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Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Buddhist Art of Ancient Arakan ( XVII )


Great Events of The Master’s Life

The Eight Scenes stele of Arakan

See Picture. Go It is made up of andagu rock which is translated as dolomite by some authors and as steatite by others. The size of the stele is 6 cm at the base and 9.5 cm in height. The arrangements of the scenes are normal.

At the top is the parinirvana scene. There is a caitya and a reclining figure on a couch. Underneath the couch, there are five mourners.

The death or parinirvana forms the last one of the Four Principal incidents of the Master’s life. When he reached his eightieth year the end came. He was at Pava, which was situated north of Vaisali. He was entertained by Cunda, a blacksmith of the town and ate a meal of rice, cakes and sukaramaddava, which cannot be translated correctly. It may be a boar’s tender flesh. After the meal he was attacked by dysentery. However, he went on to Kusinagara. On the outskirts of the town, he laid down between two sal trees and that night he died. The death or parinirvana of Buddha took place on the full moon of Vaisakha (May) as did his birth and enlightenment.

Digha-nikaya, Part II of Maha parinibbana – Sutta gave us the following last words of the Master: ‘Behold now brethren, I exhort you, saying, “Decay is inherent in all component things! Work out your salvation with diligence!”

Below this scene is an archway of peepal foliage, having five branches, shading the main figure of Buddha in Bhumisparsa mudra and in Vajra sana. The usnisa is somewhat conical. He has a forehead mark and a neck with three graceful folds (trivali). He is sitting on a double lotus throne with elephant/lion/vyala motifs under it. There was a flaming halo behind the Buddha and we can see the backrest of the throne also. This is the scene of Enlightenment. He attained this under a large peepal tree on the outskirts of the town of Gaya.

If we start from the top right, the first scene is the Descent from Tavatimsa. Here the standing Buddha is flanked by indistinct figures.

After the miracles performed at Sravasti were over, the Buddha went to Tavatimsa where he preached his true law to the god who has in the previous existence been his mother for three months. The Buddha then descended from Tavatimsa to Samkasya in the company of Indra and Brahma.

The top left shows the attempt of Devadatta on the Master’s life by using the Nalagiri elephant. The scene consists of a standing Buddha in abhaya mudra and a small elephant kneeling near the left leg.

Devadatta tried to kill Buddha on many occasions on account of his jealousy and hatred. One of the occasions was when the Master was walking through the narrow street of Rajagriha, the capital of Magadha. Devadatta persuaded the keeper of a mad elephant named Nalagiri, to let it loose in the street through which the Master was passing. The elephant charged at Buddha. But when it came close to Buddha it was subdued and it bowed down before the Master.

The middle left and right figures of Buddha are in Dharmacakra mudra and in vajra sana. As usual, the left one represents the First Sermon and the right the Miracles at Sravasti.

After enlightenment, he was in doubt whether he should preach the Dharma to the people of the world. Brahma and other gods came and begged him to do so. He then searched for some one who could understand his Dharma. His own teachers Alara Kalama and Udraka Ramaputra who could have understood were dead. He set out for the Deer Park (Mrigadava) near Varanasi Sermon to them, thereby setting in motion the wheel of the Law (Dharmacakrapravartana).

Buddha and his disciples traveled far and wide and taught his Dharma to the people. The Blessed – One’s arguments were persuasive but sometimes he performed miracles to support his claim. As a result of a challenge from rival teachers, he was said to have performed miracles at Sravasti, the capital of the kingdom of Kosala. The climax of the miracles was the Yamaka Pratiharya or twin Miracles. Here he made fire and water issue simultaneously from his body and preached to the audience from the four cardinal points simultaneously.

The lower right scene is the scene of Nativity, that is, the birth of Buddha. It consists of a standing female figure holding on to a branch of a tree over her head with her right hand had a standing child to the left of the female. On the right of her there are two indistinct figures which cannot be identified. The female figure is Buddha’s mother Maya devi, the tree is a sal tree representing the Lumbani garden near Kaplilavastu. The child is Buddha.

Maya devi, the queen of the Sakyas, was traveling from Kapilavastu to Devadaha, her parent’s home for her confinement, On the way she gave birth to her child in the Lumbani grove between two tall sal trees. At birth he was supposed to have stood upright, to have taken seven steps and to have spoken: “This is my last birth – henceforth there is no more birth for me.”

The lower left scene is the scene of Parileyyaka retreat. Here Buddha is sitting in pralambanasana that is, sitting with the legs hanging with almsbowl in lap receiving the offerings of Elephant or Monkey.

According to Jinatha pakasani, Buddha went to Parileyyaka forest alone after finding his monks in dispute over a small matter. The forest was seven Yuzanas away from Kosambi twon. There, in the forest a lone king elephant looked after him day and night, offering him food and protecting him from the wild animals. A monkey seeing the pious deeds done by the elephant had the desire of serving Buddha. The monkey searched for some eatables to offer to the Blessed – One and found honey which it offered to the Buddha. When Buddha accepted its gift, the monkey was overjoyed and started dancing on a tree nearby. While dancing the branches gave way and it fell down on a sharp stump which was underneath and was impaled.

The above eight scenes occurred in the following eight sites.

1) Parinirvana - Kusinagara

2) Enlightenment - Bodh – Gaya

3) Descent from Tavatimsa - Samkasya

4) Nalagiri elephant - Rajagriha

5) The First Sermon - Varanasi

6) Twin Miracles - Sravasti

7) Nativity - Kapilavastu

8) Parileyyaka Retreat - Kosambi

These places are the eight chief places of pilgrimage for Buddhists. The Eight Great Events of Buddha’s life can thus be represented on a small measuring 6 cm at the base and 9.5 cm in height.

The ten scenes stele of Arakan

See Picture. Go The size of this andagu stele is 13 cm at the base and 18 cm in height.

At the top is caitya and Parinirvana scene. Figures on the left and right end of this scene appear to be holding some kind of branches. In between them and the couch are two pots holding flowers. There are three mourners below the couch.

Underneath this scene is an archway of peepal foliage. This archway also has five branches but is arranged in a different way. The foliage shades the main figure of Buddha who is in Bhumisparsa mudra and in vajra sana. He is sitting on a leather mat placed on a double lotus throne. He has the usnisa and forehead mark and is dressed in monk’s robe. The neck has the usual three graceful folds.

The double lotus throne rises on a stalk and is supported at the corners by two wide-straddling Naga kings and in the middle by two mythical figures. The upper part of the base which supports the Naga kings and the mythical figures consists of crouching elephant in the middle with lions at the sides. Below this is the lower base consisting of seven auspicious symbols out of which a prancing horse, a walking elephant and a seated figure with one hand upraised can be seen distinctly. Other figures are indistinct.

At each side of the main figure of Buddha stand two Bodhisattva. Above them the under the outer branches of the peepal tree are Mara’s soldiers attacking Buddha. At the top right, one of Mara’s daughters can be seen flying. Since the top left is broken a similar flying daughter of Mara might be there too.

At each side of the Bodhisattvas are two columns of figures in four tiers. The top three tiers of these columns present the usual six scenes. This time there are two figures for each scene. On three tiers on the left, we have the taming of Nalagiri elephant, the First Sermon at Mrigadava and Parileyyaka Retreat scenes. On three tiers on the right we have the Descent from Tavatimsa, Twin Miracles and Nativity. The lowest tier consists of the Naga Mucalinda sheltering the Buddha on the right and the scene of the fast or Dukkhacariya on the left.

It was said that a few weeks after the Enlightenment, there are a great storm in Bodh-Gaya and the rain fell in torrents for several days. During this period, a Naga king, Mucalinda by name, protected the Buddha by coiling his body around Buddha’s body and keeping his hood as an umbrella over his head. This story produces the Mucalinda scene.

The Fast or Dukkacariya was done by Buddha in the hope of wearing away his karma and obtaining final bliss. For six years he tortured himself until he was reduced to a skeleton. Yet he did not get the real knowledge. He finally realized that his fasts and penances had been useless. See Picture. Go

The two inner figures of the top tier show the standing Buddha. The outer figure of the top right scene seems to be Indra or Brahma. The two inner figures of the second tier sit in Dhyana mudra without alm bowls. The two outer figures are in Dharmacakra mudra. The two inner figures in the third tier sit in Dhyana mudra. The outer figure on the left sit in paralambana sana with an alm bowl on the lap. The outer figure on the right is a standing female figure with a child standing by her side. The left outer figure of the lowest tier, that is the fourth tier, is the figure of Buddha sitting in Dhyana mudra. Beside him is a figure kneeling in prayer. The right outer figure of the lowest tier is the figure of Buddha in Dhyana mudra sitting under the hood of Mucalinda Naga. The right inner figure is also a figure kneeling in prayer. These two figures kneeling in prayer are indistinct. But we can make out by comparing this stele with an andagu Eight Scenes, Seven Sites (Tabayin) stele presented in Plate 401 in Gordon Luce’s Book “Old Burma – Early Pagan”. They may probably be Sariputta and Moggallana.

The main Buddha image in our stele is uncrowned and is with usnisa and curls of hair. The Buddha wears monk’s robes only, whereas, the main Buddha image in Tabayin stele is crowned and wears ear pendents, necklace and torque on top of the robe of a monk on his body. Also our stele has Mara’s flying daughters on the top right and left corners and seven auspicious symbols at the base. These are not present in Tabayin Stele shown in Luce’s Book.

In his book, there are a number of Eight Scene steles which were, found in other parts of Burma. He had analyzed their functions and explained all the scenes exhaustively.

Since we have two extra scenes, viz, the protection of the Master’s body from wind and rain by Mucalinda Naga and the Fast or Dukkhacariya before Enlightenment, we call our stele as a ten scene stele. Since the two extra scenes occurred in Bodh – Gaya, the number of sites do not change from eight.

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