Height: 124.370 cm
Width: 86.250 cm
Thickness: 12.500 cm (10.00 for reverse)
Transferred from the India Museum
Asia OA 1880.7-9.79
Room 33a: Amaravati
Limestone drum slab with carving on two sides
From the Great Stupa at Amaravati, Guntur District, Andhra Pradesh, India, 1st century BC and 3rd century AD
The Enlightenment of the Buddha and the Great Stupa itself
This relief has been carved on both sides at different times. The earlier carving, dating from approximately the first century BC, shows a group of men worshipping at the spot where the Buddha received enlightenment. On the other side is an elaborately carved stupa from the 3rd century AD. The scene of the Enlightenment shows an empty throne under the bodhi tree. At the base of the throne are a pair of Buddhapadas (footprints of the Buddha) bearing dharmachakras ('Wheel of the Law' set in motion by the Buddha's First Sermon). Five worshippers surround the throne and a pair of kimnaras (semi-divine beings) hover above the tree. The empty throne, the footprints, the umbrella above the throne and the decorations on the sacred tree all symbolically refer to the Buddha, who is pointedly not represented as a human figure present at the scene.
This relief comes from the early phase of sculptures at Amaravati, characterized by the shallow but bold carving of figures. The figures are more rigid, and have broad faces like the early figures from sites such as Bharhut.
The relief was reused a few centuries later, where the reverse of the slab was carved with a detailed depiction of the Great Stupa itself. The style of this carving is in keeping with the last phase of Satavahana patronage at the site, with many animated figures in fluid postures in a compact composition. The figures are much more fleshy than the earlier scene on the reverse, and their limbs more attenuated.
Reliefs such as this help us to reconstruct what the Great Stupa would have looked like, and where the reliefs that survive in museum collections would originally have been placed.
An image of the Buddha stands in the entrance to the stupa being worshipped. By this phase of the sculpture at Amaravati, iconic depictions of the Buddha had begun, unlike 3 centuries earlier, when the reverse was carved, and his presence only referred to through symbols.
Many features of the Great Stupa depicted here can be seen in the Amaravati Gallery in The British Museum, such as the lions seated on pillars guarding the entrance. The stories from each of the reliefs portrayed on the drum of the stupa come from the life of the Buddha. Banners and an umbrella sprout from the summit of the stupa, which is surrounded by celestial beings, and dwarf yakshas (nature deities).
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)