Indian Art from Afghanistan: The legend of Sakuntala and the Indian Treasure of Eucratides at Ai Khanum

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    Manohar CSH
The discoveries of the site at Ai Khanum, on the northern frontier of Afghanistan, reveals it to be one of the best colonies of the Hellenistic Far East. The treasury of the royal palace was stocked with various precious goods, like imported olive oil, incense, coins or gems, and above all, diverse objects relating to Indian art. Among the most significant discoveries are the fragments of a throne inlaid with agate and rock crystal incrustations, probably produced in the region of Taxila, and identical to another unique piece discovered in Rome. On the other hand, shell plaque decorated with glass incrustations seems to illustrate the well-known Indian myth of the encounter with Dushyanta.The discovery of these objects helps throw new light on ancient ties between Central Asia and India. A series of economic inscriptions, which not only enable a precise dating but also show evidence of payments in Indian coins, permits to restitute the historical context of the findings, more precisely the reign of Eucratides, the Greek king who reigned in Ai Khanum during this period and was also the last Greek king to govern Eastern Bactria.

The collection of Indian products in the treasury seems to prove that their presence at Ai Khanum has nothing to do with any commercial relations – the silk road having opened only later – but is to be connected with the military expedition of Eucratides. In fact, during the last years of his reign, Eucratides made a number of raids against the Indo-Greek territories on the southern slope of the Hindukush, probably against the well-known hellenistic king Menander. But the progression of the Graeco-Bactrian king was brutally halted by the sudden nomadic invasions of the Yueh-chih and the assassination of Eucratides around the year 145 BC. This date permits attributing the Indian objects illustrated here to the first half of the second century B.C. and to put them among the most ancient representatives of the Indian art.

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