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Origins of Yona Art

We tried to explain the origins of the word yuon. The word has been borrowed by several

cultures of mainland Asia from India, where it designated the Greeks of antiquity,

Yona meaning "Ionia", a region of Greece on the Asian side of the Mediterranean.

The name of a parcel had become the name of the whole, as is often the case.

The Greeks came directly in contact with India after Alexander the Great had subdued

the powerful Empire of Persia in 331 B.C., that is 2,323 years ago. The political

and military genius of Alexander was his capacity to blend Greek and Oriental (Persian)

ideas, people, and soldiers. His enterprise lasted for centuries precisely because

of this capacity to mix and merge ideas from several traditions.

One of the most interesting results is, under the influence of the Indian king Ashoka,

the spread of Buddhism in the Greco-Persian kingdoms neighboring India. Ashoka had

a systematic policy of sending missionaries. He had held the third Buddhist council

and wanted to expand Buddhism in the West of India. In what are now the valleys of

Afghanistan, Buddhist preachers were well accepted. But local converts, deeply impressed

by Greek culture and art, started something entirely new in the realm of Buddhism:

they created statues.

A mixture of Greek and Indian aesthetic rules produced what is now called the Gandhara

art which flowed back to India, creating a tradition of carving Buddha images and

a set of conventions by which it could be recognized. These conventions later spread

across the whole Buddhist world, to China and Japan in one direction, and to Sri

Lanka and Southeast Asia in another.

Now, Buddhist devotees praying in front of a Buddha image in a pagoda should have

a grateful thought for those youn, meaning ancient Greeks, who provided them with

this graceful embodiment of their faith.

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