200 AD to 400 AD
13.5″ (34.3cm) high x 31″ (78.7cm) wide
As Sakyamuni Buddha was first of all a historical figure, incidents in his life, as in that of Christ, have always been a favourite amongst Buddhist patrons and artists. Of these, his birth numbers amongst the most important, along with his conception, his achievement of enlightenment under the Bodhi tree at Bodhgaya, his first sermon at Sarnath, the great miracle at Sravasti and his parinirvana or death.
In our beautiful lintel, primed with a thin layer of lime and painted with mineral pigments, the scene follows traditional Buddhist iconography. The Buddha is shown born from the right side of his mother, Maya, to be received by the god Indra on a white drape. Maya is depicted with a double halo around her head, while Indra and all the other Hindu gods wear a single halo and all stand on lotus plinths. Their presence attests to their role in Buddhism, simply enlisted as particularly eminent worshippers of the Buddha.
Maya, the Buddha’s mother, is seen wearing a white vest and holding a frond of the highly stylised foliage canopy above her and standing on a lotus bud, almost in tribanga posture. This scene refers to the immemorial fertility association in India between a young girl, or a yaksini, and a tree, recorded in countless carvings and known as ‘salabanjika’, where she bends or clings to the foliage of a tree. On her proper left, stands a woman carrying a pot of consecrated water, essential at such an event. At both sides of the central scene stand two elephants’ protomes as symbols of royalty, and from their trunks small apsaras on lotus buds emerge floating in mid-air. Another curious small figurine, all wrapped up in a double halo, standing on a lotus bud just behind the last attendant on the left, might represent again the Buddha who, as the legend narrates, was able to walk and speak at birth, thus providing a double-layer narrative composition.
The treatment of the garments strongly suggests Graeco-Roman influence, which was indeed pervasive in Gandhara in the first centuries of the Common Era; yet at the same time the costumes and turbans are Indian, with the exception of Maya’s tunic which seems ethnically Kusana.
Reference: (for a similar scene in carving in the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford) J.C. Harle, The Art and Architecture of the Indian Sub-Continent, London, 1986: fig.58.Login to view price