This scene depicts the “Great Departure” of Siddhartha Gautama, the future Buddha, riding away from the paternal palace and his princely condition. A predestined being, he appears here surrounded by a halo, and accompanied by numerous guards, mithuna loving couples, and devata, come to pay homage. The episode is carved in a frieze and, in a manner extremely common in Gandhara art, is architecturally framed by twin pilasters with Corinthian capitals. In the centre, the future Enlightened One is portrayed in a novel fashion: frontally, mounted on his steed. The refined, meticulously detailed execution of this high relief and the graceful poses display the specific characteristics of the Swat school. In addition, Greek influences peculiar to the local art can be seen, such as the naturalistic treatment of the musculature, the flowingly modelled, oval-shaped faces, and the realistic robes with the Hellenistic clinging drape.
The work is carved in steatite, an extremely soft stone that allows for meticulous detailing. Its creamy white aspect and soapy touch are typical of the stone found at the Nimogram site.
This high relief once decorated the exterior of a stupa, one of the “reliquary domes” erected at places where the Supreme Being is said to have worked miracles. It may have embellished the vedika-the ritual circumambulatory alley-or the base of the dome itself. Although the tradition of stupa decorated with sculpted reliefs was inherited from earlier periods, the Buddha was henceforth represented in human effigy rather than by symbols. This testified to the noteable expansion of Buddhism under the Kushans, a dynasty that hailed from Central Asia and ruled Northern India, Pakistan and Afghanistan, and under whose reign the supreme Gandharan style of the 2cnd and 3rd centuries flourished.