India, Andhra Pradesh, Nagarjunakonda
Limestone; 48 x 29 3/4 in. (121.9 x 75.6 cm)
Rogers Fund, 1928 (28.31)
This large limestone panel was originally designed to decorate the lower part of an apsidal stupa from the site of Nagarjunakonda in the southeastern province of Andhra Pradesh. Patronized by the ruling Ikshvakus, Nagarjunakonda houses both Hindu establishments supported by male members of the family and Buddhist ones sustained by their wives and daughters. The detailed imagery of the slab, the somewhat elongated proportions of the people and animals, and the corpulence of the Buddha in the center are typical of the art of Nagarjunakonda.
According to several texts, after his enlightenment, the Buddha Shakyamuni visited the Heaven of the Thirty-three Gods (Trayastrimsha) to preach to his motherwho had passed away without benefit of hearing the doctrineand the other inhabitants. After living there for three months, he descended to earth at Samkashya. Located in Uttar Pradesh in the north, Samkashya is one of the eight traditional sites of Buddhist pilgrimage. Here, the Buddha is shown flying at the upper right of the panel and preaching to the gods at the upper left. The large central image, shown standing on a lotus, depicts the moment of Shakyamuni's descent at Samkashya. He is attended at his right by a standing figure holding a vajra (thunderbolt scepter) who most likely represents Indra, ruler of the Trayastrimsha Heaven; two women kneeling at the front; and two larger figures placed to the right and left of the central scene.