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Unknown (Indian)
Chauri bearer, ca. 2nd century CE
red sandstone
28 15/16 x 7 7/8 x 4 1/8 in.
Museum purchase, Anonymous Fund, Karl E. Weston Memorial Fund


Unknown (Indian)
Chauri Bearer, ca. 2nd century CE

A chauri is a fly whisk held by attendants of royal or religious individuals. The chauri bearer was originally a symbol from the Hindu religion that Buddhist and Jain iconography later incorporated. Sculptures of male chauri bearers are rare in comparison to the large number of extant female figures. This relief fragment was probably part of a larger panel originally on a stupa (a Buddhist structure) in which the chauri figure attended a representation of the Buddha.

The figure of the chauri bearer reflects cross-cultural influences. The Kushan Empire spanned a significant portion of the ancient Silk Road, in what is today northwestern India, Pakistan, and the Kabul Valley of Afghanistan. Long-distance trade connected China to Rome and created thriving urban centers along the way. The Kushans fused Hellenistic and Buddhist elements in both language (adopting the Greek and Kharoshthi scripts) and art (the famous art of Gandhara melded with Hellenistic influences). The heavy earrings worn by the chauri bearer pose a conundrum: typical Buddhist figures appear unadorned, indicating the renunciation of worldly desires and materialism.

This chauri bearer's hoops recall similar ornaments found on yakshas, attendants on Kubera, the Hindu god of wealth. The jewelry suggests possible Hindu origins, but the object's history on the stupa suggests a Buddhist artist. A possible explanation: the figure originally functioned as a devotee to a king, but it was then altered to serve a religious purpose. Formally and contextually, this sculpture provides evidence of a motif's transfer and assimilation into a new religious, cultural, and social setting.

The sculpture is from Mathura, the capital of the Kushan Empire (ca. second century CE). Kushan emperors added Zoroastrianism to the religions, such as Buddhism, practiced in their domain. The Kushan empire came to an end with Sasanian conquests in the third century, and the Sasanians absorbed Zoroastrian faith over the others.

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