The Indian Museum, Kolkata organised an exquisite exhibition titled Indian Buddhist Art, showcasing masterpieces of Buddhist Art from different parts of Indian sub-continent. The exhibition travelled to Shanghai Museum, China, Tokyo National Museum, Japan, Asian Civilizations Museum, Singapore and National Museum, New Delhi. After its great success, the exhibition returned back to Indian Museum, Kolkata. In the Indian Museum, Kolkata the exhibition opened to the visitors on 2nd February 2016 and continued till 31st May, 2016. Buddhism originated in the Indian sub-continent and flourished to neighbouring regions of South and South-East Asia. The exhibition comprises 91 objects from Indian sub-continent which displays a visual expression of stories associated with the life of the Buddha, spread of the religion, Buddhism and development of the art which is known as Buddhist Art.
According to Buddhist texts, before the birth of the Buddha, his mother, Maya Devi had a dream in which she saw a white elephant entering her womb. In sculptures, this theme is presented by a lady asleep on a couch with an elephant hovering over her. This panel, depicts the bed chamber of Queen Maya Devi flanked by vaulted corridors, and supported on Persepolitan pillars without shafts. The queen is asleep on a furnished couch, her head raised on a high pillow. From a circular slab the Bodhisattva descending in the form of an elephant is seen.
Birth of Siddhartha
Queen Maya standing with slight flexion of the body is shown as holding the branch of a sala tree. The child Buddha appears to be issuing from her waist section. The bejewelled lady is accompanied by three headed Brahma, the creator of the universe and four-armed Vishnu, the preserver. A small figure of the Buddha is shown standing on five lotuses to the right side of the lady symbolizing the seven steps after his birth. As legends say, the Buddha, taking seven steps declared, “I am born for enlightenment of the good of the world; this is my last birth in the world of phenomena”. Indra, the lord of the heaven, who received the child after birth, is seen on the right side with a cloth in his hands. A female attendant is seen on the left.Two devotees are seated on the pedestal.
Prediction of Asita
The fragment from the base of a stupa represents the scene of the prediction of the sage Asita about the future of Siddhartha made to his parents. The child is seen on the lap of a bearded and matted haired sage. A royal figure seated on a high throne with legs rested on a lower stool is evidently Suddhodana, father of Gautama. An Indo-Corinthian pilaster appears behind the figure of the sage. A standing male, probably Naradatta, the nephew of Asita, carrying a bowl in his left hand is seen by the side of the pilaster.
The Great Departure
Prince Gautama decides to renounce all worldly pleasures including his wife Yasodhara and son Rahula in quest of Supreme Knowledge, and this event is known as mahabhinishkramana (the great Departure or Renunciation). The prince mounts his favourite horse Kanthaka, whose hooves are supported by the yakshas on their palms to avoid noise. The royal groom Chhandaka holds a parasol over his head and Vajrapani (yaksha in attendance) holds his thunderbolt. The prince’s way is obstructed by Mara or Kama, who is seen holding a sword, and behind him stands a hallowed god with folded hands. The three figures of the upper-half corner may be the retinue of Mara of whom one holds a sword and other, a lady, probably Rati, who may also be identified as the presiding deity of the capital city of Kapilavastu.
Buddha in meditation
The Buddha is seated in the attitude of meditation. There is a prominent urna on his forehead and a large nimbus behind. The raised hair line is prominent and the wavy hair is swept back over the ushnisha. The loose garment covers both his shoulders. The pedestal contains the scene of the worship of the bowl. The image in every respect is a typical example of the Gandharan idiom.
The long frieze displays one of the five greatest events in the life of the Buddha – the First Sermon (dharmachakra pravartana) delivered by the Buddha at the Deer Park of Sarnath after his enlightenment at Bodhgaya. The Buddha sits cross-legged on a pedestal that bears a wheel on a pillar and below it two deer seated back to back indicating the site of the great event. Wearing a garment covering both shoulders (ubhayansika sanghati) the Buddha raises his right hand in the abhaya (granting protection) pose and the left supports the hem of the drapery. Out of his five disciples three are seated to his right and the two to his left. Like their Master they wear monk’s robe and have thick kusa grass seat. The scene is witnessed by some noble men and divine beings who hold their hands clasped in adoration or carry lotus and other flowers for worship.
The Buddha seated in padmasana holds his two hands in the vyakhyana mudra (preaching attitude). The halo is devoid of any carving and the drapery with heavy folds covers only the left shoulder. The wavy hair is arranged in a big top-knot and the urna (mark of knowledge) is projected in the centre of the forehead. The half-closed drooping eyes impart an absorbed and inward vision.
Preaching Buddha flanked by
Avalokitesvara and Maitreya
The preaching Buddha is seated on a full-blown lotus seat and above his head are heavenly flowers. His two attendants, possibly Bodhisattva Maitreya and Avalokitesvara, stand beside him, each under an umbrella. A lay worshipper appears in a kneeling posture on either side of the lotus seat. They may be identified as Luhasudatta and his wife as described the Divyavadana and in the Vinaya of the Mula Sarvastivadins. The relief, originally surmounted by an umbrella, has a tenon at the bottom. The lotus on which the Buddha is seated is typical to the Gandharan idiom, but what is noteworthy is that the entire pitha has a design of lotus petals.
Miracle at Sravasti
The unique circular slab represents the miracle performed by the Buddha at Sravasti. The miracle, described in the aggikhandpama sutta was a double miracle of walking in the air while emitting alternately flames of fire and waves of water from the upper and lower part of his body. Here the Buddha is shown seated in meditation with flames coming out from his body. The celestial figures hold umbrellas over his head. The sculpture is edged with flames. Two lotuses issue forth from the two sides of the Buddha. The one to his left shows the Dipankara Jataka with the Buddha standing and a kneeling figure spreading his hair near his feet. The one to his right represents the episode of the offering of a handful of dust by a little child to the Buddha.
Taming of Nalagiri
The sculpture depicts the scene of the subjugation of the mad elephant Nalagiri. The elephant was pacified just by a look from the Master, who places his hand over its head. The Buddha is here shown as standing in his usual posture with his right hand bestowing boon on the kneeling elephant. The onlooker to his left with a staff is supposed to be Devadatta. A stupa is the only decoration on the stele.
Buddha offering protection
An ideal form of the Buddha was evolved in the early reign of Kanishka, the Kushana emperor. It became the most popular model of Mathura atelier. The Buddha sits cross-legged (padmasana) with a shaven head and a snail- shell type knot (kaparda) above. His earlobes are small and a circular mark (urna) is seen between the eyebrows. The right hand is raised in half profile imparting protection (abhaya) , while the left rests on the left knee. Drapery covers his left shoulder (ekansika sanghati) while his right shoulder remains bare. With almond-shaped open eyes the Buddha bears a subtle smile on his face suggestive of happiness in every situation. The palms of his hand and soles of feet are marked with auspicious motifs like the wheel (chakra) and the three jewels (triratna) , which are considered to be marks of the greatness (mahapurusha lakshana) . He is seated under the bodhi tree when he practised penance to attain supreme knowledge (bodhi janana) at Bodhgaya.
The pedestal is supported by lions seated back to back and in the centre two devotees are seen worshipping a pillar with a wheel (the dhrama chakra).
Buddha inside palace
It is in the form of a stele which has a tenon at the base (originally fitted into an inverted lotus) and a conical shaft rising from the middle of the upper portion which probably was crowned by an umbrella. The stele is evidently intended to depict a pavillion where the Buddha was supposed to perform some miracle. The structure façade is elaborately decorated. There are some balconies with figures of women peeping out from compartments and a frieze of garland-bearers on the basement. The lion head is probably the fore-runner of the later kirttimukha motif. The Buddha is seated on a lotus. Above his head are two streamers and a twisted garland. There are replicas of temples at the two upper corners of the relief in which are two Buddhas seated in meditation on inverted lotuses and between them. The Buddha is flanked by the two Bodhisattvas, Padmapani and Maitreya both occupying high decorated seats. The one to his right has bare feet, resting on a lotus, which are crossed. The attendant on the left wears sandals; one of his legs hangs down, the other rests on the seat and its sandal is left on the ground.
Worship of Chakra
The scene represents worship of the wheel, which was one of the symbols of the Buddha before the introduction of his anthropomorphic image. The wheel stands for the Buddha’s first sermon delivered in the deer park at Sarnath, suggested here by the presence of the two addorsed deer on the shaft, when he set the wheel of the law in motion. Of the two flanking couples, the eminence of the couple on the proper right is suggested by the male carrying a garland and the female kneeling down to make an offering.
Worship of Bodhi tree representing Krakuchchhanda Buddha
The half medallion on a rail pillar fragment features the symbolic representation of one of the seven mortal Buddhas, Krakuchchhanda. It represents a throne under a tree (thesirisha) being worshipped by devotees. The inscription reads: bhagavato kakusadhasa bodhi (i.e. the bodhi tree of Lord Krakuchchhanda). The dedicatory inscription on the shaft states that this is a gift from the donors from Purika (purikaya dakana danam). Each of these seven Tathagatas, known also as samyak-sambuddhas, viz. Vipasyi, Visvabhu, Sikhi, Krakuchhanda, Kanakamuni, Kasyapa and Sakyamuni have their own bodhivriksha (sacred tree), the one of Krakuchhanda being Sirisa (Accacia Sirissa) .
Worship of Bodhi tree representing Kanakamuni Buddha
The medallion on a fragmentary rail pillar features the symbolic representation of Kanakamuni, one of the seven mortal Buddhas, of whom Gautama is the last one. It shows an enthroned tree, worshippers which is stated to be the bodhi tree under which Kanakamuni attained enlightenment, being worshipped by male and female devotees. The inscribed label reads: bhagavato kanakamuni bodhi (the bodhi tree of Lord Kanakamuni) supposed to be udumbara (Ficus Glomerata).
The 11th century stupa made of black basalt belongs to the second category of the stupa architecture. Facing each cardinal direction a Buddha is shown seated in a pavillion thus symbolizing his omnipresence and the spread of his dharma in four directions. The drum is carved with mouldings topped by lotus petal design. The dome is bare of any ornamentation. The harmika has a groove for insertion of the chhatravali. The four niches containing Buddha figures are in the shape of a temple between bold mouldings. The Buddha figures are seated in dhyana, vyakhyana and abhaya mudras. This concept is more popular among the Jains who worship it as a Jina’s samovasarana or the sarvatobhadrika.
Votive stupa, inscribed
The shrine is in the form of a South Indian temple complete with a gopuram. Its entrance is topped by a kalasa flanked by a makara on either side. The main shrine is of a mandapa of four pillars supported on the heads of lions, so commonly seen in Pallava architecture. The walls on three sides clockwise show a pralambapada Buddha, Avalokitesvara and the Buddha preaching at Sarnath, all seated in shrines. The detachable stupa above this platform encloses a seated figure of the Buddha in bhumisparsa mudra. The Mharmika of the stupa comprised twenty-seven discs and is topped by a kalasa. It is a unique representation of a stupa influenced by South Indian tradition. Though the exact location of its find remains unknown it was possibly created in an around Nagapattinam where Buddhism prevailed.
The small but exquisitely carved stupa consists of three parts, the lower part serving as the square base with projecting niches containing twelve divinities. The drum is carved with lotus petals. The dome, somewhat elongated, bears four well-carved structural shaped niches containing a Buddha in bhumisparsa mudra and three Bodhisattva figures, one of them in a pensive mood. The harmika bears seated Buddha figures in different mudras. Above the harmika is placed the auspicious parasol.
Muga Pakkha Jataka
The medallion presents the story of Muga Pakkha Jataka, according to which the Bodhisattva was born as Temiya, the son of the king of Benaras. He took a vow of austerity and pretended to be deaf and dumb and a cripple and all attempts to test his sensibility failed. After sixteen years, the king decided to get rid of him and asked his charioteer to remove the prince in a chariot to an unknown place and bury him there alive. The charioteer carried him away and began to dig a pit for his burial. At that very moment Temiya’s vow of silence ended and he began to talk to the charioteer. He eventually became an ascetic. The relief is a fine example of the narrative pattern in Indian art. On the left, the king is seated in a pavilion with the child in his lap. The charioteer, who has brought the Prince in a chariot drawn by four horses is seen at the extreme right digging a pit, while the Prince with folded hands, is in conversation with the charioteer. At the top, the Prince in ascetic habit is seated in a grove indicated by two trees flanking him. The inscription reads: ‘mugapakhiya jataka’ (the episode of the Dumb Being).
The Vessantara Jataka
The coping stone fragment briefly tells the story of the Vessantara jataka. According to legend the Bodhisattva, born as prince Vessantara was very much given to charity. Taking advantage of his philanthropic nature the king of Kalinga, which was suffering from drought, sent some Brahmanas to beg for his favourite elephant, as the elephant was supposed to have the power of bringing rain. The prayer was duly granted and Vessantara made a gift of his elephant. In the panel the Bodhisattva is seen as having descended from his elephant and offering it to a Brahmana after pouring water into his hands from a vessel with due ceremony.
Foot print of the Buddha
The Buddhapada or the Buddha’s foot print is carved under the dome of a votive stupa having a groove in the center for inserting the umbrella (chhatravali). Among the Buddhists both the stupa and the footprint symbolizing the Master were objects of great veneration. The present foot print is marked with several auspicious designs like a wheel (chakra), a conch shell placed on a pedestal, a vessel with spout again placed on a pedestal, a floral motif resembling the sun, and a crown flanked by two standing figures, one winged male and a lady. The Buddhapadas happen to be very popular since the Sunga period and continued to be venerated till the present time.
An aesthetically superb example of Gupta art, the standing Buddha holds with his left hand one end of the robe which closely fits the body. The right hand is in abhaya mudra suggesting quelling of fear and promising assurance and protection. The transparent drapery, the drooping eyes, the trivali marks of mahapurusha on the neck and, above all, the arrangement of the hair in small curls are features common to all the figures of the Sarnath School of the Gupta art. The delicately carved nimbus of lotus creeper motif behind the head, however, has largely broken off. The crease-less robe of the Sarnath School differentiates it from the Mathura type, where the folds are prominent. A feature that is restricted to the Gupta period is the webbed fingers of the Buddha. This mahapurusha lakshana is seen here.
The seated figure of Maitreya in dhyanasana on a lotus pedestal (having a tenon below for fixing) is wearing all ornaments including a sacred thread containing amulets. A decorated vase hangs from his joined palms. His face is characterized by drooping eyes, the mark of urna and a moustache. The hair falling on the shoulders in locks is tied on the forehead by a beaded fillet. The rest of the hair is gathered into a top-knot, which are typical of the figures of Gandhara Bodhisattvas.
Vajradharma Lokesvara (Inscribed)
Seated in padmasana on a lotus supported on a pedestal, the god is adorned with a kiritamukuta and ornaments. The mutilated right hand possibly held a lotus near the breast, the stalk being held by the left hand. The Buddhist formula is inscribed around the halo. Two stupas are supported on the crossbar behind the image. The pedestal bears a pot-bellied female figure standing in alidha posture and holding an upraised sword in her right hand while displaying tarjani mudra by the left (held near the breast). The pitha is supported on the heads of two peacocks. The figure may be identified as that of the Vajradharma Lokesvara form of Avalokitesvara in which he caused to blossom a lotus against his chest.
The tenth-century sculpture of Avalokitesvara stands on a lotus with his left foot slightly turned to the left. He is seen wearing all ornaments including a diadem on his matted crest having an effigy of Dhyani Buddha Amitabha on it. He displays the varada mudra with the right hand and holds the stem of a full-blown lotus carrying a seated figure of Samantabhadra. The nimbus inscribed with the Buddhist creed is edged with petal designs, on the right side of which is an effigy of Akshobhya. The central figure is attended by seated Manjusri to the left, recognizable by the utpala held in his left hand, the right being in the abhaya mudra and by the pendant with tiger claws (the ornament befitting a kumara). The seated figure to the right possibly represents Bodhisattva Samantabhadra recognizable by the globular element (chakra? ) placed on the lotus held by his left hand. His right hand is held up near the breast. A one line inscription is found on the lotus pedestal reading ‘sutradhara-sri-Rajhena-karitam’ which means ‘made by the mason Rejha’.
The superbly carved figure of Avalokitesvara stands with slight flexion of the body. The two-armed figure is attended by Tara and Sudhanakumara to his right and Hayagriva and Bhrikuti to his left. Suchimukha in the attitude of receiving the nectar falling from the right hand in varada mudra of the god is seated on the pedestal that bears worshippers and floral designs. The decorated stele bears figures of the panchajinas or the five Dhyani Buddhas with Amitabha in the centre. The image tallies very well with the description of the Khasarpana form of Avalokitesvara.
The figure of Manjusri is standing on a double petalled lotus, with a dwarf like Naga on the right, leaning on the staff of his battle-axe with an enormously high head-dress and a cobra’s head on it. The opposite side of the principal figure is occupied by stem of utpala (water lily) forming a conventional floral device in place of an attendant figure. The two armed Manjusri is holding the stem of the flower by the left hand while his right hand marked with a chakra device is in the varada mudra. The bejewelled figure is wearing the distinctive necklace of Manjusri, i.e. a pendant flanked by tiger claws. The Buddhist creed is inscribed on the back slab edged with flame designs.
Standing with slight flexion of the body the male figure displays the varada mudra by the right hand and holds a lotus bud by its stalk in the left. The matted hair of the bejewelled figure is raised up with Dhyani Buddha Akshobhya on the crest. The figure is draped in a transparent lower garment, to which a scarf is tied with a knot. To the right of the figure is a kneeling female with folded hands and holding the stem of an utpala issuing out of the pedestal.
The presence of Akshobhya on the crest may justify the identification of the image with that of a form of Manjusri, the Buddhist god of transcendental wisdom and the nearest approximation is that of Siddhaikavira.
Standing in alidha posture on a double-petal lotus the three-faced and twelve-armed Samvara has his central face bearing a terrific mien with bare fangs, three eyes fully open, wearing jatamukuta, kundalas, necklace and a long garland of skulls. The main pair of hands is in vajrahunkara mudra (holding a thunderbolt and bell crosswise near the chest). The five left hands hold a khatvanga marked with vajra and three human heads, a skull, a lasso, a kapala and a banner, while the corresponding right hands carry vajra, kartri, ankusa, damaru and a whip (?). He is attended by four identical four-armed female figures, two on his either side, one between his feet and one on top of the stele. All the four figures stand in alidha posture and hold a staff and a kapala in their left hands and kartr and damaru in their right. Two flying vidyadharas are on the upper portion of the back slab flanking the female figure on the top. Rays of flames are carved at the back of the principal deity.
Hariti and Panchika
According to Buddhist legends, Hariti, in a former incarnation, had vowed to devour all infants at Rajagriha and as a consequence she forfeited her life and was reborn as a yakshi and gave birth to five hundred children. She used to eat some infants every day till the Buddha was informed of this. He took and concealed one of her own children, which she called her beloved child. She sought for it from place to place and found it with the Buddha. When accused, the Buddha expressed amazement at her anxiety for just one child among her five hundred children, when people having only one or two had lost their children on account of her vow. Thus chastened, Hariti soon was converted but in her anxiety for her children she asked the Buddha how her children could subsist thereafter! The Buddha replied that, in every monastery where the Bhikhshus dwell, her family would partake of sufficient food every day. According to the Chinese traveller I-tsing (671 C.E.) this was the reason the image of Hariti is found either in the porch or in a corner of the dining hall of all Indian monasteries depicting her as holding a baby in her arms and round her knees three of five children (Takakasu, A Record of the Buddhist Religion By I-tsing, Oxford 1896, p. 37). The figure of Hariti is represented in sculptures either as standing or seated with childred hanging around her. Her male companion is identified as the yaksha war-lord (senapati) Panchika. In the standing figures he is rather scantily dressed wearing just a loin-cloth (kaupina), while another cloth hangs loosely around his body leaving bare the upper part and almost the whole of the lower part. The second century C.E. panel in typical spotted red sandstone from Mathura depicts the semi-divine pot-bellied Panchika, the lord of the yakshas, seated with his consort Hariti in association with other attendants and worshippers.
Jambhala is the Buddhist counterpart of Kubera, the Hindu god of wealth and like him presides over the domain of riches. Like Kubera he seems to have been originally a yaksha. As the bestower of riches he is very popular among the Buddhists. Usually, he is presented as having one face and two hands, the right holding a citron (bijapura) and the left a mongoose (nakula) vomiting jewels. Pots of jewels are also mentioned in connection with such description.
The two-armed potbellied figure is seated in lalitasana on a double petal lotus placed over a high pedestal, which is inscribed in the bhaikshuki script. The right leg is placed on seven upturned pots pouring out corn. The figure displays the varada mudra by the right hand and in the left, holds a mongoose vomiting pearls. Two figures of Dhyani Buddha Akshobhya are placed on either side of the deity. The stele of this eleventh-century sculpture has designed edges and two upturned pots pouring out corn.
Seated in padmasana on a lotus over a high triratha pedestal having four elephants in three compartments (two in the central and one each on either side), the figure of Vajrasattva holds a vajra in the right hand resting against his chest, and the left hand resting on his left thigh holds a ghanta. He wears jewelled ornaments and a Mkarandamukuta. An elaborate stele with the throne and ornamented halo are in the background. The presence of the vajra and the ghanta, the two priestly symbols, emphasizes his position as the priest of the panchajinas of the Buddhist pantheon.
The two-armed figure of Tara, the supreme goddess of the Buddhist pantheon stands with a slight flexion of the body. Holding the stalk of a water lily (utpala) in her left hand and the right displaying the varada mudra, the figure is attended on her right by a four-armed Ekajata (identifiable by the elephant goad held by the two upperhand and kartri and kapala by the two lower hands) and another female figure holding a flywhisk in the right hand and an axe in the left. The Buddhist creed is inscribed on the pedestal. The back slab edged with beaded and petal designs bears a miniature stupa.
Standing with slight flexion of the body, the figure of Tara holds the stem of an utpala in the left hand. The right hand, though broken, appears to have been in varada mudra. Clad in a lower garment and a transparent uttariya and wearing all ornaments she is accompanied on the right side by four-armed Eakajata. She holds an elephant’s skin by the two upper hands and a kartri and a kapala by the two lower hands. To the left of Tara stands a male figure (Manjusri?), a sword in his right hand and a pasa entwined in his left. The inscribed pedestal bears a seated musician. The back slab bears the effigies of Dhyani Buddhas Akshobhya and Amitabha on either side of the head of the central figure.
Standing in pratyalidha posture on a chariot drawn by seven pigs, the figure of Marichi is four-faced, the left one being that of a sow. The Buddhist goddess of solar energy holds in her eight hands a vajra, a sara, a suchi, the tarjanipasa, the asoka pallava, a dhanus, an ankusa and a sutra. She is accompanied by four female attendants, a pair each in the lower and upper sections. Dhyani Buddha Vairochana is on the top of the stele, on which are carved flames. Rahu, one of the nine planets, is seen in the center of the pedestal while a female charioteer stands behind him. The figure follows the description of Ashtabhuja Marichi as found in the Sadhanamala.
Ushnishavijaya, one of the twelve dharini goddesses of the Buddhist pantheon is seated in vajraparyanka attitude on a lotus over a high pedestal. The three-faced, eight-armed goddess most probably held a vajra near the breast with one of her right hands, now broken. The other three right hands display the varada mudra, hold an arrow and a stalk of lotus supporting a figure of Dhyani Buddha Amitabha. In the four left hands she displays a kumbha on palm, the abhaya mudra, a pasa with raised tarjani and a chapa (dhanus or bow). The stele bears Dhyani Buddha Akshobhya above the head of the goddess and three miniature stupas probably intended to indicate her position within chaityagarbhas as described in the Sadhanamala. The only discrepancy is in the presence of Akshobhya instead of Vairochana.
The lotus on which she is seated is shown as emerging from the ocean - visva-padma.
The four-armed deity is seated in vajraparyanka on a double-petal lotus seat. Her lower right hand displays the varada mudra, while the upper right carries a rosary. The lower left hand is placed on the lap, palm out-turned carrying a shallow dish (patra) while her upper left hand holds the stem of a lotus supporting a manuscript. The rosary and the the pustaka generally lead to her identification as, deposited by the Buddha in the Nagalok, are Prajnaparamita. However, the varada mudra of her right hand and the patra she carries in her left hand helps in indentifying her as Chunda.
Sponsoring Institution: Indian Museum, Kolkata
Cheif Co-Ordinator: Dr. Jayanta Sengupta
Resource Person: Shri Sadashiva Gorakshar
Exhibition prepared by:
Dr. Anasua Das
Dr. Mita Chakrabarty
Dr. Nita Sengupta
Shri Satyakam Sen
Smt. Shrabanti Sardar
Photographs by: Photography Unit