The Buddhist art of Gandhara appears strangely familiar to the Western gaze; its rootedness in Western traditions is strikingly obvious. Gandhara is the name of a historical region in present-day Pakistan and Afghanistan. At the time of its greatest expansion, its territories encompassed Bactria, the Hindu Kush and central northern India. Gandhara became known to a wider audience in March 2001, when the Taliban dynamited the Bamiyan Buddhas, the world’s biggest rock-cut Buddha statues.

Buddhism and a Crossroads of Cultures
Gandharan art is primarily Buddhist. First anthropomorphic depictions of the Buddha began to emerge in the 1st century AD; before that time the “Enlightened One” was represented by means of aniconic symbols alone.
The exhibition at the Art and Exhibition Hall brings to life the extraordinarily rich artistic heritage of the Gandhara region, a melting pot of many different cultures. The conquests of Alexander the Great had introduced Greek culture to the region, giving rise to an art that is profoundly marked by Greek and Roman influence. This fruitful cross-cultural exchange was facilitated by trade along the Silk Road which connected the Mediterranean and China and which was also instrumental in the spread of Buddhism beyond its native India.
Tour of the exhibition
The exhibition begins with the conquests of Alexander the Great and explores the development and spread of Gandharan culture across Afghanistan and Central Asia. Although Gandharan art features numerous Greek and Roman motifs, the vast majority of the works is rooted in Buddhism whose regional development is the focus of this exhibition.
Approximately 300 outstanding objects – among them exquisite stone sculptures, highly detailed reliefs, precious coins and elaborate jewellery – take the visitor on a fascinating journey through the ancient Gandharan kingdom of the 1st to the 5th century AD.
The exhibition architecture is modelled on a Gandharan monastery court. A central stupa details the spiritual awakening of a Buddha in 36 reliefs. The rooms grouped around the stupa provide an insight into the cultural background and the architecture of Gandhara.

Architectural Motifs
One of the most fascinating aspects of Gandharan art is the espousal and adaptation of imported architectural motifs by an entirely different cultural and religious environment. Corner-posts, garland-holders, brackets and capitals are often decorated with figures or even executed in the shape of figures. Near-classical and modified Corinthian pilasters as well as Indian and so-called Persepolitan columns structure architectural decoration and act as scene dividers in carved reliefs. Cornices are decorated in myriad ways. Garlands, decorative bands and floral motifs swathe the building. Later monuments also feature series of arcades.

Religion and Luxury
The rich finds brought to light in excavations of ancient urban areas such as Bhir Mound and Sirkap in Taxila and Barikot in Swat attest to Gandhara’s far-reaching trade relations. The luxury goods shown in the exhibition reflect the flourishing economic and cultural exchange, as indeed does the religious imagery found on these items.

Many Gods, Many Cultures
Although Gandharan archaeological finds are predominantly Buddhist, the region was home to many deities. It was open to Western motifs and Western gods imported by the Greeks. The syncretic Kushan pantheon was inhabited by Zoroastrian and Hindu gods, and Gandharan Buddhism and Buddhist art successfully integrated a wide range of popular deities, most of them ambivalent nature spirits.

State-of-the-art 3D Reconstruction
A particular highlight of the exhibition is a 3D visualisation allowing visitors to explore the destroyed Buddha sculptures of Bamiyan.
The Art and Exhibition Hall has joined forces with the faculties of Computer Science/Telecommunications and Architecture of the Aachen Technical University (RWTH) in order to develop new forms of exhibition presentation. Thanks to a state-of-the-art 3D reconstruction the two dynamited Buddha sculptures of Bamiyan rise from the rubble. Over the last few years international experts have developed concepts for securing and safeguarding the remaining original fragments of the Bamiyan Buddhas. Recent laser technology has made it possible to map the geometry of the monuments. A three-dimensional stereo projection of the datasets and a pair of special glasses will give visitors a unique opportunity to experience these magnificent rock-hewn sculptures.


Gandhara. Das buddhistische Erbe Pakistans Legenden, Klöster und Paradiese
(german only)
384 pages with more than 400 color illustrations
Format: 24,5 x 28 cm
Museum edition: 29 EUR
Trade edition: Verlag Philipp von Zabern
ISBN-10: 380533916X
ISBN-13: 978-3805339162

Short guide

Gandhara. Das buddhistische Erbe Pakistans
Legenden, Klöster und Paradiese
58 pages, 25 colored illustrations, with exhibitionplan and audio-CD
18 x 21 cm
Only available at the Art- and Exhibitionhall: 4,80 EUR

Gandhara, articel at online encyclopedia wikipedia
Buddha-Statuen von Bamiyan, articel at online encyclopedia wikipedia
National Fund for Cultural Heritage, official website of the National Fund for Cultural heritage of Pakistan

Gandhara. The Buddhist Heritage of Pakistan

Legends, Monasteries, and Paradise

21 November 2008 to 15 March 2009

Show bibliography
  1. Image from Exhibition Photo: Peter Oszvald © Kunst- und Ausstellungshalle der Bundesrepublik Deutschland GmbH

Kunst- und Ausstellungshalle der Bundesrepublik Deutschland

Museumsmeile Bonn
Helmut-Kohl-Allee 4
53113 Bonn
T +49 228 9171–200

Opening hours

Mondays closed
Tuesdays and Wednesdays, 10 a.m.–9 p.m.
Thursdays–Sundays, 10 a.m.–7 p.m.
(including public holidays even those which fall on Mondays)