This highly important and superbly well-preserved figure of a standing Buddha adds significantly to the limited corpus of Kushan era sculptures known as the kaparda group. Numbering nine in total, with three dated by inscription, the kaparda Buddhas were produced only during the reign of the great Kushan king, Kanishka (r. 78 – 101 AD). Rendered with an exquisite balance of naturalism, majesty, approachability, and sense of divine authority, the standing kaparda Buddhas are unified as a group by their cohesive style and iconography. Each is depicted standing in a fully frontal posture with the weight distributed equally across both legs; arms are positioned such that the left hand rests at the hip supporting a fold of heavy drapery, and the right is bent at the elbow with the hand in the open-palmed gesture of abhayamudra; the regal face is surmounted by a smooth curve representing the crown of the Buddha’s shaven head, and a shell-shaped topknot to which the group owes its name, “kaparda.” Like other Kushan sculpture, these figures are made from a red colored local sandstone, known as Sikri sandstone after a prominent quarry. While the sculptures were likely painted for their original usage, the sculptors seem to have paid careful attention to the qualities of the block with which they worked. For example, in this figure the artist has skillfully reserved the portion of stone that has large buff-colored sections for the verso, which was likely not readily visible. By the second quarter of the second century AD, after the conclusion of Kanishka’s reign, the kaparda-style arrangement of hair would disappear completely, replaced in subsequent eras by the rows of matted locks that appear in various styles throughout the rest of the history of Indian art.
The kaparda Buddhas are among the greatest works representing the flourishing of stone sculpture that took place during the Kushan era (ca. 1st – 3rd centuries AD), when the ruling dynasty sponsored the production of statues that merged royal portraiture with Buddhist iconography. Rather than the highly stylized proportions of yaksha and yakshi figures that were favored in the preceding Shunga era, Kushan sculpture cultivated an idealized naturalism that would continue to reverberate in Indian art, particularly evident during the Gupta era. Unlike Gupta sculpture, however, Kushan Buddhas of Kanishka’s period have a remarkable sense of presence that hovers between the earthly and the transcendent. Impressive in both scale and technical prowess, the kaparda Buddhas represent a pivotal moment within the early history of Indian art.
The present example is monumental in size and extremely finely carved. His face is compassionate and attentive, aware of his own majestic presence. Compare with a seated figure in the Mathura Museum (J.Kumar, Masterpieces of Mathura Museum, 1989, pp.50-51, pl.19); both faces are naturalistically observed, with heavily lidded eyes balanced by raised cheekbones that subtly express a pleasant countenance; long, pendulous earlobes extending from the eyebrows to the curve of the chin, and a beautifully fleshy neck that effectively transitions into the figure’s broad shoulders. The present Buddha has an urna which rests in the smooth dip between his expressive eyebrows, the continuous curve of which mimics his slightly undulating hairline above. This consecutive element is absent in most of the other kaparda figures, giving this Buddha a particularly harmonious expression.
While the overall positioning of the body is congruent throughout the kaparda group, the present example exhibits a greater degree of naturalism. For example, compare the drapery with a standing figure in the Sarnath Museum (J.G.Williams, The Art of Gupta India, fig.6). The fine pleats in the sleeve are carved to protrude from the surface, instead of being incised into the arm, convincingly maintaining the volume and modeling of the body and garment. The naturalistic modeling of the body continues across a muscular chest and slight protrusion of the belly over the belted waist before sloping into gently rounded hips. The contours of the body are all beautifully revealed by the expertly carved drapery, which transitions from being smoothly pulled over the figure’s firm skin to fine pleats in areas of negative space, augmenting the figure’s exemplary physique.
The artist has ingeniously imbued movement into this figure through the repeated diagonals in his composition. Notice how the Buddha’s body is exposed by the thin fabric that drapes diagonally across his chest, the line of which continues into the belt tied at his right hip, the loose ends exaggerating the graceful curve of the upper leg. This oblique movement is echoed in his forearms and in the sash that falls from his wrist and across his thighs, creating dynamism juxtaposed against the figure’s quiet repose. A portion of the background survives between the raised arm and torso, which indicates there was once a scalloped nimbus present behind the figure; see J.P.Vogel, Catalogue of the Archaeological Museum at Mathura, 1910, pl. IIIC.
This sculpture is among the finest and most complete of the kaparda Buddhas. A paramount example of an extremely rare type that was produced only for a very limited time in the royally sponsored atelier of the Kushan court, the standing Buddha is a masterpiece among masterpieces.