"Each part of the world recapitulates, shares in and experiences the history of the world as a whole"
Fernand Braudel

Gilded head of a deva (IsIAO archive inv. no. TS 1870)

Early Period I; 4th century CE
Tapa Sardar, Niche 76
Since its Master is known as “the Enlightened One”, it is easy to understand why the Buddhist religion has always put a strong emphasis on the concept and symbol of light. Many images of the Buddha are represented with the halo; the sculptures are often painted in vivid colours (as the Bamiyan Buddhas were, for example); lastly, gold was used to convey the brightness of the sun/spiritual light that drives away the night of ignorance. Some of the devas paying homage to the seated Buddha in the Niche 76, like this example, were gilded using the technique of applying gold leaves to the surface. Usually, only faint traces of gilding survives. In the case of our sculpture, the relatively good preservation is due to the sealing of the Niche that, moreover, preserved the sculptures housed in it from the big fire which put an end to the Early Period at Tapa Sardar. Along with the gold leaf, the sculpture shows traces of red (hair, lips), black and brown (eyes and eyebrows) paint. The coat of paint was in fact under the gilding, that was used to cover them later. The gold leaf stuck to the archaeological earth deposit, creating a sort of mould covered with the thin layer of gold. We can assume that the gilding was not limited to the minor figures such as the devas; just like the stucco, clay and paint decorations were abundant throughout the site, it is highly likely that the glimmering of gold was largely used to enlighten its main sculptures and rooms. The light of the torches would make the statues in the rooms to seemingly come out of the darkness, conveying with them Truth in the form of light. Because of the material's high cost (there is no gold in the area, so it had to be imported), such an artistic choice probably bore both religious and ideological implications. At the very least, it emphasizes how rich the monastic community was in this era.

see also