Head of a young god (IsIAO archive inv. no. TS 1600)
The Buddhist site of Tapa Sardar is of the outmost importance for the understanding of the religious and political history of Central and South Asia in the 1st millennium CE. Though a definitive chronology still defies the efforts of archaeologists, we can roughly estimate that from a given moment in the Kushan period (1st-3rd century CE) to the 9th century the site was occupied with significant continuity by monastic communities. In the Early Period, the sculptural decoration of Tapa Sardar displays iconographic themes and stylistic features that follow the stream of the Gandharan tradition, whose diffusion and development reached its peak during the Kushan era. This head is tentatively identified with Shakra, represented in the form of a youth wearing an elaborate crown and flower-shaped earrings. Shakra is one of the Vedic god's Indra titles, meaning “The Powerful One”; as a proper name, it is also used for one of the main divinities in Buddhism, particularly popular in the east Asian traditions (China, Japan). Shakra rules the Trayastrimsha heaven, at the top of Mount Meru/Sumeru, and he is immortal. Along with Brahma, he is considered a protector of Buddhism. These two deities play an important role in the Indic cosmology, as well as in the Upanishadic soteriology. Nevertheless, according to the Buddhist perspective they lack the power to save human beings from the samsara, the eternal cycle of birth-rebirth, for such a power is exclusive to the Buddha. Thus, the two deities take part in some fundamental episodes of Buddha's life (Birth, Entreat to Preach), where they witness with their presence and deferential behaviour to Shakyamuni's cosmic role. The sculptures from Tapa Sardar, like this fragment, are all made of clay, a plastic material that proved very successful in expressing the soft, smooth shapes that are typical of the sculptural production of several artistic centres of North West Pakistan and Eastern Afghanistan, where South Asian and Hellenistic features merged seamlessly. In the clay sculptures from Tapa Sardar, colour was a lively part of the decoration. Only faint traces remain of the original polychromy: brown paint is still detectable in the moustaches and eyebrows, blue paint in the line between forehead and headdress.