CATYA OF A STUPA: THE GREAT DEPARTURE OF BUDDHA
Caitya panel, or one-story celestial palace, once clad a large Stupa, consisting of two railings separating the episodes in Buddha's life. Dark green-grey schist typical of the valleys of Gandhara, sculptured in the round. The back of the statue was fixed on the anda (hemispherical rounded roof of a stupa burial mound). Prince Siddhartha, the Buddha-to-be, is represented on horseback under a canopy. Yakshas, sent by the Four Guardian Kings, bear the horse's hooves to stifle the noises caused by this nightly departure. In front of the horse is without doubt a representation of Vajrapani, holder of the thunderbolt sceptre and faithful companion of the Sage. Originally this character was only a Yaksha whereas on the upper register it has become a meditating Buddha. The sculpture is well preserved despite the missing part on the right side Nice color of the grey schist, signs of erosion due to time. Some signs of limestone deposit and patina. No visible repair. Museum quality piece.
Prince Siddhartha Gautama was born in the 6th century BC. He grew up in the rich family palace, shielded from the world. At the age of 29 he first encountered disease, old age, suffering and wisdom. This was the famous episode of the “Four Meetings”, an allegory which is represented on this bas-relief by four faces hanging over the prince. Here he is shown setting out on the "Great Departure", towards a new life that would lead him to spiritual realization. Far away from his family, having become a wanderer, the future Buddha sought liberation through an ascetic life spent sitting beneath the sacred tree. The man destined to become Buddha is depicted here on horseback, beneath a princely canopy of floating fabric. The horse's hooves are carried by Yakshas sent by the Four Guardian Kings in order to stifle the noise of his nocturnal departure. The figure in front of the horse is Vajrapani, holder of the thunder-bolt sceptre and faithful companion of the Sage. On the upper register, the Prince has become a meditating Buddha surrounded by his disciples. The architectural style of the composition should be noted as it permits a clear division of the two periods of Buddha’s life. This panel is a caitya, meaning “worthy of worship” and was used as cladding for a stupa. Originally they were natural houses for spirits, often consisting simply of trees. Around 200 BC, doctrinal evolution required buildings to be erected on the places of meditation that could be minuscule or immense, simple or richly decorated. They are recognisable by their silhouettes with characteristic convex pinnacles. These are the only cultural edifices that Buddhism has always respected because they were used to contain relics: in fact, no hollow stupas existed until the 6th cent. The flat back of the bas-relief was fixed onto the anda, or “egg” in Sanskrit, referring to a domed roof crowned by a pole bearing the stupa’s symbolic parasol. In Afghanistan and Pakistan, these stupas were accessed using four different staircases, positioned in a cross formation. This bas-relief is an excellent living witness of the enthusiasm for Buddhism in this area.