ashoka (304-232 BCE) to house relics of the Buddha. Ashoka converted to Buddhism around 260 BCE and made it the state religion. His influence on the acceptance and spread of Buddhism is similar to Constantine’s conversion to Christianity and making it the state religion for the Roman empire (some 575 years later).


Dharmarajika means “righteous king.”


The museum in Taxila has the best collection of Gandharan Buddhist iconography (right and below).




Buddha (2nd-3rd c. CE)



The two sculptures below are Gandharan art dating from the 2nd-3rd c. CE on display in the British Museum. On the left is the large head (the rest of the statue is lost) of a Buddha statue. The bun-like arrangement of the hair  is known as the ushnisha and is indicative of the wisdom of the Buddha. On the right, a standing Buddha with beautifully flowing robes.




Bodhisattva Maitreya (2nd-3rd c. CE).





Buddha images (2ND-3RD c. CE)








Bodhisattva Dharmarajika (2nd c. CE)



Buddha (2nd-3rd c. CE)


Not all the art found in the Taxila area is Buddhist. Below are examples of Greek deities indicating the coexistence of Greek religious traditions and Buddhism.



Aphrodite (1st c. CE)

Athena (2nd-5th c. CE)


A few hours before getting to Islamabad (while we were still in Taxila) we learned that a deadly bomb attack was carried out against the Danish embassy (because of cartoons published in Danish newspapers).


Islamabad has a huge mosque (one of the largest in Asia) that was a gift from King Faisal of Saudi Arabia. It holds 10,000 people inside and another 64,000 in the courtyards. It was completed in 1986.




Amir Khan graciously let us observe him worship and explained his prayer ritual. Yvonne had to wear a hijab (head covering).



Our final good-bye to Amir Khan and Rashid. We really enjoyed their company and how well they took care of us in Pakistan. Rashid treated us to this tea.


Sadly, Amir Khan couldn’t find any more guiding work and had to return to Karachi (some 1000 mi). Rashid wants to get married (he knows to whom) but doesn’t quite have the money yet to do so.


We wish both of them the very best and wish we could meet them again.