The walls of square are decorated in multi-colors with stylized designs. There are four gateways in the square in each four cardinal directions. Over the gates are houses in which reside the protector deities. Two Siddhas are seated on either side of each gate outside the walls. The square is surrounded with three circles. The outer circle is of the charnel ground, followed by the circle of fire fence which is florally rendered here. Then is the circle of lotus petals. The mandala id surrounded with the scenes from the life of Gautama Buddha. The scenes are depicted in very much in detail but not in consecutive order. So it is difficult to follow a consecutive order. However anticlockwise from the upper centre the scenes are -
1. The Buddha is seated on a lotus throne and his aureole is surrounded with animals and Garuda topping them which generally symbolizes six paramitas. The scene perhaps depicts Buddha as religious teacher. It is said that when Buddha reborn in Tushita heaven as Svetketu, he perfected the ten stages of Bodhisattva path in according with the aspirations and prophecies made in previous lives, and was enthroned as the Dharma-guru of the diving beings in that realm. Once he heard some verses of music in the heavenly palace, and he nobly resolve to take birth, attain perfect awakening, refutes heretics and spread the Dharma in the dark age of the human world. Thus the Buddha here makes up his mind to take re-birth in the human world to relieve the people from their sufferings.
2. Mahamaya's Dream: when Svetketu decided to manifest himself on earth he looked for parents of royal caste as they were more respected there than priestly caste, and saw that king Suddhodana of the Shakyas was a qualified ruler, and his queen Mahamaya possessed all womanly virtues and was fit for the miraculous conception of a Bodhisattva. Then he descended to earth in the form of a white elephant. Mahamaya was sleeping alone in her chamber she saw this auspicious omen in her dream, and as it merged with her body, she subsequently became pregnant.
3. The Scene of Nativity As her due date approached, Mahamaya took a trip to her parental home to have the baby there with her mother, an ancient custom that is still practiced. It is said that during that period, there were numerous miraculous signs in the Lumbini grove, all the trees and plants burst into flowers, jeweled lotuses bloomed and there were heavenly lights and so on. When Mahamaya reached the park Lumbini, her son was born from her right side as she held the branch of the shala tree. Gods and goddesses gathered to rejoice in the birth of a prince in the lineage of awakened conquerors, Brahma and Indra wrapped him in a soft jeweled rob, and the kings of the Nagas anointed him with perfumed water. Then the new born baby walked seven steps in each of the four directions, to signify his dedication to the path of the 'four immeasurable' (love, compassion, joy and equanimity), and dazzling lotus flowers sprang up from each footprint. The new born baby was then brought to Kapilvastu and was named Siddhartha, means whose purpose has been fulfilled. Queen Mahamaya passed away seven days after delivering the prince Siddhartha. The prince was brought up by his foster-mother Prajapati Gautami.
4. Raising the Prince Siddhartha: Sage Asita had prophesied to king Suddhodana that the Little Siddhartha was destined to be either a universal monarch or a Buddha. Fearing the latter alternative, king brought him up isolated in the luxuries of the palace and best education was imparted to him. The young Siddhartha confounds his teachers by exceptional knowledge for his age. He defeats his companions at wrestling, athletics, swimming and other sports. Prince was married to Yasodhara whom he won in a contest. In the present thangka the scenes pertaining to this topic are depicted below the scenes of nativity. Here first a lama is shown seated on seat, below him is a standing Buddha against a jeweled tree with two wrathful deities. Thereafter baby Siddhartha is shown in a tub perhaps prince is being bathed by his attendants a lama is standing there. The lower right corner depicts a lama teacher is imparting education to Siddhartha and one of his companions. Thereafter a meditative Buddha is shown seated against a stupa and he surrounded with his disciples.
5. The event of Mahaparinirvana: The scene is depicted in the bottom centre of the painting. Although Shakyamuni had a perfect form of a Tathagata who had thoroughly defeated Mara and gone beyond birth death, at the age of eighty, the Buddha decided to manifest the passing away of his physical body into parinirvana in order to stir the majority of his followers, who still clung to the illusions of permanence and the inherent existence of phenomena, out of their complacency. He handed over responsibility for protecting the teachings and four communities of disciples to Mahakashypa, and guided his last disciples, the Gandharva Pramoda and the mendicant Subhadra, to liberation. He travelled towards Kushinagar, and came to rest in a grove of sala trees outside the city where he announced his impending departure from the world. He thereafter gently consoled Ananda, who was lamenting bitterly. "Do not weep, do not despair, Ananda. From all that he loves man must part. How could it be that what is born, what is subject to instability, should not pass? May be, you were thinking, 'we have no longer a master.' That must not be, O Ananda. The doctrine I have preached to you is your master." He replied :
"handa dani bhikkhave amantayami vo;
vayadhamma sankhara, appamadena sampadetta' ti
verily, I say unto you now, O monks: All things are perishable; work out your deliverance with earnest." These were his last words. He thereafter reclined on his right side in the lion pose on a throne, and passed into Parinirvana. Apart from Ananda there were several monks present at the time of his Mahaparinirvana. After the cremation, ashes and sarira relics from the pyre were divided among the Buddha's followers, and enshrined at the heart of eight great stupas.
6. Siddhartha's Renunciation, Asceticism and Enlightenment: As mentioned above, fearing the Asita's forecast that Siddhartha is destined to become either a Buddha or universal monarch, Suddhodana provide a royal luxurious life to Siddhartha to distract his mind. But luxurious life did not attract him. When he was twenty-nine years old Yasodhara had a son, named Rahula. After a time prince had a strong desire to see the other places surrounding the palace. On his three trips he encountered suffering in the form of an old man, a sick man, and a corpse. On his fourth trip he saw a man dressed in orange clothes and carrying a bowl, looking very calm and peaceful. The charioteer told him that this was a person who renounced the world with all its luxuries and was looking for truth and peace, that this person had no desire or anger, and that he lived by begging for his food. These sights made him ponder over the miseries of existence and also on a way of escaping from them. Thereafter after Gautama decided to leave the worldly life and he secretly left his royal palace and finally went to the forest, where he removed his royal garments and jewelry and cut off his long princely hair against a stupa and wrapped himself in a simple monk's robe. Gautama subsequently sat under a tree and meditated as a hermit for six years. He had five mendicant companions in the forest. He seeks one teacher after another. He imbibed all that they had to teach him, but as his thirst for truth, remained unquenched he moved on and ultimately reached a picturesque land, near modern Bodhgaya, which was surrounded by luxuriant woods through which ran a gentle stream with banks of silver sand. Gautama practiced rigid austerities and resorted to different kinds of self-torture. For six years he lived in this manner and reduced to a skeleton. Yet real knowledge eluded him. At the end of six years he realized that physical torture was not the way to achieve enlightenment and decided to partake of food again. When on that day he was offered a bowl of milk rice (kheer) by Sujata, a rich merchant's daughter, devoted to him, he accepted it. At the same time he felt that in the course of that day he would become a Buddha. He spent the midday in a grove of sala trees on the bank of the Niranjana. When dusk fell he proceeded towards the Bodhi tree. On the way he met a grass cutter who gave him a bundle of soft grass. Spreading the grass at the Bodhi tree he sat in meditation and resolved thus, "skin sinew and bone may dry up as it will; my flesh and blood may dry in my body; but without attaining complete enlightenment shall I not leave this seat." During his seven weeks of pondering and meditation Mara tried to prevent Siddhartha from coming to the ultimate understanding, but in vain. At this, the solitary Siddhartha called the earth goddess to be his witness. The earth opened and the goddess confirmed that he had remained steadfast. Mara then back down and slunk away. It is said that after forty-nine days of thinking and meditating, Gautama received insight into both his former and present lives. He came to conclusion that extreme in life lead to nothing and that suffering must be eliminated. When he reached this insight, he attained Bodhi or enlightenment.
7. The Buddha's Descent from the Tushita Heaven: it is said that when the Buddha was forty one years old, he saw that the divine beings of the Tushita heaven had potential to be trained in virtues, and that his mother queen Mahamaya had reborn amongst them. Leaving Maudgalyayana as his representative on earth, he journeyed to that realm and decided to spend the annual rains retreat there in order to teach the Abhidharma to his mother. After three months period there, he descended to earth. There was a grand reception by all the major kings of the day including Brahma and Indra.
Alice Getty, Gods of Northern Buddhism, Tokyo, 1962
Ben Meulenbeld, Buddhist Symbolism in Tibetan Thangka, Holland, 2001
H. Kern, Manual of Indian Buddhism, Delhi, 1968
Lokesh Chandra, Transcendental Art of Tibet, Delhi, 1996
Mathew Akester, The Twelve Deeds of the Buddha, Kathmandu, 2003
P.V. Bapat, 25, 00 Years of Buddhism, Delhi, 1956
This description is by Dr. Shailendra K. Verma, whose Doctorate thesis is on "Emergence and Evolution of the Buddha Image (From its inception to 8th century A.D.)".