The Life of Gautama Buddha
Birth & Youth

a complete collection of high-definition creative commons photographs from Borobudur, Java, illustrating the Life of the Buddha as told in the Lalitavistara, together with further information.


& Pregnancy
& Youth
& Renunciation
& Striving
& Teaching


Introduction to the Lalitavistara Reliefs at Borobudur
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2. Birth & Youth

28. Queen Māyā gives Birth

Queen Māyā is standing in the beautiful Lumbini park and is holding a branch of the white fig tree (plakṣa) as she prepares to give birth. At her foot, holding water jars for washing, kneel Śakra and Brahmā Sahampatī, waiting to receive the child. On the left of the panel stand various other gods.

According to tradition the Bodhisattva was born from the right side of his Mother, not through the vaginal canal. The Pavilion in which the Bodhisattva had resided in the womb, was taken to make a chaitya by the gods.


29. The King holds a Festival to celebrate the Birth

After the birth of the Bodhisattva King Śuddhodana held a festival for seven days to celebrate the birth, and during that time many people came bringing good news about other auspicious events in the land, and Śakra and Brahmā also joined in disguise.

We see the King entertaining some of the Ṛṣis who visited from afar, in the centre he sits talking to one; and on the left of the panel gifts are being brought to another.


30. The Bodhisatta is given to Gautamī

After the passing away of Queen Māyā, whose life-span was only for seven days after the birth, her sister, Mahā Prajāpatī Gautamī, who was also a Queen, took care of the boy and brought him up as her own son.

The King sits in the Palace with the Bodhisattva on his lap, in front of him Gautamī is stretching forward about to take the Bodhisattva into her charge. On the left and right of the panel we see people sitting under palm trees, those on the left are holding caskets.


31. Asita predicts the Bodhisattva will become Buddha

The great sage (Ṛṣi) Asita arrives and asks to see the newborn child, who is brought to him. Asita recognises the thirty-two marks of a Great Man (Mahāpuruṣa) on him, and predicts he will become a Buddha, and then cries, which worries the King, but Asita says it is only because he will not himself live long enough to hear the Buddha teach.

The events described above are on the left of the panel, on the right we see more brahmins, who had predicted two courses for the boy’s life: either he would be a Universal Monarch (Cakravarti), or if he should go forth, he would become a Buddha.


32. The Gods worship Sarvārthasiddha

The gods, headed by Sureśvara (a.k.a. Maheśvara) now approach the city and request to be let into the Palace to see the Bodhisattva, which King Śuddhodana grants.

In Lalitavistara the Bodhisattva’s name is given as Sarvārthasiddha, a variant on the more well-known name of Siddhartha, but having the same meaning: one who will fulfill all objectives.


33. The King is requested to take Sarvārthasiddha to the Temple

The elders Śākyans now advise the King that he must take the child to the Temple, but the child himself questions this saying that the gods had worshipped him at his birth, so why would he now worship them?

The panel shows the Bodhisattva sitting on the lap of the King, and in front of them the Elders, both male and female have gathered. Behind them are others bearing clothes, a pot and a fly whisk.


34. The Procession to the Temple

The King has the city made ready and bedecked for the festive occasion and the Bodhisattva is driven through the streets in a magnificent carriage.

The King sits in the front section with the Bodhisattva, and behind in the vehicle are other senior Śākyans. Before the carriage go courtiers holding up umbrella and banners. We can see by the legs that the carriage is pulled by four horses.


35. The Statues worship Sarvārthasiddha

When they arrive at the Temple all the idols of the gods Siva, Skanda, Nārāyaṇa, Kubera and others come down from their pedestals to worship the Bodhisattva.

Here the Bodhisattva is portrayed as a young boy, with the King his Father behind him, and umbrellas over them both. In front of them are the gods and the brahmin priests, and behind them is the temple.


36. Aristocrats present Jewelry to Sarvārthasiddha

The brahmins now approach the King and advise that the Bodhisattva must have ornaments made that are suitable for him, but when they are brought to the Prince they all fade owing to the lustre of the Bodhisattva’s body.

There are two scenes in the panel, on the left the brahmins are requesting the King to have ornaments made, and on the right, many months later, they are being presented to the Prince.


37. Sarvārthasiddha goes to School

It is now time for the Prince to attend writing school, and he is escorted there with the King leading along with ten thousand other children and great gifts for the revered teacher Viśvamitra, who falls on his knees when the Prince enters.

The small building behind Viśvamitra represents the school, notice the two peacocks sitting on the perch above it. The ashrams of the sages are always portrayed as being in natural and idyllic surroundings in Indian literature.


38. Sarvārthasiddha Studying in the Classroom

When it came to his first lesson the Prince asked which of the sixty-four named scripts Viśvamitra would teach him? The Prince used the occasion of being taught the letters to expound the Dharma so that the other pupils could benefit, and Lalitavistara declares that is the real reason he attended school, not because he needed to learn anything.

The long strips that the students hold are palm leaf books, which were in use for nearly 2,000 years before the advent of modern printing techniques.


39. Sarvārthasiddha in the Villages

The Bodhisattva one day, without informing his parents, took a carriage and drove into the countryside to see the villages.

In the panel we see the Bodhisattva holding a lotus flower and in a great procession, with pendants and flags, being led by his friends who had encouraged him to make the trip. The carriage is being drawn by a pair of horses.


40. Sarvārthasiddha Meditating under a Guava Tree

The Bodhisattva coming to understand the dangers in cultivation sat down under a Rose-Apple (Jambu) tree and began to meditate, attaining the four stages of concentration (dhyāna). The sun moved on while he was meditating, but the shadow remained above him to keep his cool.

Five Ṛṣis, seen on the left of the panel, who were passing through the sky were unable to pass over the Bodhisattva, so after descending, they paid homage to him.


41. The Family decide to request Sarvārthasiddha to Marry

King Śuddhodana is seen sat in his court, and around him are the family elders, both male and female. They argue that he must have his son married, so he will not go forth, but become a Universal Monarch.

The King agreed to this strategy, and requested that a search be made for a suitable maiden.


42. Presenting a Ring to Gopā

Then the King has all the maidens assemble and present themselves to the Prince, but they were unable to bear his magnificent presence, and quickly withdrew; last came Gopā, who was steady before the Prince, and he gave her his ring.

Gopā, otherwise known as Yaśodharā and Rāhulamātā, sits at the feet of the Prince worshipping, while the prince is offering the ring to her. Behind Gopā are the other maidens.


43. Sarvārthasiddha consenting to a Contest

The King now sends a request to the Śākyan Daṇḍapāṇī, asking for his daughter for the Prince, but the elder insists that the Prince must first prove himself in the various arts, and proclamation is sent out that the Prince will show his skills in seven days time.

The King and Gopā’s father sit in the Palace, with the courtiers and elders around them. Notice the peacocks who are positioned on the roof of the Palace; also the various earrings portrayed on the courtiers.


44. Devadatta beats an Elephant to Death

Devadatta, who was a cousin of the Prince, saw the white elephant that was brought to the city for Sarvārthasiddha, and in a fit of jealousy, killed it.

Devadatta had great power, and it is said in Lalaitavistara that he killed the elephant with a single blow of his hand, who died, blocking the entrance to the city.


45. Sundarananda removes the Elephant

As can be seen most of the panel, and the central scene is missing now. It depicted the Prince’s brother Sundarananda, who was travelling in a chariot, removing the elephant from the city gates.

This is a badly damaged panel, but we can identify it by the wheel of the chariot Sundarananda was travelling in. It is said he removed the elephant from the gates, and that the Bodhisattva removed it to outside of the city.


46. Sarvārthasiddha excels at Mathematics

The Prince is first tested on his mathematical knowledge, and the court astrologer sits in judgement. First Sarvārthasiddha questions the others, but they are unable to answer his questions; then they question the Prince, and he answers all promptly.

The Prince is depicted in the centre of this scene with a halo around his head. Sitting on his left is the court astrologer, who declares that he, old though he is, must learn from the Prince. To the Prince’s right sit the gods.


47. Sarvārthasiddha wins a Competition

It is unclear what this panel depicts exactly. In the story the Prince goes on to compete with the others in vaulting, jumping, and running.

The next major competition however is wrestling, but none of these can be identified from the worn panel in front of us. The Prince, of course, succeeds in all the competitions.


48. Sarvārthasiddha wins another Competition

Again this panel is unclear, but it must be one of the competitions described above. The Prince is standing in the centre, and a courtier is holding an umbrella above him.

It may be that to his right stand the other Princes, his competitors, who are unable to compare with Sarvārthasiddha, while behind him presumably sits the King.


49. Sarvārthasiddha wins an Archery Competition

Unlike the previous ones, this panel is clear, and depicts the archery contest that the Prince excels in. Here we see him shooting from the bow Siṁhahanu (Lions’ Jaw), which no one else can so much as string.

The Prince, however, not only draws the bow, but can hit his targets many leagues away, including piercing with one arrow seven palm trees, which are depicted on the right of the panel.


50. Daṇḍapāṇī gives his Daughter to the King for the Prince

Here we see Daṇḍapāṇi sitting before the King and agreeing that his daughter Gopā, pictured worshipping on the right of the king, will marry the young Prince.

Again the panel is very worn out, but we see so many sublime expressions depicted on the faces of the King, the Princess and her attendants.


51. Sarvārthasiddha and Gopā in the Palace

There appear to be two scenes depicted here, in the one on the left of the panel, we see the Prince and Gopā in the Palace, and she is being presented as the chief of the ladies at court.

On the right I suspect we see Gopā defending herself in a famous passage where she explains why she doesn’t wear a veil, saying that those who are virtuous are covered by their good deeds, and have no need of a face veil.


52. The King gives gifts to Gopā

The King is pleased with Gopā’s account of her virtue, and her wisdom in speaking thus, and he presents her with gifts of silken clothes, pearls and a gold chain.

On the right there is a very fine relief of the musicians at court, playing a lute and another string instrument, and below someone plays a flute.

& Pregnancy
& Youth
& Renunciation
& Striving
& Teaching


Photographs and Text by Anandajoti Bhikkhu

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