The Divine Traditions (Divyavadana) from Borobudur

a large collection of high-definition creative commons photographs from Borobudur, Java, illustrating the Traditions about the Disciples, together with a text by A. Foucher explaining the stories.

2: The Traditions about Mandhata

Text by A. Foucher, Buddhist Art in Java

1: The Traditions about Sudhana 2: The Traditions about Mandhata 3: The Traditions about Rudrayana 4: The Birth Story of Bhallatiya 5: The Traditions about Maitrakanyaka

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Mandhatravadana

031: King Uposadha gives Alms hoping to obtain a Son

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Thanks once again to the Divyavadana, we recognize with absolute certainty the biography of the famous king Mandhatar, as familiar to the Brahmanic legend as to the Buddhist. [Nothing prevents] us from seeing in Panel 31 and 32 the rich alms which King Uposadha himself bestows and causes to be bestowed with a view to obtaining a son.

 

032: King Uposadha continues his Almsgiving

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King Uposadha bestows and causes to be bestowed with a view to obtaining a son.

 

033: The King goes to Protect the Hermits

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The reason for the expedition represented in Panel 33 is no longer hidden from us : it is that undertaken by the king (who in this case travelled in a litter) for the protection of the anchorites.

 

034: The King visits the Seers and Takes a Magic Potion

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Panel 34 takes us straight to a hermitage of the rishis; and we believe that we can see there the magic vessel to which Uposadha owed in such an unusual manner the fulfilment of his desires.

 

035: The King and Queen with their Son

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In any case, it is in the following picture, Panel 35, that the child so much desired is at last seen [standing on his mother’s knees in the palace].

 

036: The Brahmins read the Child’s Horoscope

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Again, Panel 36 and 37 are probably there simply as padding, and they represent, the first [Panel 36] the horoscope of the future cakravartin or sovereign monarch of the world...

 

037: The Brahmins receive their Reward

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...the second the donation intended to recompense the astrologer. These last incidents, like that of the alms, are very commonplace; it is easily intelligible that the compiler of the Divyavadana should have dispensed with a further repetition of them. On the other hand, the sculptors of Borobudur never fail to emphasize, as hints to visiting pilgrims, these edifying scenes of virtue in practice. But let us proceed : we are now on firm ground, supported by both a written and a figured form of the tradition in mutual accord.

 

038: Prince Mandhatar takes leave of King Uposadha

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Having become a royal prince, Mandhatar goes to see the country. We do, indeed, perceive the young prince [left of the pillar] at the moment when, starting on his journey, he respectfully takes leave of his father [seated with his queen].

 

039: Prince Mandhatar becomes King and obtains the Seven Jewels

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During his absence the latter dies. Among the marvels susceptible of representation which are adjuncts of his coronation the text signalizes the sudden appearance of the seven jewels of the cakravartin. This is why we see depicted here among the surroundings of the prince, who has become king, a disc [behind him], a jewel [center left?], a horse, an elephant [together far left], a woman [in front of him], a general, and a minister [??].

 

040: King Mandhatar chases away the surly Hermits

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The Divyavadana tells us, immediately after, that not far from Vaisali there is a charming wood, in which reside five hundred rsis. Now extraneous noises are the scourge of pious meditations. A surly anchorite, annoyed by the noise of certain cranes, breaks their wings by a curse. King Mandhatar, angered in his turn by this hardness of heart, requests the hermits to depart from his dominions. The bas-relief also shows us birds placed on the ground between the king, who is standing in conversation with a stooping courtier, and two rsis, recognizable by their big chignons and their rosaries, who are fleeing by the route of the air.

 

041: Seeds falls from Heaven

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Mandhatar, continuing his tour, decides not to have the fields of his kingdom any more cultivated; for the corn will rain down from heaven. The peasants do, in fact, gather up before his eyes bunches of ears of rice, which have fallen from the clouds : we expressly say bunches, and not sheaves, because in Java the rice is not cut, but gathered by hand.

 

042: Clothes fall from the Sky

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In the same way Mandhatar decides that his subjects will no longer need to cultivate cotton, or to spin, or to weave. Immediately there fall from the clouds pieces of woven material, which the people have only to catch in their flight and to fold up for subsequent use.

 

043: Gold falls into King Mandhatar’s Palace

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Somewhat vexed, because his subjects attribute partly to themselves the merit of all these miracles, Mandhatar causes for seven days a shower of gold, but only within his own palace. This explains why, beside the king and his ministers, we see here only women, engaged in collecting the treasures pouring from jars set amid the clouds.

 

044: King Mandhatar sets out to conquer Purvavideha

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Finally king Mandhatar, preceded by the seven jewels of the cakravartin and followed by his army, sets out for the conquest of the universe : the feet of none of the persons touch the ground.

 

045: A Yaksa advises King Mandhatar on what is left to Conquer

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Here the text, in order better to depict the insatiable greed of the human heart, enters upon a series of repetitions impossible to reproduce on stone. King Mandhatar has for a herald (purojava) a Yaksa, or genius, who at each fresh conquest informs him of what still remains for him to conquer. On the monument we are in the presence, once for all, of this periodical council meeting; for the rest, the sculptor has given to the Yaksa the ordinary appearance of a Brahmanic minister.

 

046: Sakra Deva and King Mandhatar sit together in Equality

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On the following panel he conducts Mandhatar at a swoop to the summit of his prodigious fortune. Two kings, exactly alike and both with haloes, are seated in a palace side by side on seats of equal height, in the midst of their court. Without the slightest doubt the moment chosen is that when Sakra, the Indra of the Gods, has, on the mere mental wish of the king of men, yielded up to him the half of his throne : and there was no difference to be seen between them, except that the eyes of Sakra did not blink.

 

047: King Mandhatar conquers the Asuras

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If this interpretation were at all doubtful, it would be confirmed by the picture immediately following, which represents a combat between the gods and the Asuras. Thanks to their human ally, the gods triumph.

 

048: King Mandhatar advises the People

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But from this moment a certain hesitation begins to manifest itself between the text and the bas-reliefs; and immediately the uncertainty in our identifications reappears. According to the Divyavadana Mandhatar after the battle asks : “Who is conqueror?” "The king", is the reply of his ministers; whereupon the infatuated king carries his presumption so far as to wish to dethrone Indra, in order to reign alone in his place. But this time he has gone too far. Scarcely has he conceived this thought than he is thrust from the height of the heavens down to the earth; and he has hardly time, before he dies, to pronounce a few edifying words concerning the excess of his blind ambition. Consequently Panel 48, which is quite analogous to Panel 45, should represent the last consultation of the king with his minister...

 

049: King Mandhatar speaks his Last Words

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...Panel 49 should be dedicated to the last words which he pronounces after his fall, while on the left Sakra, standing and with a halo, should turn away from him; then finally...

 

050: King Mandhatar is Cremated

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...Panel 50 should show us his funeral and, as befits a cakravartin, the depositing of his ashes in a stupa. But these explanations, plausible though they may be, have not the obviousness of the preceding.

 

The Following are Unidentified

051

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052: Slide

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053

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054

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055

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056: The King of Sibi

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We should say the same of those which we might propose for the ten bas-reliefs which continue the series as for as the western staircase, excepting the sixth. It seems indubitable that this latter represents the essential episode of the Sibijataka, that is to say, that previous life in which the future Buddha ransomed a dove from a falcon at the price of an equal weight of his flesh. At least, nothing is wanting to the scene, neither the Bodhisattva seated in his palace, nor the bird of prey perched on a neighbouring tree, nor the pigeon, which appears twice, once placed on the back of the throne and once in one of the plates of the scales. This time the bas-relief would be sufficient for its own interpretation. We feel how rare is such a case among all these sculptures; and the greater number of those of the upper row which in the south-west corner extend from the birth of Sakyamuni to the four excursions which determined his vocation are not more expressive.

 

The Following are Unidentified

057

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058

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059

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060

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061

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062

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063

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1: The Traditions about Sudhana 2: The Traditions about Mandhata 3: The Traditions about Rudrayana 4: The Birth Story of Bhallatiya 5: The Traditions about Maitrakanyaka

 

Photographs and Text by Anandajoti Bhikkhu

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