Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Buddha Preaching the First Sermon at Sarnath

Pala period
11th century
India (Bihar, probably Nalanda)
Black stone
H. (without base) 24 1/4 in. (61.6 cm); W. 20 in. (50.8 cm); D. 8 in. (20.3 cm)
Credit Line:
Rogers Fund, 1920
Accession Number:
Not on view
A popular subject in medieval Buddhist art is the Buddha preaching his first sermon in a deer forest at Sarnath, north of Bodhgaya, where he had experienced enlightenment some weeks prior. He is seated in a full yogic position with his monastic robe drawn over both shoulders and his raised hand gesturing the turning of the wheel of Buddhist law, or dharma (dharmacakra mudra). A Sanskrit inscription in proto-Bengali script on the lotus-throne base can be read as, “To the cause of the divine religion [by] the stonecutter [sculptor] Vijaka.” This is a rare instance of a Pala-dynasty sculptor being named.
Inscription: (On lotus throne): Devadha (r) maya/ silakutta Vija/kasya (trans: To the cause of the divine religion [i.e. the Buddhism] [by] the stone-cutter Vijaka. Inscription read by C.R.R. Chowdhury of the Asutosh Museum, Calcutta; see letter from D.P. Ghosh in F.E. Dept's files, 3/7/60).
The characters of the inscription are Proto-Bengali of the late 11th century A.D. The language is Sanskrit with only two mistakes, one in "sya" for "kena" in case ending of the donor's name; another is the use of "s" in the word "sila". The subscript of Devadha (r) maya, however, is absent. Though unusual, the expression Davadha (r) maya appears to refer to Buddhism.
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