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Mahaparinirvana

  • Object:

    Sculpture

  • Place of origin:

    Pakistan (excavated By A.E.Caddy in 1895 at Loriyan Tangai, an important monastic site in the Shakot Pass region in the lower part of Swat., made)

  • Date:

    2nd century-3rd century (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Unknown

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Carved schist

  • Credit Line:

    Bequeathed by George Nathaniel, Ist Marquess Curzon of Kedleston

  • Museum number:

    IM.247-1927

  • Gallery location:

    Buddhism, Room 20, The Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation Galleries of Buddhist Art, case WS, shelf 1

This relief panel depicts the Buddha's death (mahaparinirvana). It probably formed part of a series of narrative reliefs depicting scenes from the life of the Buddha. These would have decorated the basement platform of a structure within a monastic complex.

The Buddha is reclining on a bed with legs shaped like lion and elephants. The haloed figure is surrounded by grieving mourners. Vajrapani has collapsed in distress,while the senior disciple Mahakasyapa stands with a staff at the Buddha’s feet. The new disciple Subhadra sits serenely meditating with his robe drawn over his head.

Behind the death-bed are the five Malla princes expressing great emotion. A tree-spirit (‘yakshi'’), seen in the foliage of a sala tree, shares in the lamentation. The tree alludes to the Upavartana grove of the Malla nobles at Kusinagara (near Gorakhpur). This is where the Buddha died, possibly in 477 BCE.

This panel was excavated by A. E. Caddy in 1895 at Loriyan Tangai. This is an important Gandharan monastic site in the Shakot Pass region of the lower Swat. It was despatched to Calcutta, where it subsequently entered the collection of Lord Curzon, Viceroy of India between 1898 and 1905.

Physical description

A relief panel from a Buddhist monument, probably a stupa , depicting the Buddha's death (Mahaparinirvana) The reclining haloed figure of the Buddha is surrounded by grieving mourners, including his disciples Subhadra in meditative pose at the bottom of the relief next to Vajrapani who sprawls beneath the bier striking his head in despair. Between the two followers is a water cooler suspended from a tripod. At the foot of the couch the figure of Mahakasyapa in monk's robes holding a staff bows his head in grief. On his right stands a naked ascetic ( whose face has been lost) with a further figure behind. A tree-spirit, seen in the foliage on the upper left, shares in the lamentation. The tree alludes to the grove of the Malla nobles at Kusinagara (near Gorakhpur), where this event occured, possibly in 477 B.C. Ranged behind the Buddha is the grief-stricken group of the five Malla princes who are all shown in varying expressive poses of passionate grief. The figure of the Buddha commands centre stage lying on his right side with his haloed head resting on two plumped up pillows on a mattress which is spread on a couch supported by legs carved with eagles' claw feet surmounted by elephants' heads and topped by the gaping jaws of two fierce lions. A drapery hangs between the legs. The relief has a plain plinth and has mortices in it at both sides and at the top right hand corner for fixings in its original architectural position.

Place of Origin

Pakistan (excavated By A.E.Caddy in 1895 at Loriyan Tangai, an important monastic site in the Shakot Pass region in the lower part of Swat., made)

Date

2nd century-3rd century (made)

Artist/maker

Unknown

Materials and Techniques

Carved schist

Dimensions

Weight: 38.5 kg, Height: 53 cm, Width: 48 cm

Object history note

Part of the extensive Curzon bequest donated to the V&A in 1927 as a legacy from the estate of the Rt. Hon. George Nathaniel , Ist Marquess Curzon of Kedleston, in whose collection this piece had entered in Calcutta while he was Viceroy of India, 1898-1905. It had originally been excavated by A.E.Caddy in 1895 at Loriyan Tangai, Swat

Descriptive line

Relief depicting the death of the Buddha, schist, Swat, Pakistan, 2nd-3rd century

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Foucher, L., L'Art greco-bouddhique de Gandhara, Vol 1, fig 279
Grünwedel, Albert, Buddhist Art in India, revised by Burgess, J. traslated by Gibson, A.C., London, 1901, p120, fig.72
Zwalf, W., Buddhism : Art and Faith, British Museum 1985, no 26
Marshall, J., The Buddhist Art of Gandhara, Cambridge University Press,1960, p. 97, fig.127
Pal, P. et al, The Light of Asia, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1984, no. 63 (exhibition catalogue)
pp109-11, pl XLI
Ackermann, Hans Christoph. Narrative Stone Reliefs from Gandhara in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Catalogue and Attempt at a Stylistic History. Reports and Memoirs. Director of the Series Giuseppe Tucci. Volume XVII. IsMEO, Rome, 1975.
Fig. 2.4, pp. 13-14
Gandharan Buddhist reliquaries / David Jongeward, Elizabeth Errington, Richard Salomon, Stefan Baums. Seattle: Early Buddhist Manuscripts Project, [2012], ©2012 Number: 9780295992365 (hardback), 0295992360 (hardback)
No. 24
Haworth-Booth, Mark; Indian Sculpture: A Travelling Exhibition, Victoria & Albert Museum, London, 1971
Clarke, John; The New Robert H.N. Ho Family Foundation Galleries of Buddhist Art at the Victoria and Albert Museum,
Orientations; vol. 48. no. 5, September/October 2017, p. 65, fig. 3.

Labels and date

The Death of the Buddha
AD 100–300
Ancient Gandhara
Possibly Loriyan Tangai, Pakistan
Schist
The Buddha lies on a cushioned couch. This is the
moment of passing into the great nirvana, the final
release from the cycle of rebirth. Behind the deathbed
are grieving local princes. At the foot of the bed
stands a senior disciple, Mahakashyapa, with a staff,
while immediately below the Buddha the disciple
Subhadra sits meditating.
Bequeathed by Lord Curzon
Museum no. IM.247-1927
300–100 [1/4/2009]

Materials

Schist

Techniques

Carving

Subjects depicted

Buddhism

Categories

Sculpture; Buddhism; Architectural fittings

Collection

South & South East Asia Collection

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