According to Buddhist traditions, the Buddha, at the age of eighty, lay down between two shala trees and abandoned his physical body to enter the blissful state of nirvana. Only the first shala tree is visible here; the second was depicted on the now-missing right section. By depicting the Buddha lying on his side, artists clearly distinguished his liberation from the cycle of rebirth from an image of ordinary death.
Ancient Gandhara was a cosmopolitan crossroads with ties to India, western Asia, and the Hellenistic world. During the Kushan dynasty (mid-first to third century CE), Gandharan artists synthesized elements from these cultural regions to create an image of the Buddha that combined Greco-Roman ideals of beauty with Indian Buddhist concepts and iconography.
These panels, which adorned a monumental stupa (reliquary), depict the four great life events of the Buddha. Artists presented the climactic moment in each event, focusing every composition on a large image of the Buddha or his mother. Devotees viewed the scenes as they walked clockwise around the mound with their right shoulders toward the enshrined relics.