Alexander the Great and Dionysus in India: The Greek Interaction with Early Buddhist Art

Osmund Bopearachchi, Paris IV-Sorbonne University

The diversity and syncretism characterizing Gandhāran Buddhist art from the time of Kanishka I resulted from the cultural, religious and artistic heritage of the former political supremacies: Persians, Greeks, Scythian and Parthians. The presence of Greeks in the area since the conquest of Alexander the Great has to be taken as an important historical fact. At the time the Kushans reached their apogee, cultural interactions and pre-existent Hellenistic artistic forms facilitate a progressive Indianization. The Indian conquest of Alexander the Great has a mythic analogy in the Indian Triumph of Dionysos. Dionysos, the god of wine, inspired many Buddhist artists of Central Asia and Gandhara. Judging from the archaeological findings this god was particularly popular among the Scythians and Greeks. As the god who taught Indians how to cultivate vine, he is shown with Ariadne drinking wine prepared by his companions. Sileni, satyrs, Pan, and other fertility demons are shown on Buddhist reliefs drinking, dancing, harvesting, kissing or indulging in sexual intercourse. These Dionysian scenes could be understood as a symbolic representation of the Middle Region of gandharva or Yakshas. The present talk aims to argue that these Dionysian scenes represent the stratified vision of the Indian cosmology as narrated in the Vedic literature.

Thursday, October 18, 2012 | 6:00 pm — 8:00 pm
Building 200 - Room 30

Ho Center for Buddhist Studies at Stanford
Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures