This is a depiction of the compassionate and merciful bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara who embodies the compassion of all Buddhas. Bodhisattvas accomplish all but the final meditation leading to full enlightenment, but they are considered to be so advanced in their practice and realization that they have the ability to control their rebirth and act in righteous and compassionate ways to help others achieve enlightenment. The head was probably part of a larger statue originally.
This finely executed head exhibits several of the characteristic features by which one could recognise a great man: these marks, known as ‘lakshanas’ were codified in India in the pre-Buddhist era. His long earlobes recall the heavy earrings that the Buddha wore before he renounced his wealth. The circle between the eyes is called an ‘urna’: an identifying mark of the Buddha to represent his divine status and ability to see beyond the mundane realm.
To find out more about Gandharan art please see our relevant blog post: The Influence of Greek Art on Gandharan Statues.