Stone Carving in Swat Valley
Courtesy: Dr. M. Ashraf Khan, Buddhist Shrines in Swat, Artico Printers Lahore- Pakistan 1993, p 12
The land of swat, ancient Udyana, remarkably shared the artistic and cultural progress manifested over the centuries in Gandahara proper, but geographically and ethnically it effectively kept its separate identity. The Buddhist art of Gandahara did not remain confined to its geographical boundary but spread rapidly with the passage of time to the areas in the north of Swat and even beyond Indus to the Taxila valley. This fact is elaborately supported by the discovery of many Buddhist sites in these regions where a large number of sculpture scenes of Buddhist mythology have been discovered during excavations. The Buddhist art of Gandahara, which flourished here from 1st to the 8th century A.D, is so called because it originated in this area and was first recognized in the remains of shrines and monasteries. It is also called Greco-Buddhist or Romano-Buddhist art because it contains some elements, which are certainly of western origin. The art of Gandahara is called Hellinestic as it was apparently inherited from the Greek and Indo-Greek Kingdom which then flourished in Bactria, Afghanistan and part of northern Pakistan during the 3rd - 2nd century B.C. The term Romano-Buddhist refers to the western influence as depicted in the architectural composition of the sculptures showing the artistic tradition of the Mediterranean Empire dating to the 1st century A.D. However, it may be remarked that the western artistic influence in the sculptures of Swat and Gandahara promoted the concept of the Buddhist religion, as is predominantly manifested by them. This strongly supports the theory of continuity, as in the sculpture there is a visible blending of western and eastern ideas. The Buddhist art widely spread to foreign countries and is found in Afghanistan in the areas bordering the former Soviet Union and beyond the Indus in the Taxila valley. The sculptures uncovered from the various sites in Swat valley are worked in stone, stucco and terra-cotta. Many of these are black, soft blue and green schist stone quarried from the hills of Swat, Dir and Buner. These sculptures made in different types, depict various jataka stories and scenes from Buddhist mythology such as the birth of Buddha, his childhood, the renunciation, the departure from his place, the enlightenment, attainment of Buddhahood under the Bodhi Tree, the first sermon in the Deer Park, and the various events of his life leading to his death (Parinirava), the division of his ashes and their burial in stupas at various places.
Besides the reliefs depicting various episodes from the life of Buddha, there are also found several non-Buddhist deities Hindu gods like Indra, Brahma, Panchika and Hariti, the Naga, the Garuda, the yakshas and Yakshis along with Greek and Roman deities such as Athena, Harpocrates, satyrs and architectural elements of undoubted western origin. Single statues of the Buddha, either standing or seated, are seen in many different poses including Abhayamudra (Reassurance) and Dyana mudra, (Meditation), Dharma chakra mudra (preaching) and Bhumisparsa mudra (the earth touching).
The Buddha hair is usually carved in undulating lines drawn back from the forehead with ushnisha often circled by a band and the robe draped from the shoulders. Another important feature of the Buddha is the urna, a tuft of hair between the eyebrows, shown on the sculptured figures as a small raised circle or a depression, which is gracefully marked by a gemstone. Sometime the head is haloed with a plain or decorated disc. In Gandahara art another important cult object is the Bodhisattva figure, often depicted in the panels, for instance, Siddhartha with an elaborate headdress, moustaches, plain halo and the forehead ornament with urna like the Buddha himself. He usually wears two necklaces, with various other ornaments including ear-pedants and sandals. Padmapani, the lotus holder, a form of Bodhisattva and Avaloketisvara the god of mercy, in later Buddhism during the 4th to 8th century A.D, was also popular in the Swat region and who is believed to help needy people and protect them from all sorts of misshaps, and dangers.
The future Bodhisattva Maitreya is another important and famous creation of Gandahara art. He holds a flask, and also makes gestures of reassurance, meditation and preaching. He had an elaborate headdress, a top knot with looped or pendant stands and ushnisha. He is believed to have descended from the Tushita Heaven and to have landed at the site of Bauty Pind near Taxila where, according to mythology, a big treasure may be revealed, presently lying hidden.
Apart from single statues of Bodhisattvas, the Buddha, other minor divinities and characters, a large number of architectural elements used for adorning the panels such as the Corinthian and persepolitan columns are found at various sites in the Swat valley.
Other important decorative motifs depicted in the panels, are saw-tooth and rope pattern, acanthus leaves, lotus, vine scrolls, the pipal tree and geometric patterns.
Beside the above ornaments the sculptured pieces also show ornate jambs, carved with a series of panels depicting the dancing Amorini, the cornices, brackets and figures of some animals and birds