Mathura ［摩突羅国］ ( Mathurā; Matora-koku): A city in northern India on the bank of the Yamuna River, located about 140 kilometers south-southeast of New Delhi. It was the capital of Shūrasena, one of the sixteen great states of India in the sixth century b.c.e., around the time of Shakyamuni. It prospered as a trading center and became an important center for Buddhism and Jainism. Mathura, long regarded as sacred by Hindus, is also the birthplace of Krishna, venerated as an avatar of the god Vishnu. Shakyamuni himself went to Mathura several times to preach. Later, according to A History of the Buddha’s Successors, Upagupta, the fourth of Shakyamuni’s twenty-three successors and a native of Mathura, contributed greatly to the rise of Buddhism in this area. The Sarvāstivāda school also flourished there. Mathura prospered as a center of the Kushan dynasty especially during the reign of King Kanishka in the second century.
Mathura was also one of the two birthplaces of unique Buddhist artistic styles that flourished during the Kushan dynasty, the other being Gandhara. Mathuran Buddhist art reached its height after Kanishka’s accession, which presumably was around c.e. 130, though another view places it in 144. Buddhist art in Mathura maintained its prominence for about one hundred years after this. The earliest production of Buddha images is thought to have occurred in Gandhara near the end of the first century, and in Mathura such art began to appear in the early second century. By another account, the Mathuran and Gandharan images of the Buddha were contemporaneous, distinctively different in style. The Mathuran style is predominantly Indian, while the Gandharan style reveals a considerable Western, or Greco-Roman, influence. According to The Record of the Western Regions, Hsüan-tsang’s account of his travels through Central Asia and India in the seventh century, there were monasteries at that time in more than twenty locations in Mathura. More than two thousand monks lived in them and studied both Hinayana and Mahayana teachings.