Seven Weeks After the Buddha's Enlightenment (Contradictions in Text, Confusions in Art)

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Item Code: NAR302
Author: Osmund Bopearachchi
Publisher: Manohar Publishers and Distributors
Language: English
Edition: 2016
ISBN: 9789350981375
Pages: 76 (Throughout Color Illustrations)
Other Details 9.50 X 7.50 inch
Weight 240 gm
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Book Description
About the Book

This groundbreaking volume explores a revelatory Andharan style relief recently discovered in Sri Lanka. It adds to the growing body of archaeological evidence of important exchanges between the Buddhists of Sri Lanka and their co-religionists in the Krishna Valley. This relief is the most ancient document attested to date depicting the events that took place during the first seven weeks following the enlightenment of the Buddha. Its unique iconography leads the author to closely examine contradictions between literary evidence and visual representations of what is known as the sambodhi, or ‘perfect awakening’, of the Buddha. According to the classic Buddhist texts, the Mahavastu and the Lalitavistara, the B Buddha spent seven weeks after his enlightenment near the Bodhi tree. By contrast, the Buddhist canonical text the Vinaya-Pitaka describes this period as only four weeks long. Sri Lankan and Burmese artists have preferred to depict the seven-week account. Furthermore, the ‘seven-week’ motif depicted in this Andharan relief follows the chronological order given in the important Pali texts, the Nidanakatha and the Mahabodhi-Vamsa. The textual confusions and artistic contradictions uncovered by this volume present a bigger picture of the complex ways in which the story of the Buddha’s life was imagined in the earliest period of recorded Buddhist history. The present study is the first in a series of books by this author on Buddhist art.

About the Author

Osmund Bopearachchi is Adjunct Professor of Central and South Asian Art, Archaeology and Numismatics at University of California, Berkeley, and Emeritus Director of Research at the French National Centre for Scientific Research (C.N.R.S. E.N.S. Paris). A numismatist, art historian, and archaeologist, he has published ten University of Keleniya (Sri Lanka), and B.A. Honors, (M.A.), M.Phil., Ph.D. from the Paris I-Sorbonne University, and a Higher Doctorate (Habilitation) from the Paris IV-Sorbonne University.


The present study is based on a hitherto unpublished relief most probably sculpted in Sri Lanka by an artist of the Nagarjunakonda School, using a hard lime slab from Andhra. It was found accidentally in the premises of the Rankirimada Rajamaha Vihara, Doluwa, Kumbukwewa (Kurunagala district) in Sri Lanka. This relief is the most ancient document, attested to date, depicting the events that took place during the first seven weeks that follow the Sambodhi (Perfect Awakening) of the Buddha and its unique iconography led us to closely examine the contradictions contained in some Buddhist texts when describing these seven weeks. As we progressed in our research, it became evident that certain flaws in the textual narrations have caused confusion not only in the minds of visual artists of the past, but also in the interpretations proposed by art historians of the present day.

This study is based on a paper presented at the 22nd International Conference of the European Association for South Asian Archaeologists in July 2014, Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities, Stockholm and a series of conferences on related themes given at the Department of Religious Studies, Yale University, on 4 March 2015; at the Centre for Buddhist Studies, University of California Berkeley on 9 April 2015, at the South Asia Institute, University of Texas, Austin, on 16 April 2015, at the Department of Asian Studies, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitat, Munich on 7 July 2015 and at the Royal Asiatic Society, Colombo on 28 December 2015. I have largely benefited by the discussions that followed these talks with the scholars who attended them. In this regard, I wish to express my gratitude to Monika Zin, Janice Leoshko, Akira Shimada, Alexander von Rospatt, Robert Sharf, Donald Stadtner, Christoph Ander, Stanley Insler, Lilian Handlin and very particularly to Phyllis Granoff for answering my numerous queries. I am most grateful to late Sunil Ananda Samarakoon, former curator of the Archaeological Museum at Panduwasnuwara for draw-ing my attention to this important relief. My special thanks go to Dr Senartah Disanayaka, Director-General of Archaeology, Department of Archaeology, Sri Lanka, for authorizing me to publish this relief as well as the paintings from the Kandyan period dispersed in many Buddhist temples. I am also much indebted to Dr. Gautam Sengupta, former Director-General of the Archaeological Survey of India for authorizing me to publish reliefs from the sanci and Nagdrjunakonda Stupas.

The present study based on research in museums and fieldwork in ancient sites in India, Sri Lanka, and Burma would not have been possible without the generous support of the Trung Lam Research Fund for Central Asian Art and Archaeology (2010-15) established by Richard Beleson and Kim Lam Beleson at the Center for Buddhist Studies at University of California, Berkeley.

I wish to dedicate this humble presentation to my friends, colleagues and students who took part in my seminar on Buddhist art at the University of California, Berkeley, as the Numata Visiting Professor of Buddhist Studies during the spring Semester, 2015.


The focal point of the present study is the unique and unpublished relief of late Andhra style sculpted in Sri Lanka by an artist from Nagarjunakoncla using a hard lime slab imported from Andhra. Unfortunately, the relief was found broken into two pieces. In spite of the bad state of its preservation, the scenes in question can be identified without any problem.

Archaeological evidence, along with epigraphic and literary sources attest the intense interactions between the Buddhists of Sri Lanka and those of the same faith in the Krishna Valley in Andhra during the early centuries of the Common Era. The earliest Buddha images in the round known in Sri Lanka were carved out of Andhra hard limestone and were brought to the island by traders, pilgrims and monks using maritime routes.

It is also well-known that Buddhist art in Sri Lanka, apart from rare exceptions, is deprived of bas-reliefs or rock cut images depicting the life of the historical Buddha. Most of the portable slabs found in the island were executed in the Krishna Valley in Andhra Pradesh and were imported to Sri Lanka. The two panels found in 1894, in the Bodhighara, in a paddy field about a mile from Anuradhapura depicting the dream of Mahamaya and the interpretation of the dream, now exhibited in the Colombo National Museum were certainly executed in India, as their prototypes in Andhra art prove. Many fragments and intact slabs found in the Bodhighara south of the Jetavana Stupa in Anuradhapura, unearthed during excavations conducted by the Cultural Triangle, in November 1986, are made of Andhra hard limestone, and stylistically they belong to the Nagarjunakonda School. The slab depicting the renunciation of Prince Siddhartha, now in the Gririhandu-Vihara in Ambalantota executed in the Andhra lime stone is of the later Nagarjunakoncla style. As we have pointed out elsewhere, two out of four railing pillars found in the Bodhighara of the Jetavanarama monastery in Anuradhapura are unfinished, and it is almost certain that the hard-lime stone slabs were imported to the island from Andhra and were sculpted in situ by Andhra artists before fixing them to the railing base. As Senarat Paranavitana, the first Director-General of Archaeology of independent Sri Lanka, has suggested, "The evidence of the influence of Andhra art on that of early Ceylon is so overwhelming, that it may even be suggested that a branch of that school was established in Ceylon, and that the sculptures on the frontispieces of the ancient stiipas are the work of that school.

It is important to underline that during the immediate centuries before and during the Common Era, Buddhism was the dominant religion of South India and very particularly in Andhra Pardesh. One of the Buddhist groups for which we have clear evidence at Nagarjunakonda is the Theravadins from Sri Lanka who have been referred to as the Theravadins of the Mahavihara. Another Buddhist sect from Sri Lanka lived at the Chula Dhamma Giri Vihara in Nagarjunakonda.

The Great Stiipas of Amaravati and Nagarjunakonda symbolize, in the same manner as many Buddhist monuments in India such as Sand, Bharhut and Kanganahalli, the political and economic supremacy of the ruling dynasties. However, there would have been a powerful religious motivation on the part of the local Buddhist population that drove the construction of these Buddhist monuments in the Krishna Valley. The huge amount of resources needed to build these gigantic monuments would have come from devout nobles and traders of Buddhist faith who were well established in Dharanikota. Their wealth was based on the flourishing inland and international trade centres in the ports of Dharanikota and other trade stations of the Andhradesa on the rivers and along the coast.

Sri Lanka being an island situated in the middle of the Indian Ocean at the intersection of many maritime routes played an important role in this international trade network. Epigraphic, numismatic and archaeological discoveries in Sri Lanka and South India have added to the growing body of evidence attesting the close cultural, social, religious and commercial ties between Sri Lanka and Andhra-Tamil Nadu from the early historical period. The underwater excavations of the Godavaya shipwreck, close to Ambalantota near the southern coast of Sri Lanka, dating back to the second century BCE, conducted by the American Universities of Texas A & M and Berkeley jointly with the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) and the Department of Archaeology, Sri Lanka, have already revolutionized our knowledge of the history of maritime trade in South Asia, particularly between India and Sri Lanka.

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