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Kanishka was a king of the Kushan Empire in Central Asia, ruling an empire extending from Bactria to large parts of India in the 2nd century of the common era, famous for his military, political, and spiritual achievements. His main capital was at Peshawar (Purushpura) in northwestern Pakistan, with regional capitals at the location of the modern city of Taxila in Pakistan, Begram in Afghanistan and Mathura in India.

Kanishka's reputation in Buddhist tradition is based mainly on the Buddhist tradition that he convened the 4th Buddhist Council in Kashmir.

He provided encouragement to both the Gandhara school of Greco-Buddhist Art and the Mathura school of Hindu art (An inescapable religious syncretism pervades Kushana rule). Kanishka personally seems to have embraced both Buddhism and the Persian cult of Mithra.

His greatest contribution to Buddhist architecture was the Kanishka stupa at Peshawar, Pakistan. Archaeologists who rediscovered the base of it in 1908-1909 ascertained that this stupa had a diameter of 286 feet. Reports of Chinese pilgrims such as Xuan Zang indicate that its height was 600 to 700 (Chinese) "feet" (= roughly 180-210 metres or 591-689 ft.) and was covered with jewels. Certainly this immense multi-storied building ranks among the wonders of the ancient world.

Kanishka is said to have been particularly close to the Buddhist scholar Ashvaghosha, who became his religious advisor.