Saturday, February 22, 2014


From Earth to Heaven--The Royal Animal-Shaped Weights of the Burmese Empire by Donald and Joan Gear:
The invasions of the Greeks, Sakas, Parthians and Kushans into the Bactria and north India regions between the 1st century BCE and 2nd century CE led to one of the most creative periods in the history of India’s art. Another important influence was that of the Romans from about the 1st century BCE to the 4th century CE.

In Ordos, bronzes with animal decoration continued until about the 5th or 6th century CE. This region is sometimes referred to as the last stand of animal art. At some time before the 2nd century BCE the Yueh-chieh [Yuezhi] in present day Kansu, not far from Ordos then at its peak of abundant production, must have contacted the Sakas of near Lake Balkash and acquired knowledge of its stag art, which, in modified form, could have been transmitted south through Szechwan to the semi-nomadic tribes of Yunnan. The Yueh-chieh subsequently drove out the Sakas (about 160 BCE) who then moved into northwest India, (Gandhara), while the Yueh-chieh became the Kushans at the west end of the Tarim basin.

The Saka retained some of their animal art but the Yueh-chieh abandoned theirs. The region from the Black Sea to Mongolia, including Central Asia, from before the 8th century BCE was occupied by nomadic steppe tribes many culturally and probably ethnically related to the East Iranians (i.e. they were Indo-Aryans). Many belonged to the Saka group. Those occupying the region north of the Black Sea were named Scythians by the 8th century BCE Greeks, those west of the Altai mountains were called Saka by the pre-6th century BCE Persians and those east of the mountains, for convenience today, are called Saka-Siberian. On the northwest borders of China and in the Tarim basin region before the 2nd century BCE were the Yueh-chieh, also probably an Indo-Aryan people related to the Sakas. They were driven along with the Sakas by the Hsiung-Nu, a Turki people. The Indo-Aryans of about 2000 BCE and the Saka group are the most important of the steppe nomads to this work.

Firstly, this is because the Indo-Aryan peoples of 2000 BCE brought to India in the Vedic religion basic concepts held by the steppe nomads which, together with Indian animism, led to Hinduism and Buddhism. Secondly, it is because tribes of, or related to the Saka group repeatedly invaded India from 2000 BCE onwards, so spreading their culture from the kingdoms and republics they established in India and thus leading to the flowering of stone architectural animal art in India from about the 2nd century BCE.

The Saka influence on animal art appears to have flowed round both sides of the Tibet plateau and converged on southeast Asia. This flow of art and people may have led to the foundation of the first Burmese kingdom, Tagaung. The Yueh-chieh were driven away from their homeland by the Hsiung-Nu about the 2nd century BCE; part of the tribe moved south towards Burma and part moved west to the northern marches of India, changing their name to Kushan as they did so. There, for about five centuries, they became a great influence on the development of Mahayanist Buddhism and overland trade from the Persian to the Chinese borders.
During their migration they drove a part of the Sakas before them and these settled in west India before temporarily extending their sway to the east of India south of the Kushans. The persistence of the word ‘Saka’ in various forms in India and Burma is noteworthy. Sakka is another name of Indra, the Indo-Aryan and Hindu god. Saka is the name of the group of tribes of which the Scythians were one. The Sakas, ‘people of the stag,’ are associated with the animal symbols of the chakravartin, (universal ‘wheel-turning’ sovereign). Gautama Buddha was the Sakyamuni, the sage of the Sakyas.

{source: Thaimangoes blog}

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