Osmund Bopearachchi: "Alexander the Great and Dionysus in India: The Greek Interaction with Early Buddhist Art"

Date Range
Thursday October 18th 2012, 6:00PM
Event Sponsor
The Ho Center for Buddhist Studies at Stanford
Building 200, Room 030, Main Quad
Osmund Bopearachchi: "Alexander the Great and Dionysus in India: The Greek Interaction with Early Buddhist Art"


The diversity and syncretism characterizing Gandhāran Buddhist art from the time of Kanishka I resulted from the cultural, religious and artistic heritage of the former political supremacies: Persians, Greeks, Scythian and Parthians. The presence of Greeks in the area since the conquest of Alexander the Great has to be taken as an important historical fact. At the time the Kushans reached their apogee, cultural interactions and pre-existent Hellenistic artistic forms facilitate a progressive Indianization. The Indian conquest of Alexander the Great has a mythic analogy in the Indian Triumph of Dionysos. Dionysos, the god of wine, inspired many Buddhist artists of Central Asia and Gandhāra. Judging from the archaeological findings this god was particularly popular among the Scythians and Greeks. As the god who taught Indians how to cultivate vine, he is shown with Ariadne drinking wine prepared by his companions. Sileni, satyrs, Pan, and other fertility demons are shown on Buddhist reliefs drinking, dancing, harvesting, kissing or indulging in sexual intercourse. These Dionysian scenes could be understood as a symbolic representation of the Middle Region of gandharva or Yakshas. The present talk aims to argue that these Dionysian scenes represent the stratified vision of the Indian cosmology as narrated in the Vedic literature.


Osmund Bopearachchi, Paris IV–Sorbonne University

Osmund Bopearachchi is a Director of Research at the French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) in its Hellenism and Oriental Civilisations program (UMR 8546/5), and teaches Central Asian and South-Asian archaeology and art history at the Paris IV–Sorbonne University. Professor Bopearachchi holds a BA from the University of Kelaniya (Sri Lanka), a BA honors, (MA), M.Phil., Ph.D from the Paris I-Sorbonne University, and a Higher Doctorate (Habilitation) from the Paris IV-Sorbonne University. He has published nine books, edited six others, and published 130 articles in international journals. Currently the Trung Lam Visiting Scholar in Central Asian Art and Archaeology (2010–2012) at the University of California, Berkeley, Professor Bopearachchi is working on a new catalogue of Graeco-Bactrian and Indo-Greek Coins, as well as the publication of a selection of hitherto unknown masterpieces from Gandhāra and Greater Gandhāra dispersed in museums and private collections in Japan, Europe, Canada, and the United States of America.