As the story of the Buddha goes, after the Sakya Muni attained Enlightenment under a Pipal tree, known in the tradition as the Bodhi-vraksha – tree of Enlightenment, at the bank of river Nairanjana near village Uruvilva, and emerged in his new being as Buddha, he decided to share his knowledge with other seekers of truth for the world’s weal. The first ones who came to his mind were his prior five pupil-colleagues at the ashram – seat, of Ramaputra Rudraka. He had left them engaged in penance at Deer Park at Sarnath. The Buddha reached them and delivered to them his ever first sermon. They heard with rapt attention the whole night and the whole day and with them, as his first disciples, Buddha founded his new Law and the Commune of the seekers of truth and to it the Buddha and his five disciples were the first converts.
Some of the more significant aspects or features of the image are : the huge halo carved elaborately with foliated scrolls behind the Buddha’s image symbolising the image’s divine aura radiating from it; fingers’ posture articulating a meaning, as when engaged in discourse or elaborating a point, defined in the iconographic tradition as ‘vyakhyana’ or ‘vitarka-mudra’; the wheel motif, as if rolling, in the centre of the pedestal just under the Buddha image, symbolic of the wheel of Law set to roll; icons of two deer flanking the wheel, as if listening to the great message, not merely indicating the identity of the place as Deer Park but also that even the earth and nature heard and shared it; and, finally, the seven tiny human icons, six major and one child, carved on the two sides of the wheel-motif, five, the Buddha’s first disciples, sixth, the donor-devotee woman and the seventh, her child. The gently bent arms and interknitted supple fingers in the posture of explaining something, perhaps the Four Noble Truths and the Eight-fold Path, not only manifest the aggregate of the Buddha’s vision or define the iconography of the Buddha in his ‘Dharma-chakra-pravartana’ form but located exactly in the centre of the figure this posture of hands and fingers also becomes the pivotal point of both, the theme and the iconic body manifesting it.
Difficult to move eye away from, the figure of the Buddha reveals rare magnificence and exceptionally high level of artistic endeavour and merit. The calm oval face of the Buddha with a gentle smile on lips revealing divine bliss, strange glow, a flower’s tenderness, and unique lyricism define the iconography of the figure. The same level of artistic skill reflects in the carving of beautifully arched eye-brows, heavy eye-lids, half-shut eyes and elongated earlobes, a characteristic feature of divine iconography, the Buddhist and the Jain in special. The figure is unique in geometrical dimensions, body’s rhythmic curves and symmetry. Both exceptionally transparent, neither the skin is able to contain the inner glow nor the sash-like textile carried on forearms, the anatomy of the hands. The refined simplicity of the form, elegance reflecting in modeling of various parts, a benign face submerged into spiritual ecstasy and grace, all are rendered, and on such miniaturized scale, with remarkable skill. It seems as if in its creation feeling, faith, idea, imagination and tradition, all have amalgamated.
This description by Prof. P.C. Jain and Dr. Daljeet. Prof. Jain specializes on the aesthetics of literature and is the author of numerous books on Indian art and culture. Dr. Daljeet is the curator of the Miniature Painting Gallery, National Museum, New Delhi. They have both collaborated together on a number of books.