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Paintings > Thangka > Buddha Shakyamuni and Events From His Life
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Buddha Shakyamuni and Events From His Life

Buddha Shakyamuni and Events From His Life

Buddha Shakyamuni and Events From His Life

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Tibetan Thangka Painting

Size of Painted Surface 15.0" X 20.0"
Size with Brocade 28.0" X 35.0"
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Buddha Shakyamuni and Events From His Life

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The sweet faced serene Shakyamuni Buddha is seated on the six-ornament throne of enlightenment. There are two snow lions on each side of the throne. The right hand of the Buddha is in bhumisparsha-mudra, while the left hand holds a pindapatra. The Buddha is attended by His two chief disciples, Shariputra and Maudgalyayana. The bhumisparsha-mudra of the Buddha symbolizes His victory over Mara and His enlightenment at Bodhgaya. It is well known that Shakyamuni had overcome temptations of Mara and his demons in their innumerable aspects, some terrifying, some monstrous and some voluptuous. The intense inner struggle of Shakyamuni makes Him an immediately a great human figure to us. Mara tried to break him even when he had attained complete enlightenment and tempts him to vanish into nirvana and leave mankind in darkness. The Buddha is serene and motionless. He passed the raging fury of illusory forms. The supremely enlightened One was now aware of the cause of suffering and of the way to attain liberation from them. He called the Earth Goddess to witness by His earth-touching gesture (bhumisparsha-mudra). The right hand stretches down to earth, the palm inside and all fingers straight. By this gesture, He destroys all the demon of the earth.

The central figure of Buddha Shakyamuni is surrounded with the scenes of the events from His life. Although the scenes are not depicted in consecutive order, however anticlockwise from the upper left the scenes are -

1. The Scene of Mahamaya's Dream: According to tradition when the time came for Shakyamuni to manifest himself on earth, He descended to earth in the form of a White Elephant. Queen Mahamaya of Kapilavastu dreamed of a White Elephant that flew through the air in clouds and touch her right side with its trunk. Subsequently she became pregnant.

2. The Scene of Nativity: When Mahamaya's time was approaching she took a trip to parental home to have the baby there with her mother. When she reached the park of Lumbini and grabs hold of shala tree and bends a branch down, her son was born from her right side in standing position. This motif is common in older Indian art. If a young woman grasps a tree branch this way, it is said that the tree will burst into bloom. Taking this image one level further, it means that she herself is bursting into bloom, which indicates fertility.

3. Raising the Young Prince Siddhartha: The baby Siddhartha after the birth was brought to Kapilavastu and named Siddhartha; Queen Mahamaya died after seven days of giving birth. Siddhartha's aunt foster-mother Prajapati Gautami brought him up. Sage Asita after seeing the limbs of baby prophesied to His father that the little Siddhartha was destined to be either a universal monarch or a Buddha. Fearing this king Suddhodana brought him up isolated in the luxuries of the palace. But the prince had little interest in glamour or entertainment. Here Siddhartha is shown seated in the court and attended by subordinates.

4. Siddhartha in Sports and Game: Siddhartha excelled in all sports and games including swimming and archery. In the painting the scene is related to Siddhartha's marriage with Yasodhara. It was customary at that time that girls decided for themselves who they would marry. Therefore a tournament was organizes and made it known that Yasodhara would choose the one who excelled in courtly and military arts. Siddhartha went to the competition in the company of His cousin Devadatta and half-brother Nanda and others. An elephant had been placed inside the city gate to test, who among them was the strongest prince. Devadatta killed the animal with one hand with one hand and Nanda pulled it to the side. Afterwards Siddhartha showed up. He saw the senselessly killed animal, tossed it in an arch over the city wall, and the elephant instantly came to life again. At the tournament, Siddhartha excelled in all games and consequently Yasodhara selected Him as her groom. Siddhartha is shown here with three elephants and among them one is lying down. Here one more scene is depicted pertaining to Siddhartha's encounters with suffering. Here a dead person is being carried away by four persons. When Siddhartha had seen this scene His charioteer told Him death awaits all of us, and that after rebirth most people return to another similar miserable life.

5. Siddhartha's Ascetism: After marriage with Yasodhara, Siddhartha spent some time in the palace, but marriage life also did not change His mood. His every thought was focused with four episodes – old man, a sick man, a corpse, and a mendicant ascetic which He had seen during His journey outside the palace. He decided to withdraw into solitude and meditate, away from the precincts of a world of tears and pain, of decay and death. He secretly left His palace and then seated beside a stupa in forest and cut-off His long hair, removed His royal garments and jewelry and wrapped himself in a simple monk's robe. Siddhartha subsequently sat under a tree and meditated as a hermit for six years. He had five mendicant companions in the forest. Along with five companions, He subjected himself to strict asceticism and self-denial. He also limited His food intake.

6. Siddhartha Cutting His Long hair to Become an Ascetic: As mentioned above Siddhartha after leaving His royal palace, His wife, son Rahula, and parents, went to forest and seated beside a stupa, cut-off His hair removed His royal costumes and ornaments and draped simple monk's robes. He became a clean-shaved monk and then seated under a tree and start meditation in order to search the cause of suffering and elimination.

7. Siddhartha Leaves the Palace: After encounter with four episodes, Siddhartha realized that at home, he would never find the solution to put an end to all suffering. That evening there was a big party in His palace, when everybody was asleep,he snuck out of the palace and sat on His chariot. Far outside the city, the prince Siddhartha said farewell to horse Kanthaka and charioteer Chandaka.

8. Buddha Under the Bodhi-Tree: After Mara-vijaya event Siddhartha attained enlightenment. He discovered the Law of Causation, a cycle of twelve causes and effects conditioning the universe. This Law had not been thought of before by any philosopher. It's authorship raised Siddhartha from His status of Bodhisattva to that of a Buddha. He spent four weeks in contemplation under the Bodhi-Tree, after which he set out on His travels. The newly awakened Buddha met two merchants, Tapussa and Bhallika, who offered him some gruel of barley and honey. These two came to be the first lay disciples of the Buddha.

9. The Buddha's Descent from the Trayastrimsha heaven: According to tradition the Buddha had descended at Sankashya (Modern U.P.) from the Trayastrimsha heaven (Heaven of the Thirty-three Gods) where he went to preach the Abhidharma to His mother Mahamaya and other gods. This event is said to have occurred after the great Miracle was performed at Shravasti, as it was an immutable law that all Buddhas should resort to the Heaven of the heaven of the Thirty-three Gods after they had performed their greatest miracles. According to Buddhist legend, the Buddha came down by a triple ladder, accompanied by the gods, Brahma and Shakra (Indra).

At the top centre Adi-Buddha Samantabhadra yab-yum is depicted and below them is a preaching Buddha. All the scenes have been set in mountainous landscape. The colour-combination of the painting is sober.

This description is by Dr. Shailendra K. Verma. His Doctorate thesis being: "Emergence and Evolution of the Buddha Image (From its inception to 8th century A.D.)".

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