Avadāna, the Traditions about the Bodhisattva, Level 1, Inner Wall at Borobudur

a large collection of high-definition creative commons photographs from Borobudur, Java, illustrating the Previous Lives of the Buddha as told in the Divyāvadāna and elsewhere, together with a text by A. Foucher explaining the stories.

3: The Traditions about Rudrayana

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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064: King Rudrayana questions the Merchants

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The bas-reliefs of the third portion of the first gallery (on the right-hand wall) are known to represent in the upper row the departure of Buddha from his home, that is to say, his entry into the religious life, and all the trials which preceded the attainment of perfect illumination. Out of the 30 in the lower row at least 22, and perhaps 25, are, as we shall show step by step, consecrated to the celebrated historical legend of king Rudrayana. For the moment we begin with the Divyavadana at Panel 64, where Rudrayana, king of Roruka, questions merchants, who have come from Rajagrha, the capital of Bimbisara, concerning the merits of their master.

 

065: King Bimbisara receives King Rudrayana’s Letter

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A king is seated in his palace; on his right a courtier holds in both hands a rectangular tablet : this must represent the letter which, in the first fire of his enthusiasm, the sovereign of Roruka resolved to write to his cousin of Magadha. Further, two suppositions are permissible : if the king represented is the sender, his name is Rudrayana; if, as seems more natural, he is the addressee, he is Bimbisara. We do not ask our sculptors to decide this by attributing to each of the two monarchs a characteristic physiognomy : that would be exacting too much from them.

 

066: The Reception for the Ambassadors

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Then follows a grand reception to welcome, or to say farewell to, the improvised ambassadors, in a royal court no less uncertain. The Divyavadana says no word regarding this function : but the meaning of the mise en scene is not to be doubted; and, for the rest, it is sufficient to compare it with the bas-relief of the upper row, which represents a grand dinner offered to Buddha. There, as here, the table is laid in the Javanese fashion : from twenty to thirty bowls, containing divers seasonings or viands, surround an enormous pot of rice, which constitutes the principal dish in fact, a regular rijslaffel of ten centuries ago.

 

067: King Bimbisara receives King Rudrayana’s Jewel Offering

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This time the attitudes of the minor persons and the obvious character of the offering define very distinctly the hero and locality of the scene : Bimbisara is receiving at Rajagrha the casket of jewels which Rudrayana has sent to him together with his letter.

 

068: Gifts from King Bimbisara to King Rudrayana

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The case of stuffs sent in return by the king of Magadha to his new friend occupies the middle of the scene : but the pensive air of the king and the respectful immobility of the attendants make it doubtful whether we have to do with Bimbisara deciding upon his present, or Rudrayana receiving it and already wondering what he can give in exchange.

 

069: King Bimbisara receives King Rudrayana’s Cuirass

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However that may be, the following bas-relief again represents Bimbisara, receiving from Rudrayana his precious cuirass...

 

070: King Bimbisara sends a painting of Buddha to King Rudrayana

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The total absence of landscape is sufficiently rare to render it worth our while to direct attention to it here. The whole height and breadth of the panel are occupied by a procession, in which the place of honour, between the arms of a man perched on an elephant, belongs to a kind of rolled up kakemono, on which we know that the silhouette of Buddha is painted. Doubtless, the scene is taken at the moment when the inhabitants of Roruka, who are come out to meet this supreme gift from Bimbisara, bring it back with great pomp to their town.

 

071: King Rudrayana discusses the Buddha

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This picture is quite analogous to Panel 64, not to mention that it is likewise placed at the turn of an angle : only, in the interval the subject of the conversation has changed in a most edifying manner, it is no longer the merits of their king which are the boast of the people of Rajagrha, but those of Buddha himself.

 

072: Ven Mahakatyayana teaches King Rudrayana

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Rudrayana, as soon as converted, begged to receive instruction from a monk, and the master despatched to him the reverend Mahakatyayana : a monk is, in fact, sitting at the right of the king, and even on a higher seat than he. In the most gratuitous and also the most perplexing manner the designer considered it necessary to surmount the shaven head of this monk (cf. pi. XXXVII, 2) with the protuberance of the usnisa, which is special to Buddhas. Let us add that Mahakatyayana seems, in the midst of the edified hearers, to be making a gesture of refusal : what he refuses is, doubtless, to preach in the gynaeceum of the king: that is the business of the nuns.

 

073: The Nun Saila teaches King Rudrayana and his Wives

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Thus the following panel shows us the nun Saila preaching from the height of a throne to the king and four of his wives, who are seated on the ground. Behind her a servant seems to be ordering three armed guards to forbid anyone to enter the harem during the sermon. It will be noticed that doubtless from modesty the nun and, in a general way, the women are seated with their legs bent under them, and not crossed in the same manner as those of the monks and the men.

 

074: The Nun Saila gives ordination to Queen Candrapabha

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The scene is obviously the same, except in two points. Firstly, a second nun, squatting behind Saila, represents doubtless the quorum necessary for an ordination. In the second place, there are now only women in the audience, and the place formerly occupied by the king is taken by a third Bhikshuni kneeling. Immediately the text invites us to recognize in this novice queen Candraprabha, who, conscious of her approaching death, has obtained from Rudrayana authority to enter into religion.

 

075: Candrapabha returns from Heaven to advise the King

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That on the following bas-relief the king is again in conversation with his favourite wife would likewise not be understood, did we not learn elsewhere that Candraprabha was born again in the nearest heaven, and that she promised her husband to return after her death to advise him as to the ways and means of reunion with her in another life. Here she is fulfilling her promise.

 

076: King Rudrayana abdicates in favour of his son Sikhandi

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This explains also why the very next morning Rudrayana decides to go and be ordained a monk by Buddha, and announces to his son Sikhandin that he abdicates in his favour...

 

077: Rudrayana after his Ordination

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The two scenes Panel 72 and Panel 77, which are quite symmetrical, bring face to face with one another, in the customary surroundings of a royal residence, the type of the monk and the type of the king. Only the continuation of the text reveals to us that this time the monk is no longer Mahakatyayana, but Rudrayana himself, who has just been ordained by Buddha in person at Rajagrha. In a long dialogue he rejects, for his first round in public as a mendicant monk, the seductive offers of Bimbisara. You may well imagine that it was impossible to pass by so fine an opportunity for reproducing, both on the monument and in the text, the famous episode of the temptation of the future Sakyamuni by this same Bimbisara.

 

078: King Sikhandi learns of Rudrayana’s planned Return

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The bas-relief is divided into two parts by a tree, and the different orientation of the characters emphasizes this separation. On the right, at Rajagrha, the monk Rudrayana (still wrongly represented by Wilson as a Buddha) learns from merchants, natives of his country, that his son Sikhandin is conducting himself badly on the throne, and he promises to go and put things in order. On the left, at Roruka, King Sikhandin is warned by his evil ministers that there is a rumour of his father’s early return, and he forms with them a plot to assassinate him. In the background is to be seen already, in her private palace, the Queen Mother, who in this portion of the story will play a very important part.

 

079: King Sikhandi hears of the death of Rudrayana

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The panel is divided like the preceding one, and the separating tree is, in this case, further reinforced by a little edicula, which serves as porch to a palisaded interior : nevertheless the two scenes take place at Roruka. On the right king Sikhandin learns from several persons (one of whom, being armed, is perhaps his emissary, the executioner) of his father’s death and last words. On the left, filled with remorse for a double crime, the murder of a father and the murder of a saint, he comes to seek refuge with his mother : doubtless this is the moment chosen by the latter to disburden him at least of his crime of parricide by revealing to him, truly or falsely, that Rudrayana is merely his reputed father.

 

080: The Ministers deceive King Sikhandi

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There remains the task of exonerating him from the not less inexpiable murder of an arhat, or Buddhist saint. Is it worth while to recall the ingenious stratagem conceived by the evil ministers in order to prove that there is no arhat, or, at least, that those who pretend to be such are only charlatans? On the left we perceive, each hidden under his stupa, the two cats which have been trained to answer to the name of the two first saints formerly converted by Mahakatyayana. On the right the Queen Mother and Sikhandin take part in the demonstration, which to them appears convincing.

 

081: King Sikhandi orders his people to throw dust on Ven Mahakatyayana

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The frame contains two distinct episodes. On the right king Sikhandin passes, seated in a litter; surely he has just ordered each person in his suite to throw a handful of dust on Mahakatyayana, with whom his relations have never been cordial. On the left the monk, already free from the heap of dust, under which he has miraculously preserved his life, announces to the good ministers Hiru and Bhiru the approaching and inevitable destruction of the infidel city of Roruka.

 

082: The Sky rains down Jewels

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Like Sikhandin in his palace, we witness the rain of jewels which, according to the prophet, must precede the fatal rain of sand. The eagerness of the inhabitants to gather up the precious objects, cast down from vessels in the height of the clouds, is painted with a vivaciousness which seemed to us quite deserving of reproduction. In the first row a boat which is being loaded with jewels proves that the good ministers have not forgotten a very practical recommendation of Mahakatyayana.

 

083: A Stupa is raised over Ven Mahakatyayana’s Goblet

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The destinies are accomplished : Roruka has been buried with almost all its inhabitants. When the curtain rises again, we are in the village of Khara, the first halting-place of Mahakatyayana on the route of his return to India. The tutelary goddess of Roruka, who has followed him in his flight through the air, is detained at Khara by an imprudent promise : but, on leaving her, the monk presents her with a souvenir in the shape of his goblet, over which a stupa is raised, it is the inauguration of this monument which is represented on the bas-relief : on the right is the chief of the village; on the left, with a lamp in one hand and a fan in the other, is the goddess herself; behind them crowd the laity of both sexes and the musicians.

 

084: Syamaka becomes King of Lambaka

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We are carried to the next halting-place, Lambaka. Syamaka, the young layman, the sole companion who remained with Mahakatyayana, receives from the people of the country an offer of the throne. A miracle, which is frequent in the texts, but unsuitable for representation on stone (the shade of the tree under which he stands remains stationary, in order to shelter him), has revealed to them the excellence of his merit.

 

085: A Stupa is raised over Ven Mahakatyayana’s Staff

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We pass on to the third halting-place, Vokkana. Here Mahakatyayana leaves to her who in a former existence was his mother his beggar’s staff, a fresh pretext for building a stupa. As in Panel 83, we are present at the inauguration of the monument. At least, the continuation of the narrative accords with the introduction of this subject on the bas-reliefs in too striking a manner for the identification not to impose itself.

Better still : just as Panels 83, 84 and 85 set before us religious feasts interrupted, thanks to a not excessive desire for variety, by a profane subject, so Panels 86, 87 and 88 intercalate a land scene between two maritime episodes.

 

086: The Landing of Hiru and foundation of Hiruka

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Now this intervening scene represents the entrance of a monk into the palisaded enclosure of a town, whilst a group of inhabitants approaches to give him welcome. Here again, with the text in our hands, it seems difficult not to recognize the return of Mahakatyayana to Sravasti.

 

088: The Landing of Bhiru and foundation of Bhiruka

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The two pictures in which we see a boat just drawing near to a bank would represent, no less scrupulously than do the texts, the two foundations of Hiruka and Bhiruka by the two ministers Hiru and Bhiru after their flight by water from Roruka.

The double repetition of the scene of the stupa and of the ship will be noticed. We do not see any plausible explanation of it, unless we suppose that the sculptor, after having skipped more than one important incident in the history of Rudrayana, has been obliged, in order to fill up the space for decoration, to lengthen out the epilogue. In fact, we must not forget that the bas-reliefs, which were carved in situ and in the very stones whose juxtaposition constituted the monument, could be neither removed nor replaced. There is no absurdity, therefore, in supposing that the artist, on approaching the last angle before the northern staircase, perceived that he still had to fill five or six panels, of which he could not decently devote more than two to the Kinnarajataka : he will then have rid himself from his embarrassment by a double repetition, which moreover was justified by the texts, while bringing right to their destination all the few persons who had escaped from Roruka, that is the goddess, Syamaka, Mahakatyayana, and the two good ministers.

 

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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