Diameter: 53.750 cm
Thickness: 31.000 cm
Asia OA 1880.7-9.12
Room 33a: Amaravati
Limestone roundel depicting the Mandhata jataka
From a crossbar at the Great Stupa at Amaravati, Guntur District, Andhra Pradesh, India, 2nd century AD
This roundel is one of the finest reliefs from Amaravati in the British Museum's collection. It depicts a scene from the Mandhata jataka. Mandhata was a rich and prosperous chakravartin ('Universal Emperor') who had ruled the world for thousands of years. He had grown dissatisfied, having realized every conceivable desire that the mortal world could offer. Thus he decided to include heaven in his realm, since that was all that seemed to be left to which he could aspire. Though his reign over heaven and earth lasted many thousands of years, again, he still felt desire and craving, and was still not satisfied. He finally aspired to the highest of heavens. Shakra (the Pali Buddhist equivalent for Indra), the king of the Gods himself, came to receive him in full state, and offered to share his throne with Mandhata. It is this moment that is depicted here.
A languid and evocative scene of courtly life is shown. The two main protagonists sit comfortably on the large throne. They are entirely surrounded by women who are wholly engaged in attending to the men, in music and dance or seated on stools in the chamber. An impressive array of contemporary musical instruments is being played, including long bow harps, drums and a transverse flute. In the top left-hand corner we can see a woman behind a curtain adjusting her coiffure looking into a mirror held by her attendant.
Ultimately even the joys of the supreme heaven became boring. Mandhata's insatiable desire ultimately had him sent back to earth, where he rapidly aged and died. The Buddha ended the story with his fundamental teaching that all desire leads to suffering, it is only with the removal of all desires that one can achieve the stateless state, the nothingness of nirvana.
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)