Grey schist relief panel showing the maha-pari-nirvana

From Gandhara, 2nd-3rd century AD

The great state beyond nirvana

According to Buddhist doctrine, whatever situation we are in at any one time is precisely the result of our previous actions. This principle of karma fits within the grand cycle of samsara, or the vicious cycle of birth, death and rebirth. In every birth there is suffering and it is through one's karma in a human birth that one can transcend the cycle and not be reincarnated.

Correct and meritorious action should lead one to nirvana. The Buddha achieved nirvana meditating under the Bodhi tree, a subject that is represented in numerous Buddhist sculptures. This particular relief shows his physical passing from this world, called the maha-pari-nirvana, or the great state beyond nirvana.

The figure of the Buddha has been treated quite frontally. The robe that covers his body has regular curves and rounded edges indicating folds of drapery. His calm, haloed face is gently supported by a pillow and his right hand. The grieving figures that surround him include princes, mendicants (beggars) and lay followers. In front of the couch on which he lies are presumably the monk Ananda and nun Subhadra, while Aniruddha stands beside the Buddha's head. The bearded figure with a bare torso standing next to him is probably Vajrapani, the Buddha's guardian spirit.

Find in the collection online

More information


W. Zwalf, A catalogue of the Gandhara sc, 2 vols. (London, The British Museum Press, 1996)


Height: 23.800 cm
Width: 35.000 cm
Depth: 8.400 cm

Museum number

Asia OA 1913.11-8.17


Gift of Lt. Col. G.A. Dale


Find in the collection online

Search highlights

There are over 4,000 highlight objects to explore