Interesting item from Express India:

Reader Indira Malani sends an e-mail asking what a Greco-Roman Buddha is. It may come as a surprise but no one knew what Gautam Buddha really looked like. In fact, the Hinayana cult, or early Buddhists, prohibited artists from rendering any human form of Buddha.

The Great One was only indicated through symbols, like the chakra, the stupa, the three-headed deer and the peepal tree—where He gave his first sermon. This is the art that Ashoka the Great partonised in his province, like Sanchi, and the early rock edicts bare witness to this phase in Buddhist art.

However, it was around 327 B.C that we witness a change. Alexander the Great led an invasion that stopped just short of the Kushana Mountains where the historic battle with King Porus was fought. Alexander did not ‘win’ the war with Porus but he left Greek garrisons and rulers behind and it was then the idea that Buddha could be humanised began to gain popularity. Historians have uncovered through archeological digs at the Swat Valley, early images of Buddha rendered as a Greco-Roman God, with curly hair, an aquiline nose and dreamy half closed eyes encircled by an elaborate halo. This came to be known as the Gandharva Buddha and, for many years, historians believed these to be the first images of Buddha as a human.

However, another group of historians uncovered images what could be called an earthy, wide-eyed, proto-Buddha in Mathura that apparently pre-date the Gandharva Buddhas, according to carbon dating. Over the years, artists in and beyond the subcontinent practised many permutations and combinations of these two types. However, Buddha with the half-closed eyes became more popular.