Buddha images and their history
Buddhism's first few centuries did not have the visual or iconographic representations of the Buddha as the Buddhist art consisted of mainly Buddhist symbols. The beginning of the 1st Century AD saw the emergence of the Buddha images which went on to become one of the most revered ritual as well as spiritual items in the history of Buddhism. These Buddha images can now be found in many Buddhist temples, monasteries, homes, altars and just about anywhere you go around the world.
The history behind Buddha images
The first 6 centuries after his Nirvana, the Buddha and his teachings were well represented and symbolized in artifacts of symbols like footprints, empty thrones and the wheel (representing the Wheel of Law). The physical and human depictions of the Buddha started to emerge from the 1st century in the northern part if India. These iconographic representations depicted the Buddhain a monk's dressing of robes and having a serene expression in his face. These Buddha images showed him either standing or sitting in a lotus position with a begging bowl or with the gesture of fearlessness.
The two of the major centers of the creation and crafting of these iconic images have been identified as Gandhara in Punjab, Pakistan and Mathura in the northern India. Similarly, some of the gold and copper coins of that era in Kaniskha during 78 AD had images of the Buddha on their opposite side. Meanwhile, a Buddha head statue has also been dated to 1st and 2nd century, which originated from today's Afghanistan.
The Buddhist images from Gandhara period can be seen as greatly influenced by Greek style and the concept of the human god can be taken as the symbol of inspiration from the Greek culture of mythology. The Gandharan culture is also taken as the contributors of wavy hair, drapery covering both the shoulders, shoes and sandals and leaf decorations in many Buddhist images.
The artistic representations of the physical characteristics were started with a realistic idealism, combining realistic human features, attributes, characteristics, proportions and attitudes, coupled with a sense of perfection and serenity, these images are said to have been successful to depict the Buddha both as a man and a god which became the iconographic canon for all the Buddhist art that would follow later during the course of history. The development of Buddha images and other Buddhist art continued to flourish in India for few more centuries. The Gupta period helped the evolution of sandstone sculptures of Buddha to reach a very high fineness and the delicate carving in the modeling. The art of Gupta, then spread throughout the rest of the Asian regions like Burma, Thailand, etc. The Buddha images from Burma and Thailand are the basic examples of this influence.
By the 10th century, the creation and development of Buddha images were slowly fading as Hinduism and Islam prevailed successfully over Buddhism though this did not stop the evolution of Buddha Images in the new and unique ways in China, Japan, Burma, Thailand and other Asian countries.