Herakles Vajrapani, the Companion of Buddha
Herakles had a continuing and high-profile existence in the east and the crossroads of Asia from the time of Alexander onwards. The Alexander/Herakles portrait and other representations of Herakles appear in Tajikistan, which was absorbed into the Kushan empire. Cultural contact continued with the west throughout the first and second centuries CE under rulers who patronised Buddhism. It is in this context that Herakles, the most popular hero of Greece and Rome, makes his appearance in Buddhist iconography as Vajrapani. In Gandharan art Vajrapani is the Buddha’s faithful companion and protector in scenes of the Buddha’s life from the Great Departure to his death. The paper examines the hybridisation of Herakles/Vajrapani in a number of reliefs and sculptures to demonstrate that this is not a process of borrowing some stylistic details but of considerable familiarity with the Herakles myth. Both Herakles and Vajrapani had many dimensions and their traditions and characteristics had multiple layers, which facilitated their adaptability.