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Pakistan or Afghanistan, Gandhara region, 2nd- 3rd century A.D.
Gift of Cobey Black, in Memory of Brigadier General Edwin Black, 1986 (5491.1)
The historical Buddha Shakyamuni (ca. 563 B.C.-ca. 483 B.C.) reportedly forbade his followers from worshiping his image, and the earliest Buddhist art represents him instead with various symbols, such as the wheel of the Dharma (symbolizing the “turning” or transmission of Buddhist teachings) or a parasol (signifying nobility).
Like most individual Gandharan Buddhist images, this fragmentary sculpture was intended for the niche of a stupa (a real or symbolic funerary mound commemorating the Buddha and his important followers), or otherwise placed against a wall, so the back is flat and uncarved. The Buddha’s hands are in the Dharmachakra, or “Wheel of the Dharma,” mudra, sometimes called the “teaching mudra” since it represents the transmission of Buddhist teachings.