If any single term might define the Buddha’s post-Enlightenment life, it could be ‘redeemer’ liberating from the fear of old age, disease and death, transmigration of self and all ailments, those of the body or mind. Buddha moved from place to place teaching people redeeming them from all fears and as how to liberate them from the cycle of birth and death. However, the world did not end and the Buddha was required to make life on the globe easy and free from ailments. He touched a root, a piece of wood, a pinch of ash, a flower, leaf or whatever, and its application redeemed from an ailment. No discourse or sermon, philosophy or logic, or spiritual exercise, his mere touch transformed the thing he touched into something having medicinal effect. Though the Hinayana Buddhists disapproved such dimensions of the Buddha’s being, the Mahayanists perceived Buddha as the ultimate redeemer, the Bhaisajya Guru, represented in iconography as Buddha holding a pot on his lap and creepers : herbs, mounting on his figure and around. This image with the pot in his lap, symbolic of Buddha the Bhaisajya Guru, represents the later phase of his life, Buddha the ultimate redeemer.
The image has been installed on a high two-tiered oval pedestal. The narrower base that supports the larger lotus seat enshrining the image proper consists of stylized inverted lotus motifs. On the front and the two sides the seat’s upper part rises along the Buddhist transform of lotus patterns conceived with various styles of ‘Tri-ratna’ motif added to them. On its back it rises along two illustrative panels, one portraying the event of the Buddha’s birth, and other, Buddha, engaged in penance. Around a hilly terrain, obviously Lumbani where Buddha was born, Buddha’s mother Maya is standing holding the branch of a tree, the mythical Sal. In her front a child has been represented as walking leaving behind him seven foot-prints, obviously, the Buddha who according to the Buddhist texts had walked seven steps soon after his birth. The other panel represents him as engaged in penance under a wide-spread tree, obviously the Bodhi tree under which the Buddha had attained Enlightenment, near the hill range along which the river Nairanjana streamed.
What, however, adds ultimate beauty to the image, besides its excellent modeling, fluidity of forms, exceptional plasticity and the most accomplished iconography, is the ‘sanghati’, the sheet, wrapped around the Buddha’s figure. Quite large with richly worked border and fully incised the sanghati is one of the most beautiful elements of the image. Carved in relief it portrays very powerfully some of the significant events from his life. On the top centre on the back he has been represented as treated the bird swan hit by the arrow of his cousin Devadatta, towards the middle, as receiving offerings, perhaps from Anathapindada, and on the bottom, reaching the forest on his horse but then relinquishing it and engaging in penance. The two horse-riding figures on the right of this bottom figure portray Buddha leaving his palace on his horse Kanthaka and horse attendant Chandaka persuading him to return. To further right on the right knee the panel illustrates Buddha shaving his head. The ankle part of the right leg portrays emaciated Buddha.
The top figure on the left arm portrays Buddha in deity form with men and women paying homage. Towards the forearm the panel depicts him begging, obviously at Kapilavastu, his father’s kingdom, where his wife Gopa and son Rahul join his path. Close to belly on the left side the figure of Buddha portrays him as searching within, the aggregate of six years search for truth preceding Enlightenment. Under this figure the Buddha has been represented with a woman, perhaps Amrapali he converted to his path. On the right side of the belly he has been portrayed as Buddha, the Enlightened. The panel on the left thigh portrays his marriage and that around the ankle part, the insensitive face of feudatory. On the right arm he has been represented again with a bird in his arms and two other panels, one on the top of the right shoulder and the other below it portray male and female devotees making offerings.
This description by Prof. P.C. Jain and Dr Daljeet. Prof. Jain specializes on the aesthetics of ancient Indian literature. Dr Daljeet is the chief curator of the Visual Arts Gallery at the National Museum of India, New Delhi. They have both collaborated on numerous books on Indian art and culture.