It is a well-known fact that Indian art owes its evolution to the Gupta period. A broad outlook reveals that Indian art in Central Asia had a more Graeco-Buddhist background. This is due to the multi-cultural influence of the silk trade route. This phenomenon also gave birth to the Serindian, Persianate, and Scythian styles. Whether it’s in terms of iconology, composition, or iconography, India’s influence in the Central Asian art landscape remains unparalleled. Here’s a look at the influence of Indian art on Central Asian artistic heritage.
The Influence of Indian Art on Buddhist Art in Afghanistan
The Bamiyan valley in Afghanistan is home to two gigantic statues of Buddha. They both date back to the 6th century. You can observe them in the above images. They are stylistically derived from Buddhas of the Gandharan, Mathuran, and archaic Gupta styles. The statues were destroyed by the Taliban in 2001. However, UNESCO plans to rebuild the structures with the aim to preserve Afghanistan’s cultural heritage.
The Fondukistan monastery of Kabul can be considered a gem when it comes to Buddhist art. Observe the above figure of a seated Bodhisattva Maitreya from the seventh century. The clever stylization of this school of art prides itself on being able to duplicate the most varied styles of Central Asian art. It specialised in the rendering of movement. This can be seen in the ease of this position of rest; in Buddhist iconography, this is called labitasana.
Another city in Afghanistan, Ghazni, houses the Tapar Sardar monastery complex and the Homay Qala (Humai Qal’a) Buddhist cave complex. Tapa Sardar comprises an astounding 18-metre reclining Buddha and a hilltop stupa surrounded by a row of smaller stupas that showcase two artistic styles: Hellenistic (3rd–6th century) and Sinicized-Indian (7th–9th century).
The Influence of Indian Art on China
The Mogao Caves in Dunhuang, China, hold mesmerising Buddhist cave art that originated in the 3rd century C.E. in India. This artwork is reminiscient of Serendian art.
This ethereal painting of Buddha meditating was discovered at the archaeological site of Balawaste in the Khotan oasis. It is an important area located on the southern side of the silk trade route. A mid-sixth-century piece is featured above. Its tantric symbols, frontal view, and stiffness characteristic of the cult steles are indicative of the Gandhara art form, with an increased inclination towards a Chinese style in overall composition.
The Bezeklik Thousand Buddha Caves are a surreal and prime tourist attraction in the Flaming Mountains of Mutou Valley. They hail from the 5th–14th centuries and are fragmented into 77 grottos. The name ‘Bezeklik’ translates into ‘a place with paintings’ or ‘a beautifully decorated place’, which is evident in the following specimens from Cave 1.
In this seventh-century painting, we see Buddha meditating and the top portion of a stupa. The cone-shaped series of the stupa are of Indian descent, whereas the silk flags on either side are dipped in Chinese influence.
Two divinities can be seen praying in a mural painting from the 8th–9th centuries. Their faces are of Chinese stylisation, but the drapery is reminiscent of Gandharan and Indian forms. The painting is amplified by their fascinating clothes, headdresses, and jewels, which are to the taste of the Sinified Turks.
Other notable examples of the India-China confluence consist of the Kizil Caves, Subashi Temple, and Kumtura Caves.
The Influence of Indian Art on the Wall paintings of Tajikistan
Illustrations depicting Indian and Persian epics from the 7th and 8th centuries can be found in the wall paintings that have survived in Panjakent, Tajikistan. Parts of which have mostly ended up in Tashkent or the Hermitage Museum. This falls under Sassanian art, and specimens of a special figural trend called ‘Irano-Buddhist’ may be found in nearby areas of Bamiyan.
The silk trade route opened up avenues for the integration of art, culture, and traditional practices. The most important aspect is the propagation of religion, as in the case of India’s influence on Central Asia Buddhism. Sculptures and paintings galore in predominantly Gandhara art forms. Indian art went on to influence and merge with countless other art styles, thereby creating variations of its original and new styles altogether. India left its iconic trace on Central Asian art, changing the region’s socio-economic and religious affiliations forevermore.