Head of a deva (IsIAO archive inv. no. TS 1871)
Niche 76 at Tapa Sardar was walled up with 42 x 42 cm bricks in the 4th century CE, probably for structural reasons. It contained the clay image of a sitting Buddha in dhyanamudra flanked by minor figures of worshippers portrayed in the act of paying homage to him. They are identified with devas, young divinities that celebrate the glory of the Enlightened. They are represented as young men with curly hair knotted in the back of the head, round faces and slightly opened mouth. This sample shows faint traces of red paint on the eyebrows and black paint in the hair. The head measures 19 cm. The site of Tapa Sardar is one of the most important Buddhist sites not only in Afghanistan but also in Central Asia, because it allows the researchers to not only have insights in the evolution of the sculpture techniques, but also in the ideological and ultimately political shifts that swept this area in the course of the 1st millennium. The sculptures of the Early Period are a witness to a flourishing Buddhist community which could rely on strong financial and political patronage. While the political power of the Kushans waned, the Iranian dynasty of the Sasanians took their place, only to lose it to the Kidarites nomads at the end of the 4th century. However, these power struggles did not keep the sanctuary from becoming more and more elaborated and rich in structures and decorations. Such process did not stop with the advent of the Turks (end of the 6th century). The decline of Buddhism in the country – and, as a consequence, of Buddhist settlements as well – is still a matter of investigation. Anyhow, the Muslim conquest, at the end of the 9th century (Ya'qub b. Laith conquered Kabul in 870), certainly marked the definitive disruption of the Buddhism's cultural and intellectual dominance.