This finely carved sculpture fragment depicts the head of an ascetic man with hair pulled straight back into a knot on top of head, straight beard and a long moustache, with lined brow, sunken eyes, gaunt cheeks and a prominent nose. For similar example, see Ingholt, Harold. Gandharan Art in Pakistan. Pantheon Books Inc (1957) figure 54.
Ascetics feature prominently in the story of the Buddha. Siddhartha's idyllic life was interrupted at the age of 19, when he went outside his palace and saw the 'four sights': an old man, a sick man, a corpse and an ascetic. He resolved to renounce his luxurious life, leaving his palace to go out and seek a way out of this world and its inevitable suffering. He tried various methods, under different teachers, but dissatisfied with their instruction, he left to practise religious austerities on his own. He pursued physical hardships to such an extent that he reduced himself to an emaciated state. This was not an unknown feature in the early historic period in India, where renunciation and asceticism (the self-denial of certain pleasures, or even what are usually considered essential practices of life) was a traditional method of building up spiritual power and purity. After pursuing austerities, Siddhartha realized that the true nature of the world and the answers that he was seeking did not lie in such extremes. Instead, he began a more moderate life of meditation and moral conduct that led him to nirvana. This moderate lifestyle the Buddha described as the 'Middle Way', a key feature of Buddhist life even today.
W. Zwalf, A catalogue of the Gandhara sc, 2 vols. (London, The British Museum Press, 1996)
Condition: The face is a fragment from a larger relief sculpture. There is some mineral accumulation throughout, especially within the incised lines. There is wear around the edge of the piece, and a small loss to the proper left eye. Otherwise intact and in very good condition with custom mount.
Dimensions: height 4.5 inches (11.43 centimeters)
Provenance: The Bernice Longazel collection of Gandhara Art, assembled in the early 1960's.