Buddhist art flourished during the 2nd century BCE when sculpture became clearer and depicted the whole life of Gautum Buddha and his teachings in the form of sculptural episodes. It took form of friezes in relation to the decoration of stupas. In India from where the Buddhism actually started, Buddha was never shown in human form but through his symbols. The reluctance in showing Buddha in human form was due to many of his sayings which are mentioned in “Dighanikaya” that discouraged showing himself in human form after his demise.
The human representation of Buddha started in 1st century CE in Northern India. The two main centers of creation have been identified in “Gandhara” in today’s North Western Frontier Province of Pakistan and “Mathura” region of central northern India. The Gandhara art emerged due to the centuries of influence from the Greeks since the conquest of Alexander the Great in 332 BCE. The influence of Greek sculpture is widely seen in the Gandharan Buddist sculpture. The contribution of Gandharan sculpture added wavy hair, drapery covering shoulders, sandals and shoes, acanthus leaf decorations etc. Where as strong Indian traditions can widely be seen in the Mathuran art which are exemplified by the representation of Buddha in human form with divinities like Yaksas. Mathuran art also added clothes covering left shoulder, the wheel on the palm, the lotus seat, etc.
Buddhist art continued to develop in India for a few more centuries and the Mathura sculpture of pink sandstone evolved during Gupta period (4th to 6th century) and reached to a very high fineness and delicacy. By the 10th century the its creations were dying in India due to the rapid progression of Hinduism and Islam but the Buddhist art flourished outside Indian subcontinent during its expansion in 1st century CE. Its artistic nature blended with other artistic sculpture of the countries which adopted the faith. Buddhist art prevailed in the form of “Mahayana” Buddhism towards the northern route to Central Asia, Tibet, Bhutan, China, Korea, Japan and Vietnam. Whereas “Theravada” Buddhism prevailed on the southern route to Myanmar, Thailand and Cambodia. » Read more: Art in Buddhism