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Cultural Syncretism In Greek Art

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Greco-Buddhist art is the artistic form of Greco-Buddhism, a cultural syncretism between the Classical Greek culture and Buddhism. Greco-Buddhist art is characterized by the apparent idealistic realism and in-depth portrayal of Hellenistic art. Representations of the Buddha alongside traditional Greek deities have helped outline the artistic canon for Buddhist art throughout Asia up to the present. Additionally, it is also a strong example of cultural syncretism between eastern and western civilizations and how the combination of the two cultures can redefine ideas of divinity. Gods from the Greek mythological pantheon are incorporated in Buddhist representations, displaying a strong combination of the two belief systems. A prominent depiction…show more content…
Many prominent Indo-European storm gods wield a similar special thunder-weapon, including Zeus with his thunderbolts and Thor with his storm-hammer. In particular, Herakles has been used aplenty as the symbol of Vajrapani. As Buddhism expanded in Central Asia, and fused with Hellenistic influences into Greco-Buddhism, the Greek hero Herakles was adopted to represent Vajrapani. Herakles’ most important attribute for the Classical world was his strength, which enabled him to slay many of the monsters who threatened human civilization. He is typically illustrated as a hairy, muscular athlete, wielding a short club. The connection of the two characters is based on a strong similarity between the bearded, muscular images of Vajrapani and similar images of Herakles. In the personification of Herakles as Vajrapani, Herakles’ club becomes Vajrapani’s vajra. One image clearly connecting the two is a relief found in the British Museum. The figure shows the Vajrapani, holding his vajra and wearing a lion skin. Although the intended context of this piece is unknown, it is speculated by Wladimir Zwalf that it is part of a larger relief depicting a scene from the life of the Buddha. The lion skin, ever-present in Greco-Roman iconography of…show more content…
Although both Herakles and Vajrapani are independent in tradition, blending them together creates a new understanding of the ties between Greco-Buddhism and how symbolism can be carried throughout different cultures. As a syncretic combination of Western borrowing in concept and iconography, the protector function of Vajrapani rendered the character distinctively qualified to the personification of Herakles. Interpretations seen throughout currency and sculpture made an undeniable impact and served as the forefront of Greco-Guddhism as a canon of art. Additionally, the knowledge of Herakles as a military valor and as a symbol of strength was apparent across cultures; making it nearly impossible to deny how the Heraklean interpretation of Vajrapani served as a cohesive force in forming Greco-Buddhism as an artistic movement. Nontheless, the analogous function of the two deities had much impact on Vajrapani being distinctively remembered as Heraklean in nature, a form derided by western classical art. Surely this can be considered a fault of the idolization of western culture in opposition to other cultures and how society perpetuates ‘others’ as
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