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The Greek God Helios and the Indian Deity Surya: A Study in the Dissemination of Sun God Imagery

Osmund Bopearachchi, The Ink: beyond imagination, 2022, Gandharan Art Revisited; Book 02, 116 p, col plates, ISBN : 9788194829416, $80.00 (Includes free airmail shipping)

The Greek God Helios and the Indian Deity Surya: A Study in the Dissemination of Sun God Imagery

Contents: Foreword. 1. Introduction. 2. Helios, the Greek Sun God. 3. Iranian Mithra in India. 4. Surya, the Indian Sun God. 5. Greek Helios and the Indian Surya on Gandharan toilet trays. 6. Greek Helios and Indian Surya in a Gandharan Buddhist Context. 7. Greek Helios, Iranian Mithra, Indian Surya: Traveling from Gandhara to Bamiyan and beyond. 8. The Sun Gods and the Buddha Gautama. 9. Concluding remarks. 10 Catalogue. Bibliography. Index.

This book examines, in the light of numerous iconographies, the syncretism of three deities associated with the sun, the Indian Surya, the Greek Helios and the Iranian Mithra. The Gandharan statue of the Bodhisattva Siddhartha in the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, wearing a headdress depicting the sun god in the guise of a Bodhisattva, performing the abhayamudra (the gesture of fearlessness) standing frontally in a chariot drawn by four horses, was the starting point for this study. This syncretic image of the Greek Helios and the Indian Surya with Buddhist overtones is a direct result of the cross-cultural nature of Gandharan art. The evolution of sun-god imagery in central India and in the Great Gandhara owed much to the worship of the Indian Surya and the Greek Helios as creators of the universe and source of all life. Nor is it surprising that this remarkably syncretic image emerged in the Kusan period as a Buddhist icon, perhaps even a Buddha. The earliest representations of the sun god in India, Central Asia and China took place in a Buddhist context. Surya in the railing at the Mahabodhi Temple, at the Bhaja Vihara cave and in the lintel from the Huviska Vihara at Jamalpur represent Surya synchronised with the Buddha's achievement of dispelling the darkness of ignorance. Likewise, the Sun god dressed similarly to a Bodhisattva but in the guise of Indian Surya and Greek Helios in the headdress of the Bodhisattva Siddhartha in the Royal Ontario Museum and the Sun god taking the form of Iranian Mithra at Bamiyan also symbolise the Buddha who will blaze forth in this world to dispel the darkness of delusion.

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