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Limestone drum slab depicting the birth of Prince Siddhartha

 

Height: 157.500 cm
Width: 96.250 cm
Thickness: 14.000 cm

Transferred from the India Museum

Asia OA 1880.7-9.44

Room 33a: Amaravati

    Limestone drum slab depicting the birth of Prince Siddhartha

    From the Great Stupa at Amaravati, Guntur District, Andhra Pradesh, India, 2nd century AD

    The remains of the Great Stupa at Amaravati are some of the most valuable and impressive expressions of early Buddhism in India. This relief, one of the finest sculptures from Amaravati, shows four scenes relating the birth of the Buddha.

    The top-right panel depicts the sleeping Queen Maya, mother of Prince Siddhartha (the Buddha). According to myth, Siddhartha's conception took place when Maya saw a white elephant enter her side in a dream. In this scene, she is with her attendant and the Lokapalas, guardians of the four directions. The narrative progresses to the panel on the left, where astrologers and seers are collected to interpret this dream in the court of her husband, King Shuddhodhana.

    The bottom-right scene shows the next part of the narrative, the moment after Siddhartha was born. Maya was walking in the Lumbini forest, and, holding on to the branch of a shala tree, gave birth to him, again from her right side. The image of a person holding the branch of a tree is an ancient one in India, which is also seen in the cult of the Shalabhanjika Yakshi (literally, the yakshi who is breaking a branch of the Shala tree). The baby Siddhartha is depicted symbolically as a long cloth held by the four Lokapalas. His presence is indicated by the presence of two tiny footprints on the cloth.

    The last scene in the bottom-left of the relief shows Maya taking the baby to the clan's yaksha, Shakyavardhana. A platform with offerings around it underlines the sacredness of the tree in which he resides. When the tree spirit recognizes the baby's Buddhahood to come, he appears from the trunk, and reverentially folds his hands, worshipping the child. Since Siddhartha's divine nature is by this time known, in the last scene we see his aniconic presence (his footprints upon the cloth) sheltered by a parasol carried by an attendant.

    D. Barrett, Sculptures from Amaravati in t (London, Trustees of the British Museum, 1954)

    R. Knox, Amaravati: Buddhist sculpture (London, The British Museum Press, 1992)

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    On display: Room 33a: Amaravati

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