You are on page 1of 19

The Planetary Deities

IN BUDDHIST FUNERARY CULT


PART I

ArputhaRani Sengupta

Synopsis

The knowledge of illumination was singled out in the extraordinary Buddhist funerary
cult during the early Christian period (1st-3rd century AD). In the history of art and
literature a pair of anagrammatic magic words ‗Amitabha‘ and ‗Tejaprabha‘ linked to
Buddha of immense light and infinite life actually spells out what the mysterious new
culture actually wants. Esoteric Buddhist cult in South Asia avidly seeks the natural
order of the planetary deities protecting and steering the departed to reach radiant
everlasting life. Personified classical planets that express themselves with different
qualities in the signs of the zodiac surround human beings facing infinity. In addition to
the luminaries Sun (Surya) and Moon (Chanda), the foremost in the order of
importance are — Mercury (Budha) the psychopomp, Saturn (Shani) the father of
destiny and time, Venus (Sri/Lakshmi), Earth (Demeter/Hariti) and Pluto (Mara,
Dharmaraja/Yama), followed by Mars the forceful lance bearer, Jupiter (Guru) the
priest/teacher, and Neptune (Varun). Eventually the gleaming perpetual beings flash
right up into the firmament of heaven, which is Uranus the Sky called Vasuki. The
motivation of the dizzying array of planetary deities and the function of the zodiac
symbols in the ground-breaking Greco-Buddhist reliquary cult is investigative. Their
role can be best understood from current Hindu beliefs and customs.

Forwarded to Dr. Nick Campion


Chair, Sophia Centre for the Study of Cosmology in Culture
School of Archaeology, History and Anthropology
University of Wales Trinity Saint David

ILLUMINATION IN BUDDHIST CULT

All of a sudden Buddhist art in Greco-Roman style communicates with clarity elemental
faith in the planetary deities. The reason for the lavish early Buddhist art is ‗Because We
Don‘t Want to Die‘.1 Luminosity or enlightenment is the foundation of the first-time
Buddhist culture inclined to symbolic communication typical of Neoplatonic
Pythagoreans. It had far reaching effect in the development of Buddhist traditions in
South Asia and in far-flung regions. The aura surrounding a human being tops the list of
priorities that seem to surpass ‗The Vertigo of Lists‘. Eco calls the list the origin of
culture. Frankly, innovative halo and aureole enveloping both head and body unveils the
incomprehensible infinity.2 A gold dinar of Kanishka I depicts the king offering sacrifice
at the fire altar of Osiris worshiped as the night sun. The fully armed Greco-Parthian
king proclaimed as ‗the Great Kushana King of Kings, the Son of God‘ wears ample
trousers, tunic and short cape pinned to his chest. The gold dinar of bearded Kanishka
(c.100-140/128-150 AD) was found in the exceptional Ahan Posh gold reliquary from
Stupa 2 along with Roman aurii of Emperor Trajan (d.117 AD) and empress Sabina (c.
128-137 AD). The reverse inscribed BOΔΔO in Tocharian Greek might in reality
represent the togate king with notable splayed legs as reincarnation of luminous Sun
(fig.1). Consistent with Palmyraean portraits BOΔΔO holds folded end of cloth in the
form of Egyptian sign ‗Sa‘ to convey protection. The ‗brilliant light radiating from every
pore on his body‘ fits the epithet ‗Tejaprabha of the Blazing Lights‘ usually reserved for
Buddha transported to heaven in the likeness of Helios. The twofold golden aureole
invented by erudite artist/priest is obviously the custodian of Hellenistic tradition.
Amazingly, BOΔΔO or ‗Budha‘ means Mercury in local Prakrit self promoted by
Kanishka as ‗Aryan‘ language in his Rabatak Inscription found near Surkh Kotal in
Afghanistan in 1993.

In folk etymology Budha meaning ghost manifest widespread belief in the spirit
of the dead connected to ancestor worship and animism. Oddly ‗Budha‘ within the
boundaries of the sacred seem equally applicable to the spiritual leaders from Latin
‗Spiritus‘ meaning breath. In philosophic discourse enlightenment of Budha/Buddha is
equated with knowledge (Sophia). Standing or seated divinity labeled Metrauo Boudo or
Sakamano Boudo distinguished by radiate nimbus or just an arc to indicate halo appear

1Italian philosopher novelist and semiotician Umberto Eco talked to SPIEGEL about the place lists hold
in the history of culture and the ways we try to avoid death. His book The Infinity of Lists inspired the
multimedia Project ‗The Museum and the List‘ (Vertige de la liste) at the Louvre in Paris. (November,
2009). http://www.spiegel.de/international/zeitgeist/spiegel-interview-with-umberto-eco-we-like-lists-
because-we-don-t-want-to-die-a-659577.html/recovered 19 July 2016.

2
Kathleen Morris. L'Esprit Créateur, Volume 54, Number 2, Summer 2014, pp. 172-185. Published by The
John Hopkins University Press (Project Muse) /recovered 24 July 2016
on reverse of Kanishka copper coins of different denominations. 3 Hermeneutics of
‗Budha‘ can be derived from Budhwar or Wednesday, which is a fast day devoted to
planet Mercury or Lord Budha (Budhan) invoked as ‗Bhagavata budhe‘ (Bhagavata –
Lord/God) in Greco-Buddhist cult. Wednesday is named after Anglo-Saxon divinity
Woden and Woden‗s day in Latin is the Day of Mercury (Dies Mercurii). Consequently
the double aura of plasma surrounding personified Mercury is the astronomical corona
that surrounds the planets. Mercury also known as Hermes in Alchemy and Hermetic
Philosophy is son of Maia, the goddess of magic and childbirth. Coincidentally the story
of Maya Devi (Maya-Magic) giving miraculous birth to supernaturally conceived Buddha
dominates the Buddhist narrative. The serendipity of wordplay in Maia-Maya-Magic
and Buddha-Budha-Mercury reveals how myths and misplaced notions can produce
unforeseen historical developments of great significance.

1. BOΔΔO Gold Dinar of Kanishka, 7.89 gm, Ø 2cm, Ahim Posh Tepe 2, Pakistan, c.120 AD
London: British Museum
2. Indo-Greek votive coin, Æ drachm, Ø 2.7cm, 8.50 gm, Afghanistan, 1st century AD
Inscription: Basihos Demetrieu

Kanishka‘s BOΔΔO representing radiant Mercury closest to the Sun counteract


the impression that the earliest known personification of planets begins with Chinese
Buddhist art. In Chinese painting from Dunhuang five largest planets, Venus, Mars,
Jupiter, Saturn and Mercury accompany seated Buddha on a chariot. 4 Notably the
planetary fixation during Tang dynasty (618-907) points to the integration of occult
Hermetic material in Chinese culture. Yet, the assimilation of Egyptian and Greek
astronomic themes is markedly Chinese. First, the odd female Mercury holding paper
and brush might be due to a misconception introduced by Hermaphroditus, son of

3 Joe Cribb. ‗Kaniska‘s Buddha Coins—The Official Iconography of Sakyamuni & Maitreya.‘ The Journal of
the International Association of Buddhist Studies. (ed.) A. K. Narain. Volume 3 Number 2, 1980: 89-88.
(pp.80-81)
4 Lilla Russell-Smith. ‗Stars and Planets in Chinese and Central Asian Buddhist Art in the Ninth to

Fifteenth Centuries.‘ Culture and Cosmos, Vol. 10 no 1 and 2, Spring/Summer and Autumn/Winter 2006,
pp.99-124.www.CultureAndCosmos.com.
https://www.academia.edu/26123134/Stars_and_Planets_in_Chinese_and_Central_Asian_Buddhist_A
rt_in_the_Ninth_to_Fifteenth_Centuries/recovered 22 July 2016
Hermes and Aphrodite. Secondly, the Chinese under western influence seem to merge
Egyptian god Thoth and Hermes thought to be scribe to the gods in both cultures.
Glorified as Hermes Trismegustus or Hermes the thrice-greatest in Greek (Latin.
Mercurius ter Maximus) Mercury was revered as the originator of arts and sciences,
magic and medicine. Above all, the mysterious role of Mercury in postmortem healing
was crucial to ancient Buddhist funerary cults in South Asia and Chinese Central Asia.
The magic rod of Mercury the Inner Companion or guide of souls heals protects and
liberates. Obverse of an Indo-Greek coin depicts the head of an African elephant right,
wearing apotropaeic bell around the neck. Caduceus of Hermes on reverse is a golden
rod terminating in an open figure of eight formed by two snakes tied together in a
serpentine reef-knot. The coin is datable to early first century due to matching caduceus
on Augustus gem, Tiberius coin (14-37 AD) and on a rare first century woolen tapestry
fragment (12.8 x 13.3 cm) from Loulan burial in Central Asia.5 Vertically placed Greek
legend ‗Basilios‘ (King) right and ‗Demetrieu‘ (Beloved of Demeter) left framing the
caduceus surrenders the deified dead to a happy hereafter sanctioned by the goddess of
the netherworld (fig.2). 6 The inscription ‗Demetrieu‘ accompanied by monogram ends
with a prominent letter Y. Pythagoreans illustrate transitional pathway by means of the
Greek letter upsilon, the equivalent of the capital Y of the Latin alphabet. 7 The Y
indicates the 'parting of the ways' with one arm of the Y made wider than the other
pointing to a better choice. Several such ‗Demitrios‘ and ‗Menander‘ bilingual coins
offered as payment for the passage of the dead were known as Charon's obol.

3. Menander I bronze token, 2.4 x 2.4 cm, 11.41 gm, Gandhara, 1st century AD
4. Maha Kala Saturn, Sandstone, 40.5 x 70 x 11 cm, Mathura, 2nd century AD
New Delhi: National Museum of India (50.165)
5. Demeter and Hecate, Schist, Ø c.11 cm, Gandhara, 1st century AD, Private collection
6. Capricorn-Makara, Sandstone, Bharhut, Kolkata: Indian Museum, 1st-2nd century AD
THE NEW ELYSIUM
5 Arputharani Sengupta. The Silk Road Fabrics. The Stein Collection in the National Museum of India.
(Forthcoming, Chapter 3, fig.3.93, Loulan C site, Stein no.L.C.iii.010.a., New Delhi: National Museum ).
6 E.J. Rapson (1861-1937). Ancient India: From the Earliest Times to the First Century A.D. Cambridge:

The University Press, 1914, pp.153-154.


7 Patrick Campbell, Adrian Kear (eds.). Psychoanalysis and Performance. (The Upsilon Project),

Routledge, London, New York, 2001, pp. 215.


Saturn the consort of Demeter occupied both the celestial and earthly throne. Harpa
insignia of Saturn on reverse of a bilingual ‗Menander‘ commemorative coin is inscribed
‗maharajasa tratarasa menamdrasa‘ in Kharoshti. A lumbering elephant incarnates
Saturn on obverse with Greek legend BAΣIΛEΩΣ ΣΩTHPOΣ MENANΔPOY (King Savior
Menander) on the three sides (fig.3). The harpa routinely referred to as elephant goad is
flanked by a Δ at left and monogram at right. The triangular shape is a doorway formed
by the 4th capital letter in the Greek alphabet called delta (Δ). 8 Delta is the sheltering
landform at the mouth of a river where it empties into the sea. In general ‗Soter‘
meaning savior or deliverer refers to the deity signified through symbols such as
caduceus of Hermes, club of Hercules and harpa of Saturn. The deities and their insignia
found on the mass of votive tokens from various archaeological sites in Gandhara, now
part of Afghanistan and Pakistan, reveal the spiritual leaning of the Greco-Buddhist
society during the early Christian period.9 Social pattern of tutelary power invested in
the deceased, public benefactors and local heroes indicates that ‗Menander‘ might refer
to a once revered demigod. In parts of the world it is still common for mythical gods to
be born and live a remarkable life on earth. Thus historical persons, including deified
kings were supposedly to be in the guise of the full god head, especially Sun, Saturn,
Dionysus, Asclepius, and Hercules. 10 Indo-Greek king rumored to be named ‗Menander
I Soter‘ is credited for the bi-lingual votive coins. The attribution baffles historical
accuracy due to the staggering variety and sheer volume for extended period. Aside from
Saturn being king and savior, the secret of the formula ‗King Savior Menander‘ in Greek
seem to lie with the famous Hellenistic Greek dramatist called Menander (c. 342–291
BC). According to Plutarch, the actual phrase used by Julius Caesar at the crossing of
the Rubicon in 49 BC was a quote ‗Let the die be cast!‘ from Menander‘s play
Arrhephoros.11 To call upon Saturn for support in the name of ‗Menander‘, the best-
known representative of Athenian humor is a brilliant aphorism, particularly in the
context of the departed crossing over to the other side presumably at the point of no
return. This is one possible explanation for now.

8 http://coinindia.com/galleries-menander.html/recovered 25 July 2016 [ref: MIG 236, Bop 26A]


9 John M. Rosenfield. Dynastic Art of the Kushans. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1967, pp. 69-
74.
10 Morton Smith. Studies in the Cult of Yahweh: Volume 2. New Testament, Early Christianity, and Magic.

(ed.) Shaye J. D. Cohen, Leiden, New York: E. J. Brill, 1996, p.10.


11 The Latin ‗iacta ālea est‘ is a grammatically incorrect translation by Suetonius in 121 AD. The idiom

‗Crossing the Rubicon‘ means to pass a point of no return.


The homonym Mahakala representing Saturn the Lord of the underworld
connotes huge size and immense black/space also means Lord of Time (Chronos).
Saturn holding denticulate harpa called ankusa leads reliquary processions on elephant
in Intercultural Style. A lotus medallion on the architrave of a stupa gateway depicts
Saturn accompanied by his consort Demeter ride the elephant Mahakala denoting
Saturn (fig.4). The lotus signifies rebirth. In group sculpture devotees desirous of
reaching the heavenly abode hang on to the elephant and accompany the divine pair on
a death-defying journey. Vital to the secret doctrine of rebirth is innovative design.
Among the Elysian deities Saturn‘s consort Demeter holding harpa rides the elephant
suggestive of Saturn. The goddess of the underworld is often accompanied by Saturn‘s
daughter Isis-Venus (Srima Devata) usually identified by mirror or situla (fig.5). The
scaffolding of meaning arranged in symbols carry multiple meaning. Greco-Buddhist art
regularly employs Pythagorean Semicircle and Circle to frame allegories, parables and
symbols of rebirth. Makara or Capricorn ruled by Saturn is a vital sign skillfully
compose within a circle on the parclose of Buddhist reliquary monuments (fig.6).
Makara torna or gateway of a reliquary stupa and later temples is the doorway to
heaven. Saturn, with Capricorn and Aquarius at his feet and the New Year in his arms
opens a new beginning. The implication of Saturn personified as elephant has
stupendous import in Indian culture. Secret eschatological doctrine surrounding Saturn
riding an elephant introduced several pseudoscientific systems of divination.
Remembrance of the dead in the Mystery Religion follows the passage of the sun and the
moon. Commemoration takes place on Makar Sankranti in mid January when the sun
on its celestial path transits from Sagittarius to Capricorn during the winter solstice in
the northern hemisphere (Uttarayana). The sun ascending northern hemisphere is
propitious while the descending southern signs are considered malevolent Mara, from
Indo-European root ‗mer‘ meaning to die. The yearlong cyclic rituals are meant to avert
Mara. Saturn is lord of Capricorn called Makar Rashi that signals regeneration of the
invincible solar deity incarnate in Greco-Buddhist and Roman culture. Makara Torana
in Buddhist mausoleums is gateway to bounteous hereafter signified by Gajalakshmi
and Hariti holding cornucopia. In India Saturn superior among all other planets is Shani
dev the King Maker. In China Saturn called ‗the planet of the Son of Heaven‘ was
associated with the palace and the Emperor. 12

Occasionally necromantic hybrid makara amid lotus of rebirth appears with ear
and snout of elephant god Mahakala. The celestial sign of Saturn brought Cultural

12 Se-ma Ts‘ien, Les memoires historiques. ( ed.) E. Chavannes, vol. III, Paris: Leroux, 1898, p. 367.
Revolution in India. It reverberates in the much valued makara spout of the water
pitcher today. Likewise, the much favored penannular bangles are expertly fitted with
paired head of makara. Makara means Capricorn and Sankranti means transition.
Makara Sankranti denotes the sun reemerging after a dark period underwater. In mid
January Makara Sankranti celebrates the celestial event of winter solstice in the
northern hemisphere when the sun begins its six-month long ascent or Uttarayana with
renewed life force. The moment marks the transition of the Sun from Sagittarius to
Capricorn. Astrological Hindu religion consists of several pseudoscientific systems of
divination that helps to understand obscure beliefs manifest in early Buddhist art and
culture. Legendary Bishma on the battlefield of Mahabharat chose to reach heaven on
the auspicious moment of Makara Sankranti. Based on the premise that there is a
relationship between astronomical phenomena and events in the human world Makara
Sankranti is religiously observed throughout India. Makara-Capricorn sign migrated
from ancient Babylonian water god Ea known as ‗Antelope of the Seas‘. In another
tradition youthful Pan transformed into a sea goat (Aigipan) to escape demonic Typhon,
a deadly enemy of gods.13

Similar to Hinduism, Greco-Buddhist reliquary cult is an idolatry astrological


religion that unified varied people. Strabo (c.63 BC–24 AD) called India, the newly
discovered Elysian Fields, as universal reservoir where the growing population seeking
the abode of the blessed was very mixed. Afterlife in Elysium was believed to be a place
of perfect happiness. It was described by the Mahayana sect as splendid Sukhavati ideal
for Nirvana or eternal bliss. The concept developed over time maintained in religious
and philosophical discourses was synthesized in the wide-ranging works of art dedicated
to the departed. Buddha, bodhisattva and other immortals depicted in Greco-Roman
style were conceived as the ―dwelling place‖ of the revered soul. Strategy to stage
religious experience as ritual performance was codified by suggestive postures, mudra
or gestures, signs and symbols. It was understood that the dead were conveyed by the
gods across the vast ocean to the New Elysium at the ends of the earth in which
psychopomps Dionysus, Hercules, Hermes and thunder god Taranis-Vajrapani had
pivotal role. Goddess exerting immense power over the vast ocean was central to
rebirth; iconography reveals multiple identities of Venus-Lakshmi, Selene-Chanda and
Isis-Nemesis and more openly Demeter-Harity of the underworld. Consensus in the
interstellar world was believed to produce equilibrium and harmony in human life
13Pseudo-Hyginus, Fabulae 196: When the gods in Egypt feared the monster Typhon, Pan bade them
transform themselves into wild beasts the more easily to deceive him. Jove later killed Typhon with a
thunderbolt. The word Typhon means insolence and pride according to Plutarch.
stretched to infinity. Thus, endless time and eternal life revolved around the planets
identified as Sun-Surya and Moon-Chanda, Saturn-Shani and Mercury-Budh and the
constellation of stars among which Capricorn-Makara followed by solar Ram and
Taurus are foremost

BIRTH OF A STAR

Flight from death (Mara) in the myth of metamorphosis is entwined with the idea of
afterlife (Paramita/Sukhavati) redolent in the resurrected dead populating the countless
Buddhist funerary complexes in South Asia. Thus just like the planets depicted in
human form we have human being personified as the sun and other stars. A type of
copper coin attributed to Kanishka and Huvishka depicts the ‗Great Strider‘ with radiate
head or otherwise making a great leap right while holding a nimbus veil (fig. 7a,b). 14
The Great Strider is akin to the Egyptian Ka or double of the transcendent dead. The
Kushana coins seem to have derived from the familiar devotional coins dedicated to the
Star of Antinous named shortly after his death, when perhaps in the year 131, the Nile
flooded over the embankments and a new star suddenly appeared within the
constellation now known as Aquila the Eagle. 15 The inscription OAΔO identifies the
athletic figure on Kushana copper coins as Oado, the treasure bearing wind/spirit
offering priceless seven gems ‗saptaratna‘ later celebrated as ‗navratna‘. Navratna or
nine gems denote the nine planets called Navagraha or ‗nine realms‘ in Hindu astrology.
Astrologers differ on the signs associated with each planet‘s exaltation. In Chinese
astrology, the planets are associated with the life forces of yin and yang and the five
elements, which play an important role in the Chinese form of geomancy known as Feng
Shui.

7a, b. Great Strider OAΔO, Kanishka/Huviska copper coin,

14 Rosenfield. The Dynastic Arts of the Kushans. 1967, p.91, pl.VIII Kushana Pantheon, no.149, 150.
According to Herodotus and Strabo the ancient Persians offered sacrifice to the propitious wind.
15 Cassius Dio, Epitome of Book 69: ―Hadrian declared that he had seen a star he took to be that of

Antinous. He gladly listened to the fictitious tales woven by his associates to the effect that the star then
appeared for the first time had really come into being from the spirit of Antinous.‖
8. Rising Surya, Bodh Gaya, Bihar, India, 1st century AD
9. Mithras sun chariot, Steatite, Ø 12.8 cm, Gandhara, Pakistan, 1st-2nd century AD

Renewed quest for immortality in the stupa sites reflect variety of cultural
influences. It is likely that the earliest representation of Surya rising on a Roman
quadriga appears in a sculptured frieze from Bodh Gaya, a thriving center of Buddhist
cult (fig.8). A quadriga or chariot drawn by four horses is a typical Mithraic
iconography. In popular conception the sign of apotheosis at the wake of Imperial cult is
associated with the glorification of a departed Roman king. A libation plate depicts
Cautes and Cautopates standing on the horizon as personification of the rising and
setting sun to give good speed. An immortal on a horse drawn chariot holds the crown of
victory as he ascends to the realm of immortal sun god accompanied by charioteer and
cup bearer (fig.9). One of Apollo‘s lovers is Acantha whom Apollo transformed into a
healing herb. The sun-loving acanthus ubiquitous in Greco-Buddhist art performs magic
to make life reemerge from the grave. Helios on horse drawn chariot flanked by winged
lion emanates out of the acanthus leaves. The lion facing east and west on the Roman
Corinthian capital represents Aker, an ancient Egyptian earth and death deity described
as ‗He who is beneath‘ (fig.10). Usually a ‗Menander‘ type of votive coin was
found under the plinth of such acanthus altars of Gandhara that belongs to the
beginning of the Augustan era. Alexandria or Cappadocia as its production center can be
identified only by means of attributes, pose and style.

A heavily encrusted Menander bronze token depicts head of a bull enface with the
usual Greek legend ‗King Savior Menander‘ on three sides. The tripod altar on reverse
known as Delphi Tripod dedicated to Apollo with a monogram at left is surrounded by
inscription in Kharoshti derivative of Aramaic (fig.11). 16 The bull and the altar of Apollo
refer to Greek customs and beliefs. According to Pausanias the citizens of Corfu
dedicated a bronze bull made by the sculptor Theopropus from Aegina to Apollo in c.
480 BC.17 The most famous ex votos in the sanctuary of Apollo in Delphi commemorated
the marvelous catch of tuna fish after a bull was sacrificed to Poseidon under the
guidance of Delphic oracle. Apollo the oracular deity personified the sacred magic-songs
sung to cure disease and keep evil away by diviners, magicians and seer-doctors. The
uncommon female form of Apollo called Apolla or Polla on an offering plate offers
libation from a patera at a tripod altar. The offering plates carved in stone probably from

16http://coinindia.com/galleries-menander.html/recovered 25 July 2016 [ref: MIG 233a, Bop 29A]


17Pausanias,10.9.3. In the Kushana period synchronal to Roman Empire the bull head might represent
the ceremonial bulls' heads called bucrania.
Alexandria are mostly from Taxila in Pakistan. The libation plates were typically
deposited in Buddhist cinerary shrines (fig.12). The concentric circle on the convex
underside of the lathe turned shallow bowl locates Delphi considered by ancient Greeks
to be the centre of the world. 18 In Homeric poem the tripod altar sacred to Apollo given
as gifts resemble three-footed cauldron. Augustus's great Temple of Apollo on the
Palatine evokes the tripod altar sometimes made of gold.

10. Rising sun on acanthus altar, Schist, Gandhara, Pakistan, 1st century AD
11. Menander I bronze token, 2.3 x 2.4 cm, 19.98 gm, Gandhara, 1st century AD
12. Apolla offering libation, Schist, Ø 10 cm, W. ca. 2 cm, Pakistan, 1st century AD
Private Collection (photo Falk)

COSMIC SIGNS AND PERSONIFICATIONS

In Roman mythology Saturn ousted from heaven by his son Jupiter commenced the
Golden Age of his earthly kingdom in the Italian peninsula. Augustus‘ reign in the
poetry of Virgil and Horace and in the political propaganda of a return to Saturnian
Golden Age serves as template for others who strove to emulate the Romans. Saturn the
ancestral king revered as god of wealth, agricultural prosperity, liberation and time is
signified by harpa, an agricultural implement made of iron. In early Buddhist art Saturn
holds harpa and rides an elephant leading reliquary processions of kings. Kushana king
Huvishka I (158-195 AD) rides ‗Mahakala‘ the elephant holding the harpa of Saturn and
the thunderbolt trident of Jupiter to show himself as almighty god to the people. The
reverse represents nude Hercules (Eraklio/Herakles) wearing lion skin and carrying a
club derivative of Antonines‘ traditional identification with Hercules. Closer to home
was the 45 cm tall shrine of the Parthian King Antiochus (70-38 BC) shaking hands with
Herakles in situ on Mt. Nemrut in Turkey. This legitimized the Kushana king’s direct
link to Hercules, son of father Jupiter. 19 Huvishka’s most important maneuver to
solidify his claims as Hercules Romanus was to mint a gold dinar inscribed Roma in

18 Harry Falk. Libation Trays from Gandhara. Bulletin of the Asia Institute. New Series / Volume 24,
Berlin, 2010, pp. 97,99, fig.11,12. Neil Kreitman Foundation (U.K.) Photographed by Falk in Pakistani,
2004.
19 Errington and Cribb (eds.) The Crossroads of Asia: Transformation in Image and Symbol in the Art of

Ancient Afghanistan and Pakistan. Cambridge: Ancient India and Iran Trust, 1992, pp. 132, 134.
Greek (ΡΙΟΜ/Riom). Bussagli confirms that the helmeted goddess holding shield and
scepter is indeed Roma, which completes the inspirational motto ‗Eternal Rome‘ (Latin.
Roma aeterna). 20 Simultaneously the curious ruler of North India and North West
Frontier Province (NWFP) with potential power over Parthia appears on a dinar to
establish himself as eternal god of the celestial sphere by riding a sun chariot (fig.13).
Thus by consolidating his claim as Chakravartin or powerful worldwide ruler Huvishka‘s
identification with the Roman emperor is absolute. Huvishka might have actually come
in direct contact with Lucius Verus (130–169) during his Parthian Campaign in 162.
The popular appeal of theatrical spectacle evident in Greco-Roman Buddhist art seems
to have common ground with Roman love of theater. The Historia Augusta includes
tales of Lucius‘ imperial entourage camped on Syrian coast away from the battle front
inland — to be entertained by actors and musicians and his Greek concubine Panthea of
Smyrna.21

13. Huvishka the sun god, Dinar, Gandhara, 2nd century AD


14a. Huvishka ascension heaven, Sandstone (detail), Huvishka vihara, Mathura, 2nd century AD
14b.Planets surrounding Huvishka, Sandstone, Huvishka vihara, Mathura, 2nd century AD

Similar to Lucius the history of Kushana kings is as much shrouded in mystery


as their gold dinars that approximate Roman aurei (aureus) in weight and
craftsmanship. Brandishing the spear of a warrior king, Huvishka appropriated the
Roman identity even more aggressively by installing Tyche Ardochsho holding
cornucopia on behalf of Demeter on reverse of his coins. Athsho the alchemical god of
metal and fire on a Huvishka’s coin is one of the greatest secrets of regeneration in
Nature. The Alchemical or Hermetic Masons acknowledged that ‘entire nature is

20 Mario Bussagli. L'Art du Gandhara. Encylopexie de L‘art, Livre de Poche,1996, p. 225.


21 HA Verus 8.11; HA M. Antoninus 8.2; Fronto Ep. Ad Ver. Imp. 2. 6; Meditations 8.37. Emperor
Hadrian chose as his sons and heirs Lucius Verus (161-169) and co-ruler Marcus Aurelius (161-180). After
enjoying himself in Corinth, Athens and in Asia Minor Lucius finally reached Syria accompanied by
imperial theatrical troupe and his concubine. Luscious Panthea seemed to be the model for a larger than
life size tutelary goddess carved in Mathura style established by Huvishka (Didarganj Yakshi, Limestone,
212 x 50 cm, 2nd century AD, Patna Museum, India).
renovated by fire’ (Igne Natura renovatur integra). Time and again Huvishka confirms
his faith in heavenly helpers on his coins. It includes solar deity Mithras
(MIOPO/Miiro), the moon god Mao and Nana the goddess crowned by crescent moon.
Enthroned Serapis the night sun called Sarapo in Greek (Σαραπο) indicates Huvishka‘s
close link to Egyptian religion. A fragment of sandstone lintel from Huvishka Vihara in
Mathura explores the magic of images — at top right corner Huvishka on horse drawn
chariot reaches heavenly glory (fig.14a). His ascension to heaven is witnessed by a
congregation of planets and Demeter holding cornucopia in a row of arched aedicule at
the top. Immediately below the king turns the Wheel of Law of retribution at the centre.
Surrounded by sages and the tree of life mysterious rituals culminate in the Indrasala
where the king seated like Buddha is lodged in a cave at left. The lowest horizontal
register depicts funerary rituals in which the seated king is enshrined in series of niche
separated by pillar monument and dancing girls at intervals. Vine meander as sign of
eternal life frames the frieze that once spanned the doorway to the mortuary shrine
(fig.14b).

15. Selene and Endymion, Plaster, H.14cm, Ø17cm, Begram Room 13, 1st century AD
Kabul: National Museum of Afghanistan (B39.102.103) (Paris Musée Guimet on loan)
16. Parinirvana, Schist, Loriyan Tangai, 2nd-3rd century AD
Kolkata: Indian Museum (photo Alexander Caddy 1896)

The mystery of the inventive astrological religion deepens with the influence of
Hellenized Egypt, Numidia and Turkey in eastern Mediterranean. Hecate the new moon
goddess of crossroads or transition with deep roots in Greco-Anatolian culture was
honored as a form of the sky/star deity in Egypt. Ancient Greek colony in Kerch on the
Black Sea located in the narrowest natural strait in northwestern Turkey was continental
boundary between Europe and Asia. Kerch as part of the international navigation served
as overpass to Russia, Central and South Asia. The Bosporus connects the Black Sea
with the Sea of Marmara, and by extension, via the Dardanelles, the Aegean, and
Mediterranean Seas. Thus Alexandrian neo-Platonism and cult of Pythagoras (572-490
BC) fundamental to belief in rebirth and ascetic discipline in the School of Semicircle
were mysteriously connected to new Greco-Buddhist reliquary cult. The association of
international Pythagoreans included artists, mathematicians and philosophers
indispensable to the interlinking of rapidly expanding Buddhist art and culture. The
Black Sea region and ancient Anatolia was conduit to Indo-Iranian cult of Mithras
loosely related to Persian Zoroastrianism. The influence of goddess in all male Buddhist
funerary cult and Mithras cult is remarkable. Resembling Hecate, Nana, sister of Mithra
and daughter of Ahura Mazda, endow wisdom, horses and all the desirable things to the
kings. Kushana known to history as Saka of the Moon Race were presumably devotees of
the powerful Moon goddess Ma in Asia Minor. Mithraism and Greco-Buddhism found
an ally in neo-Pythagorean view of immortal soul imprisoned in the body, which
escaped at death but retained the shape of the body and was eventually released to rise.

17. Tyche and Roman prince, Schist, 27 x 24.7 x 10.3 cm, Takht-i-Bahai, 1st-2nd century AD
London: British Museum (OA 1950-7.26.2)
18. Glorified immortal, Schist, Ø15.6cm, Gandhara, 1st-2nd century AD
New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art (1987.142.40)
19. Rabbit offering plate, Terracotta, Barikot, 1st-2nd century AD
Swat: Saidu Sharif Museum, Pakistan

Vision comes first and then there is the tactics always attentive to maximize the
efficacy of its message. An analysis of the relationship between Greco-Buddhist
iconography and the tomb markers indicates that the archaeology of ancestors combines
Tomb Cult and Hero Cult. The obligation to identify individuals rarely arises. As a
consequence apart from the heavenly aspiration displayed by Kushana coins the
motivation of baffling Buddhist cult can be gleaned mainly from the exceptional votive
sculptures. The royal deposit of the Kushana kings in ancient Kapisa/Begram contained
luxurious votives ranging from Roman glass, Phoenician ivory plaques and Alexandrian
bronze and plaster casts. Among them a plaster medallion of Endymion and Selene
(Luna) is derivative of the posthumous mint of Caesar‘s denarius issued in 44 BC by
moneyer Buca. It depicts Caesar‘s effigy (simulacrum) as the shepherd king Endymion.
Erotic union of the unearthly lovers witnessed by winged Eros is a well known theme in
Greek art and literature (fig.15). The embossed silver amulet pendant recently exposed
in the Hidden Treasures from the National Museum of Afghanistan depicts Selene
wearing crescent coronet embrace Endymion in his cave tomb. The supernatural vision
of resurrecting the shepherd prince from the underworld is witnessed by the willing
winged Hecate holding the torch of new life.
The prone figure of Endymion resonates with the recurring portrayal of the Great
Sleep called Parinirvana in the Buddhist funerary cult. Caesar‘s image superimposed on
Endymion in fact discloses the phenomenon of the moon awakening mortal men every
night from their eternal sleep called Parinirvana. As a rule Buddhist frieze in Imperial
Roman style includes Alexandrian garland bearers on the edge. Each dedicatory
Parinirvana frieze is unique but the comportment of the dead person is laid out in
identical manner. Distinct personalities mingle among group of mourners among whom
nude Vajrapani the Lord of Thunder is modeled after bearded Taranis, the Celtic
thunder god. In several other Buddhist reliefs the psychopomp corresponds to Hercules
or Hermes, the messengers of gods. In a Parinirvana scene tree goddess close to the bier
weeps into a face cloth called Fumian used in Central Asian burials (V&A.IM.247-1927).
As endorsement of afterlife embossed gold plaque from Taxila depicts Adonis embracing
Venus.22 Identical statement of belief and exceptional coordination in Buddhist funerary
art, architecture and reliquary containers is indeed remarkable. The Parinirvana frieze
from Loriyan Tangai in the Peshawar district of northern Pakistan is a masterpiece of
compression and style (fig.16). Tree goddess Isis left worshiped as ‗Stella Maris‘ or Star
of the Sea views the distraught group. A crowned goddess holding palm leaf right might
simultaneously represent Isis-Venus, beloved of resurrected Osiris-Adonis and Myrrha
who gave birth to Adonis as myrrh tree. Teardrop of Myrrha is fragrant myrrh essential
for embalming in Greco-Syrian tradition. Below naked Vajrapani the thunder deity
wards off evil by making Phrygian ‗karana mudra‘ similar to Greco-Christian
benediction. On the edge a row of sea-monster called Ketos is parallel to classical Greek

22Adonis embracing Venus, Gold brooch, H. 4.5 cm, Taxila, Sirkap, 1st century AD. London Royal
Academy of Art
and Roman sepulchral art. The sea dragon serves as transport to Buddhist Paramita
meaning ‗gone to the other shore‘. Paramita may also be translated as perfection, perfect
realization, or reaching the beyond. The Lotus Sutra and a large number of other texts
describe the Pure Land as the Land of Supreme Bliss, or the Western Paradise of
Amitabha Buddha. The relief illustrates funerary customs in the Greco-Roman society.
Notably, a man seated in front of the richly furnished bier contemplates a bag of honey
suspended from a tripod that serves as Pythia – the ‗Delphic Bee‘ sitting on the Delphic
altar of Apollo.

Thus, it would appear that healing honey believed to be elixir of gods required in
rituals and spiritual ecstasy allude to three Bee goddesses bestowed as gifts by Apollo in
Homeric Hymn to Hermes. The tradition continued with Melissa, Sybil and Delphic Bee
priestesses who practiced divination. The cave being the home to Bee goddess as well as
Endymion‘s tomb, it is not mere coincidence that the huge Parinirvana of Buddha
implying rebirth and regeneration of soul is central to the cave mansion in Ajanta cave
26. Also called chaitya griha (chita–pyre, griha–abode) the manmade chaitya caves
excavated during the early Christian era are designed as vaulted pillared hall with rock-
cut reliquary stupa in the apsidal end prototypical of the early Christian basilica.
Parinirvana takes place at Kusinagara, Kusi denoting fortune, health and spiritual
wellbeing, all of which are preordained by the well placed planets. Kanishka (100-140
/128-150 AD) presumed to be father of Huvishka introduced Ardochsho with the
characteristics of Demeter on Kushana coinage for the first time. Demeter called Hariti
dominating early Buddhist sculpture would go on to become one of only two deities
featured on late Kushana coinage. The goddesses as guide to departed soul merit careful
consideration in the Greco-Buddhist reliquary cult. A memorial group sculpture from
Takht-i-Bahi meaning the ‗Good Hub‘ in Pakistan depicts crowned goddess wearing
huge drop earrings and bangles befitting the royal throne. Cup of ambrosia and
cornucopia of Demeter indicates good fortune. The Roman type of personification in the
centralized Greek composition conveys endless conjugal delight in Arcadia. The prince
personified as Dionysus drinks from the cup of divine female, which was part of
Babylonian religious ritual in which initiates entered the Mysteries (fig.17). Enthroned
with Demeter in Elysian Mystery Dionysus was the last god to be accepted into Mt.
Olympus and the first to appear in Greco-Buddhist reliquary cult. Mistress of throne is
Isis; child god Harpocrates at her knees confirms it. Focus from enthroned Isis-
Demeter-Hariti moves to psychopomp Hermes holding money purse at the centre. It
then circles down to the attentive slave holding the luxurious foot cushion. A passion for
antiquities is evident in the manner the attendant is modeled after Eutychides‘
personification of River Orontes. Ornaments and clothing are calculated to counterfeit
the Roman original.

The planetary deities take diverse forms in early Buddhist sculpture, homage
coins, offering plates, tablets and jewels. Homage tablets depicting ‗footprint of
enlightenment‘ called Buddhapada is distinguished by various signs. The footprint of the
moon goddess is now worshiped as Sripada denoting Poornima, the full moon
personified as goddess SriLakshmi. The footprint of Ma the moon goddess of Comana in
present day Turkey was originally revered as Nishan meaning mark or target in
Armenian and Sanskrit. Devotees from everywhere, including Julius Caesar (d. 44 AD)
and Strabo (d. 24 AD) thronged the famous temple of Ma at Comana. Increasing it
becomes clear that Greek is the common denominator for the expansion of the cult of
Mithras, Christ and Buddha during the early Roman Empire. Kushana period votive
coins often used Greek monograms to convey coded messages. A libation plate from
Gandhara with unusual T-section to contain liquid offerings might be Greek letter ‗taʊ’
meaning ‗Consolidate Underground Force‘. Or the T sign might actually signify Hecate,
the goddess of crossroads and transitions. Hecate shared her power with Demeter the
goddess of the underworld. Hecate is the dark moon of magic who together with
Demeter takes protective custody of the departed. Together the goddesses of the
underworld wearing Parthian or Palymyraean type of long sleeved shirt offer up of
ambrosia to the turbaned immortal at the center. The Tao (Gk. T - taʊ) sign on the
libation plates of Taxila is one of the ways in which Greco-Buddhist cult concedes the
importance of the goddesses of the haunted crossroads and graveyards who redeems
and guides departed souls to afterlife (fig.18). Homophonic puns in Chinese is common
and Tao in Chinese signify the way as well as the rhythm of nature, calm contemplation
and ‗the supernatural spherical pills‘ that prolong life and avoid death. The ancient
Chinese belief centered on Tao combines within itself the code built into the magical
aspect of Hecate Trivia signified by the T (taʊ) junction in the crossroads and the new
crescent moon.23 The hare symptomatic of Hecate Trivia worshiped at the thee-way
crossroads is signified by the earliest three rabbit symbol composed on a terracotta
offering plate from Barikot in Swat Valley (fig.19). The symbol featuring three hares or
rabbits chasing each other in a circle has a threefold rotational symmetry, which is a
persistent motif even in medieval Christian churches. Each of the ears is shared by two

23Greek uppercase letter T pronounced ‗taʊ‘ denoting Hecate the goddess of the crossroads is similar to
anagrammatic Greek word Ichthys (I-ch-th-y-s) or ‗fish‘ acronym for ‗Jesus Christ God's Son, Savior‘.
hares, so that only three ears are shown in the form of Y. Like the triskelion and the
triquetra and their antecedents, the triple spiral signifying the female power of maiden,
mother and crone signifying Hecate eventually came to be worshiped as Lakshmi, Durga
and Kali in the Hindu Pantheon. Ultimately the beaded circle sheltering the three
rabbits is a goddess symbol and sign of divine protection accorded to a rabbit that took
shelter in the temple of Hecate at Lagina, originally close to the Macedonian colony of
Stratonikeia. This supernatural animal behavior transformed the cult center into a
famous sanctuary in antiquity. Inevitably we have the Chinese lore in which the rabbit
makes the elixir of immortality on the Moon, which was originally known as Heng'e, the
Chinese goddess of the Moon.

20. Venus and cupid, Gold, 4.5 x 2.5 cm, Wt. 14.8 gm, Tillia Tepe, Tomb II, 1st century AD
Kabul: Afghan National Museum (MK 04.40.113)
21. Five Petals of Venus, Gold pearl eardrops, appliqué, Tillya Tepe, Afghanistan, 1st century AD
Kaul: National Museum of Afghanistan (04.40.2) Photo Thierry Ollivier, Musée Guimet
22. Orbit of Venus over 8 years

Personified Venus from Buddhist funerary goods is identified as partially draped


female occasionally winged and accompanied by Cupid leaning on funerary cippus
(fig.20). Venus is often represent as a flower with five petals in Buddhist relief carved in
stone and embossed in precious gold. Some of the flowers from Taxila and the first
century Tillya Tepe burials have heart shaped petals, which introduce for the very first
time the heart as a symbol of heavenly love connected to Venus (fig.21). The remnants of
Venus cult found in the Buddhist funerary cult suggest that distinct Imperial family
history can be uncovered in the funerary deposits. Star gazing was an important part of
attaining Paramita. The ancient seem to have observed the Venus phenomenon in the
sky and translated it as exquisitely fashioned votive offerings suitable for the consort
and mother of Roman kings. A simplified geocentric earth-centered plot of the– 2016-
2023 obtained via Guy Ottewell shows that the ―pentagram‖ of Venus is a highly
noticeable rhythm in the motion of Venus around the sun as viewed from an earth-
centered perspective (fig.22). 24 The lotus pathway to Venus/Lakshmi is denoted by
place names denoting the goddess such as ‗Pushkalavati‘. 25 The beautiful ‗pentagram‘ of
Venus is a highly noticeable rhythm in the motion of Venus around the sun as viewed
from an earth-centered perspective.

23. Descent of the Lord, Bharhut stupa, 1st-2nd century AD, Kolkata: Indian Museum

Buddhist art describes new details about the Moon, Venus and various other
planets. In Buddhist narrative the battle with Mara or death followed by Jayanti on the
Buddha Purnima or the full moon day on 21st May 2016 is the culmination of the cyclic
of rebirth and resurrection. Contemplation of Greco-Buddhist medallion continually
expands the frame and enables us to see what the image actually conveys. Buddha
arriving on full moon in the form of a ‗white elephant‘ to enter the womb of Maya (Maia)
is popularly known as ‗Maya‘s Dream‘. The vignette of Immaculate Conception carved in
a medallion on the railing of Bharhut stupa in Central India is labeled ‗Descent of the
Lord‘ (Bhagavato ukramti) in Parkrit Brahmi script (fig.23). At the threshold of
mysterious full moon Sri Lakshmi stands on lotus of rebirth. Three women in lamplight
perform rituals in which the situla is unequivocal element in the cult of Isis. The
archetypal mother goddess Maia and Isis are also the mistress in afterlife. Here lies the
Mystery of Greco-Buddhist reliquary cult in which objects of devotion and desire
coexist. The belief in manifestations of the spirits of the dead is widespread, dating back
to animism or ancestor worship in pre-literate cultures. In Hermetic Rebirth the
element of pure spirit crystallized in the image of Greco-Buddha confirms that ‗Man is

24 The ‗Five Petal of Venus‘ by Guy Ottewell in ASTRONOMY ESSENTIALS (June 13, 2016).
http://earthsky.org/astronomy-essentials/five-petals-of-venus/reovere 15 June 2016
25 Pushkalavati was originally the ‗Lotus City‘ was the capital of ancient Gandhara on the banks of Swat

River close to its junction with Kabul River.


the highest point of the created world.‘ 26 Esoteric and metaphysical perspectives in
Greco-Buddhist cult celebrates the divine within the world together with the Gnostic
idea of transcendent divine being fixed to ascetic efforts to escape from the world.
Hermetic Rebirth evolved from Egypt in the early centuries AD proposes that the Stages
of Ascension to ‗Eternal Wisdom of Light and Life‘ is achieved through the ‗Stages of
Ascension.‘27 The idea common to Mithraism and Buddhist cults found in Hermetic
texts and early Buddhist texts written in Hebraized Kharoshti and Brahmi/Pali scripts
have roots in Hellenism upholding Platonism, Stoicism and Neoplatonism within
Egyptian Gnostic context.

CONCLUSION

The encapsulated Buddhist frieze is truly like a list, a cutout of infinity. In an effort to
define things based on their essence we find it endlessly difficult to describe the essence
of Buddhist Paramita. People tried to see the hereafter from the perspective of the
planets — the planets allow to question the definition of ladder to heaven. Its ‗Vertigo of
Lists‘ spiraling right up to the sky is the mark of a highly advanced, cultivated society.
Compared with the sophisticated file on the planetary deities the essential purpose of
the list is quite primitive. In the end Greco-Buddhist art seem to literally recreate the
vision of afterlife and establish the range of subjects that tremendously expanded the
scope of new civilizations. Eco asks: So, do both order and anarchy apply? The reality is
far more amazing. Churned out of the ocean the continents moving across the face of the
earth by inordinate force joined together as one. It created a new land mass and a new
civilization. Paradise on Earth — it is the heart of the newborn subcontinent conjoined
with Eurasia under the guidance of the planets. It had profound effect on human
history. The ‗opulent cabinets of curiosities‘ in the Buddhist list are revolutionary. It
leads the way to the high art of how to be discriminating and in the process the list
establishes order in the vast network of parallel arrangements.

26 J. Fetguson. An Illustrated Encyclopedia of Mysticism and Mystery Religions. Thames & Hudson,
London, 1976, p.99.
27 Daniel Merku. ‗Stages of Ascension in Hermetic Rebirth.‘ Esoterica I, University of Toronto, 1999, pp.

99-124, 81.