Avadāna, the Traditions about the Bodhisattva

high-definition creative commons photographs from Borobudur, Java, illustrating the Previous Lives of the Buddha as told in the Divyāvadāna and elsewhere together with further information.



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Sudhana and Manoharā

The Sudhana and Manoharā story is known in various tellings and became a favourite in SE Asia, and is known to us in the Mahāvastu, an unnamed Saka poem, Divyāvadāna, Avadānakalpalatā and the late Pāḷi Paññāsajātaka, which differ from each other in various details. The story told at Borobudur follows in most details the Divyāvadāna version of the story (Divy 30) and the Pāḷi retelling.

At one time in the country of Pañcāla there were two kings, one in the north, who ruled in accordance with Dharma, and one in the south who did not. The northern country prospered, but the southern country fell into ruin, and the people deserted the south for the north.

The southern king at that time heard that there was a young nāga called Jamnacitra in the north who used to bring rain at the right time so he hired a snake-charmer to capture him. A hunter who knew the nāga killed the snake charmer, the nāga escaped, and the hunter gained a magic snare.

Later King Dhana of the northern kingdom had a son, whom he named Sudhana. He was the Bodhisattva in an earlier existence, and he grew up to know all the arts and sciences, and in this lifetime he perfected the virtue of energy.

Now the hunter who had saved Jamnacitra one time met a sage in the wilderness, and the sage pointed out the kinnarī Manoharā, who bathed in a lotus pool on the 15th day of each month. The hunter captured Manoharā with his magic snare, and later offered her to Sudhana, who instantly fell in love with her and took her back with him to his palace, where he devoted himself to her.

Now the king of the north had a wicked chaplain who was afraid of losing his position when Sudhana inherited the kingdom, so he plotted the prince’s downfall. He had the king send him on a dangerous mission to subdue the hill-tribes. Sudhana unexpectedly succeeded and returned home in triumph.

While he was away the wicked chaplain also tried to have Manoharā killed, but she escaped and made it back to her father King Druma, the king of the kinnaras, in her homeland. Sudhana, after many a difficulty, managed to reunite with his beloved, and was eventually approved of by king Druma. Later the two of them returned to Pañcāla where Sudhana was consecrated king, and ruled righteously.

01 The King of the North at Court

There are two kings involved in this story and the relief might be of either, but because of the happy demeanour and seeming prosperity in this scene, I am inclined to believe this must be the king of the north sitting in his court and receiving visitors. The king and his consort sit on a raised seat inside a pavilion, and under the seat are expressions of wealth, including a treasure chest.

Remember, during circuambulation, the right side of the panels appears in sight first, so first the palace, the ladies, the royals, and then the visitors on this panel would be seen. The visitors are eight in number, and appear with a peacock-feather fan, a leaf-fan and a parasol, which are royal insignia. They are adorned with jewellery. On the far left is a fruiting tree, with two squirrels sitting atop it.

02 The King of the South goes on Inspection Tour

On the other hand the king of the south, seen here, is out on pretext of hunting, and finding that his kingdom is devastated owing to his ruling unrighteously, and the people have fled his country for the north.

The king is seen on his horse, and an attendant holds a parasol over his head. The courtiers follow behind, and a few more in front, together with a brahmin who seemingly leads the way. Soon he will grant them immunity and they will tell him why his kingdom is deserted.

03 The Charming of the Nāga

There appear to be three scenes in this panel. In the first on the right, the nāga Jamnacitra is meeting with the hunter Halaka, and telling him what is about to happen. In the middle we see a brahmin, with a sacrificial fire, charming the nāga out of the waters. The hunter stands on the right, and is ready to protect him.

The scene on the far left is curious. We would expect this to be the nāga-king rewarding his saviour, but neither character fits the description required. Instead it appears to be an out of sequence event whereby the king of the south inducts the brahmin to capture the nāga. No other solution presents itself while following the events described in the text.

04 The Hunter asks for the Unerring Snare

After being saved, Jamnacitra took the hunter to his parents’ palace, where they rewarded him with gold and jewellery. The hunter, however, after meeting with a sage learned of a magical snare that was unerring, and used to capture the nāgas enemies, the suparṇas, and he developed a desire for it.

In this panel the hunter, dressed in finery is sitting in the pavilion of the left. The young nāga Jamnacitra is meanwhile sat in front of his parents on the high seat on the right and asking for the snare to give to his benefactor.

05 The Hunter captures Manoharā

The hunter Halaka one time met with a sage in the wilderness and had asked him if, in the forty years he had spent there in ascetic practice, he had seen anything extraordinary, and the sage innocently told him about Manoharā, who came to bathe at the nearby pool every fortnight. The Hunter determined to capture her.

On the far right is the sage who looks on as Halaka uses his magic snare to capture Manoharā who is standing in the middle of the panel and is unable to flee. Her companions are seen flying away over the lotus pool and escaping the same fate. Note that the kinnaras in this story are not depicted as being half bird, as elsewhere at Borobudur, but are portrayed like other devas.

06 The Hunter presents Manoharā to Sudhana

It is curious that the birth of the king of the north’s son, Sudhana, has been omitted from the sequence, but here we find him already a full grown man. He is out hunting when Manoharā is caught, and the hunter presents her to him.

Most of the panel is made up of Sudhana’s hunting party, with armed men on the right, and his attendants in the middle. Sudhana himself is standing on the left and giving a present to the hunter and his friend who sit on the floor. Behind them is Manoharā.

07 The Wicked Chaplain counsels the King

In the story Sudhana has a brahmin in his service and he informs him he will make him the foremost brahmin in the kingdom when he ascends the throne. When the king’s chaplain hears this he determines on Sudhana’s death to prevent losing power himself.

The king is sat in the pavilion in the middle of the panel, outside, under trees, are his courtiers, including the wicked brahmin who is enticing the king to send Sudhana off to a disastrous war against the hill-tribes, even though seven previous campaigns have failed.

08 Sudhana takes leave of his Mother

Sudhana agrees to go off for the campaign, but before doing so he meets with his mother and asks her to protect Manoharā and let her flee if she is put in any danger while he is away.

Sudhana and his mother sit in the pavilion on the right, and Sudhana, holding his hands in añjali, entreats his mother. Behind him is a large group of courtiers who will presumably go to the fight with him.

09 Sudhana meets with the Yakṣas

Sudhana sets up camp outside the hill-tribe’s city. At that time the Great King Vaiśravaṇa, who is in charge of the yakṣas, was passing by and recognising the Bodhisattva decided to help him, and to prevent loss of life in the battle. The yakṣas caused such a disturbance the villagers gave up without a fight.

Here we see Sudhana sitting relaxed under the trees and meeting with the yakṣa Pañcika, who sits in front of him. Pañcika means The Five, and the sculptors seem to have understood it as meaning that he met with five yakṣas, who are pictured on the floor. Behind them are the villagers bringing tribute.

10 The Wicked Chaplain meets with the King

That same night, the king, back in his palace, had a nightmare which disturbed him greatly. The chaplain understood from the dream that Sudhana had conquered the hill-tribes, but, still seeking his destruction, persuaded the king that he needed to sacrifice Manoharā to ward off calamity.

In the middle of the frame we see six brahmins, it appears the one who is standing and foremost is speaking to the king, and therefore must be the chaplain. On the right the king sits with his consorts, who appear distressed by what is being asked of the king.

11 Manoharā flees from the Palace

Manoharā learned of the plot to have her killed and went to see Sudhana’s mother who had the power to free her. She allowed the kinnarī to escape, and just in time, as the king’s men sought her for the sacrifice.

Manoharā is once again able to fly, and she makes her escape from the palace and the king’s men, pictured on the left. Behind her fly several birds whose flight seems to enhance or emphasise her own. The courtiers on the left do not seem to notice her flight.

12 Sudhana returns to the Palace with Tribute

Meanwhile, Sudhana, having subdued the hill-tribe and extracted tribute from them, had returned to the capital city and went to see his father in the palace. When he asked leave to go and see Manoharā the king tried to delay him.

The king is seated in the pavilion on the left. In front of him are some people holding tribute. Sudhana sits in front of him and offers the tribute. His courtiers are behind him and one sits with his open palm forward pointing out the action.

13 Sudhana goes to see his Mother

Sudhana returned to his palace but did not find his love, so he went to find out what had happened from his mother. She told him the whole story and how Manoharā had fled into the wilderness where lions and sages live.

This is a similar scene to 8 above where Sudhana had taken his leave of his mother. They sit together in the pavilion and discuss Manoharā’s flight. Outside his entourage sits under a tree waiting for him. A well-drawn elephant stands behind them.

14 Sudhana is trapped in the Palace

Sudhana’s mother and father both try to persuade him to take another lover from amongst the palace women, but Sudhana is smitten with love for Manoharā only, and refuses. The king fearing he will leave sets up guards on all sides to prevent his departure.

Krom, following Foucher, identified this as Manoharā meeting with her father King Druma, but it is a scene with no textual support, and out of sequence. A more likely explanation is that this is Sudhana back in his palace, and the women are the ones he rejects. The fact that he has a halo fit for Bodhisattvas behind him further confirms the identification. On either side are the guards who are stationed to prevent his departure.

15 Sudhana seeks out the Sage

Sudhana manages to escape from the city at night and makes his way into the wilderness to try and find the sage whose words had led to the initial capture of Manoharā. The sage gives him a signet ring Manoharā had passed to him along with instructions on how to find her.

We see a beautiful forest with trees and deer seated under them on the far right. Sudhana is asking the sage where his beloved is. Three more sages sit behind him who are unmentioned in the story. On the far left we see the pond where Manoharā was captured.

16 Sudhana meets with the Kinnaris at the Well

Sudhana followed all the instructions Manoharā had given the sage and eventually found himself at the edge of the city. Here he saw some kinnaris collecting water at the well, which was to be used to bathe Manoharā. He slipped the signet ring into one of them and asked them to pour this one over his lover first.

Sudhana is on the far right and speaking to one of the kinnaris whose water pot is before her. Evidently it is in this pot that he will place the ring. Behind her are the other kinnaris collecting water, and a lotus pond. On the far left is the palace of Manoharā’s father, king Druma.

17 Sudhana shows his Skills to the King

Manoharā’s father was at first reluctant to allow a mere human to marry his divine daughter, and asked Sudhana to show whether his skills with the sword and arrow were sufficient. Sudhana, of course, being a Bodhisattva, excels at all arts and with a brilliant display suitably impressed the king.

The king is on the far right along with several of his courtiers and attendants. On the far left stands Sudhana with his bow raised and about to display his skills. We see five of the seven palm trees mentioned in the text lined up in Sudhana’s sights. Groups of kinnaras sit around to watch the unrivalled show.

18 Sudhana calls out Manoharā

King Druma had one last test for Sudhana. He placed Manoharā amongst one thousand kinnaris he created, who all looked the same as she did and asked Sudhana to recognise her. Sudhana called on Manoharā to step forward and she did and the king was finally convinced.

The king and his consort are on the right, before them Sudhana approaches a pavilion filled with kinnaris who all look the same. He is about to call on his beloved to step forward. Notice that Sudhana again has a halo here, as on 14.

19 The Couple enjoy life in the Palace

The king gave Manoharā to Sudhana together with her retinue and they retired to the kinnara palace to the sound of music where they were able to enjoy all pleasures.

The couple sit under a pavilion inside the palace, while an orchestra plays, and a girl dances. We can see pot-drums, flutes and cymbals amongst the musicians. On the right under a tree we see the palace guards, and a pair of horses together with an elephant.

20 Sudhana and Manoharā return to his Home

After some time Sudhana started to long to see his parents once more, and explained his suffering to Manoharā. She in turn spoke to her father, king Druma, who gave permission for them to return to his home country.

When the king of the north heard that Sudhana was returning he had the city cleaned and decorated, and sent people out to meet him. In the last of these scenes we see the royal couple entering the city once more, where Sudhana will be made king and rule righteously. He is passing out alms as he enters.

Neither Foucher nor Krom have much to say about the following ten reliefs, and the story or stories they illustrate are unknown. I will describe the reliefs in sufficient detail pointing out items of interest.

21 A Royal Couple hold Court

It is possible that this is Sudhana and Manoharā after his consecration. It is said Sudhana spent the next twelve years after his ascension ruling the kingdom generously and justly. But it could also be part of the next, unidentified, story.

What we can see anyway is a royal couple in a pavilion. The king is evidently holding forth on some topic or other. In front of him are some visitors, who may also be royal. Their retinue is behind on the left.

22 A Boy’s Portrait is shown to the King

Because of the similar subject matter we can be sure that this and the next relief belong together. In this one we see a king and queen sitting in relaxed posture in their elaborately decorated pavilion. Outside, on the far right, are some ladies-in-waiting.

On the left a party has arrived bearing royal insignia such as the peacock-feather fan, the leaf-fan and a parasol, also an elephant, together with a mahout. Three people sit near the king and hold a portrait of a young boy, whom they are evidently presenting to the king for approval.

23 A Girl’s Portrait is shown to the King

This is quite similar to the previous panel, but with some interesting variations. Here the king and queen sit inside a roughly drawn pavilion, and the portrait being shown is of a young girl by people who again are accompanied by royal insignia.

To the far right we see a crowded ship setting sail. As we do not know the story it is hard to know how it fits into the story on the relief. Is this how the party came? Is this how they are leaving? Until a textual identification is made we will never know.

24 Meeting with a King

Again a royal couple sit inside a luxuriously decorated room. There are antechambers on both right and left. It looks like on the right of the relief the antechamber must be filled with attendants, one of whom is holding something curious up to the couple.

In the left chamber are the visitors, and there are more of their company outside under the tree on the right. Unfortunately both of the characters depicted are badly damaged, as are the king and queen, and it is impossible to work out what their exact relationship is, or who is speaking to whom.

25 Visiting Someone in Seclusion

The character that would be seen first during the pradakṣiṇa is sitting in meditation posture on the right of the panel. He is well dressed and has the coiffure of the nobility, and he is inside a palace, so it must be a prince or a king who sits there.

On the left side of the panel we see a visiting party, again with all the normal attributes of a royal group: a large parasol, a peacock-feather and a leaf parasol. They seem to be outside a gate awaiting entrance to present their gifts to the meditating royal inside.

26 A Meeting in the Wilderness

On the right sits a saint in the wilderness, pictured with a halo. He has only an elephant, a lion and birds for companions. He does not appear to be meditating. Perhaps he is preaching to the jungle creatures?

On the left a female saint is pictured, also with a halo. She has come with numerous female companions and is on the edge of the wilderness judging by the strategically placed rocks. Someone sits at her feet and appears to block her way forward.

27 Attending a Sacrifical Fire

Now this is unusual indeed, in that the character who is attending the sacrificial fire is a female and not a brahmin priest as expected. Many of the other characters on this relief are female also. She kneels inside the fire hut and tends the fire. Another female kneels outside the fire house on the far left.

On the right under the trees are sat many women holding offerings of one sort or another. They appear to be guarded by male soldiers who sit on the floor on the far right.

28 A Meeting with a King

A very common scene seen on these walls is again portrayed here, which makes identifying it outside of a storyline impossible. A party visits a king, who, in this case, sits alone inside a pavilion on the far right. He has one attendant outside but nearby.

A party, including an elephant, a horse and rider, soldiers and a parasol holder line up on the right. In front of them – and approaching the king – are a couple, evidently nobility theirselves. Much of this relief is very worn down and the detail is lost.

29 A King and Queen inside a Long Pavilion

On the left, under trees are the a few courtiers both male and female, they seem to belong with the queen, but it is hard to be sure without knowing the story. In any case one of them holds the parasol which must be meant for the queen.

Inside the pavilion the king sits at ease with his leg supported by a knee strap. The queen sits at a slightly lower level. They appear to be conversing together. Behind the king sits just one attendant. On the far left is a palace, with the steps up to it facing us.

30 Entreating the King

This is another of these non-descript ‘meeting with a king’ scenes. Here the king and queen are sat inside a pavilion, the queen appears to look away from the people who have come to meet the king.

These are led by a brahmin who, with his hands held in añjali, appears to be asking something of the king. Behind are the entourage, including a noble who is standing and gesturing and has several ladies behind him. As there are royal insignia about perhaps he is also a king. Part of the relief is obscured by the makara placed at the side of the stairway.

Both Foucher – and with considerably more doubts – Krom, assign the next eight reliefs to a part of the story of King Māndhātā. Unfortunately when checking the sources it becomes apparent that the reliefs do not follow any known telling of the story, and certainly not the Divyāvadāna, which begins with the birth of the prince. The Māndhātā story appears to start only on relief no 39. I therefore describe what we can see on these reliefs without trying to force an interpretation on them that cannot be properly established, and sometimes even goes against the story we receive.

31 Distributing Alms to the Poor

On the right sit a royal couple. A female stands near to the king and is making an offering. A brahmin sits at her feet, though his role is unclear. Meanwhile just behind her someone carries off a large casket. Again part of the relief is obscured by the makara placed at the side of the stairway.

On the left, in what may be a separate scene, or perhaps a simultaneous one, a royal figure is taking fruits from a tray held by his attendant and handing them to the poor people who line up in front of him. On the far left one woman carries her child.

32 A King and Queen distribute Alms

This is another alms-giving scene. On the right we see the queen sitting in an elaborate pavilion. One attendant behind her and one in front hold strings of jewels on plates. Just at the door appears a man holding a large treasure chest – maybe the same one as seen being carried off in the last scene – seemingly weighed down by the load.

On the left the king himself is out amongst the people handing out the jewels to the people. He has an attendant who is carrying a large bowl from which he picks the treasure to dispense. On the far left are the recipients, evidently poor subjects now made rich.

33 A King beseiges a City

On the right is a rich and well-decorated building inside a fence, which must represent a city. There is what is probably a man inside who seems to hold his hands in añjali, perhaps he is surrendering. Above the mansion birds fly from the danger.

From the right a king approaches on a palanquin carried by many servants. Before him go his army, represented by an elephant, probably three horses and soldiers with shields and swords raised.

34 Two Scenes in the Wilderness

This panel seems to be broken into two scenes, both of which are set in the wilderness. On the right we see a brahmin approach a figure simply dressed and sitting in meditation. The brahmin appears to be asking for something, and the gesture of the meditator indicates he may be teaching.

On the left we see a character approaching a brahmin who is now sitting and he is about to pour the waters of donation for him. Krom thinks the figure is female, but it looks more like a male, and the two figures could even be the same as appear on the right, at a different time.

35 The Royal Family

A simple pavilion takes up main stage in this panel, inside sits a king, who is evidently a Bodhisattva as well, as the halo behind his head shows. He is in teaching posture. Next to him is one of his consorts, who is holding a small boy who stands on her lap. Behind the queen are her attendants.

In front of the king, on the left side, is a prince who sits on a raised platform and holds his hands in añjali, and behind the prince is his entourage, including an elephant and some soldiers. The prince is the recipient of the teaching of the Bodhisattva, and appears to listen carefully.

36 The Bodhisattva teaches Dharma

This is a somewhat similar scene to the last one. The king and queen are both sitting inside a long pavilion. The king is marked as a Bodhisattva by a halo, and again appears to be teaching. The baby prince is standing behind the queen this time.

On the left the king’s interlocutors are also royal, as is marked by the peacock-feather fan behind them. The first character sits on a cushion elevating him above the others. There are traces of a rider on a horse on the far left.

37 The King pours the Waters of Donation

This appears to be a continuation of the story on the last relief. Now the king and queen are standing. The queen holds a tiara while the king is pouring the waters of donation over the brahmin’s hand.

The brahmin is now in a pavilion of his own, and has perhaps been raised to the status of king. Behind him are his attendants, including soldiers with their weapons, and the large peacock-feather fan.

38 Śakra visits a King

In the middle sits a king on a cushion together with his queen. Between them is another figure, whether it is another consort or a prince is hard to make out. Behind them are the usual attendants and signs of power: soldiers and an elephant, signifying an army.

On the left Śakra, lord of the gods, has come. He is kneeling and holds his hands in añjali before the king. He is definitely identified by his attendant Airāvata who sits just behind him and has the customary elephant trunk hairstyle and bears an elephant-prod. Other attendants sit about. Notice the heavily fruiting tree on the far left.

King Māndhātā

The story is based on Divyāvadāna 17, but differs from it in detail, so it may have been a related telling of the story that was known to the sculptors.

The story opens with Buddha Gautama in Vaiśālī during his final days. As he walks towards his final resting place he tells of a time in a past life when – though far from Awakening – he had given a powerful sermon on Dharma, and he relates his past birth (jātaka) story as King Māndhātā, which is as follows:

Māndhātā was born from King Upoṣadha himself, not via his queen. He gave birth to him after developing a swelling on his head. Because of this Māndhātā had an alternative name, which is used sometimes in the story: Murdhātā (meaning one who is born from a head).

After his father died he was appointed king, and he began to show the miraculous power of his merit: everything he wished for came true, beginning with the way he ascended to the throne.

Now in his kingdom were some 500 seers. When he found some of them acting badly he banished them all, and they went to live on Mt. Sumeru.

He wished for things to be better and easier for his subjects, and as he wished, so it happened. But the people assigned half the power to their own merit. So the king made it rain down jewels in his own harem for seven days, and not a jewel fell outside, and they admitted it was wholly due to the king’s merit.

Now a yakṣa would attend on Māndhātā, and the king, who ruled the whole of Jambudvīpa, asked him where else he could rule, and he was told – and conquered – the other three continents.

Having conquered the whole earth, the yakṣa then mentioned the Realm of the Thirty-Three. Surmounting all obstacles Māndhātā made himself the equal of Śakra, lord of the gods. He then helped the gods overcome the asuras who fought against them.

Inflamed by his own power he then thought to overcome Śakra himself, and as soon as he had the thought, he lost all his magical powers, and started to fade away. Before he died he gave a powerful sermon on the dangers of sense pleasures and the household life, hearing which, hundreds of thousands went forth and ordained.

The Buddha then reveals that he himself was Māndhātā in that every life, and tells how he received such tremendous power by telling two more jātakas, in which he had given small gifts, which had borne great fruits.

39 King Māndhātā on his Throne

This is the first relief we can positively identify with the story of King Māndhātā, and then only because the next relief must be a scene from the story, and the central character of the story has yet to be established.

King Māndhātā sits inside a simple pavilion, with some female attendants directly behind him and a swordsman on the far right. He has a halo behind his head, which marks him as the Bodhisattva. In front someone is presenting what looks like a tiara. Many others line up to present gifts to the newly appointed king.

40 The King banishes the Sages

Near Vaisālī there was a forest where 500 sages (ṛṣi) lived. One of them was called Foul-Mouth (Durmukha), and when the birds disturbed him he cursed them so they could no longer fly. When King Māndhātā found this out he had his ministers send all 500 out of the country.

On the right we see the king surrounded by his ministers and soldiers, to whom he is evidently giving instructions. Because the relief is worn down it is hard to see, but many birds are under the tree, and can no longer fly. Above them the sages are flying away to Mt. Sumeru.

41 Grain falls from the Sky

As he toured his kingdom the king saw that the people tilled the soil. He asked his councillors why they did so, and they told him they were growing grain. The king then wished for twenty-seven types of grain to fall from the sky, and so it did. But the people believed it did so because of their merit as well as the king’s.

Here we see the king standing in the midst of his councillors and asking about the people’s work. From the sky on the left fall the grains which are being collected by the people and carried away.

42 Clothes fall from the Sky

Again the king asked about the cultivation of cotton, the spinning of such, and the weaving of cloth. When told his people wove clothes, he wished for there to be a rain of clothes, and so it was. But the people believed it did so because of their merit as well as the king’s.

The king sits in a pavilion with his army behind him. In front clothes are seen to be falling from the sky and the people are busily gathering them up. Two councillors near the king look on.

43 Jewels fall in the King’s Harem

In order to prove that the miracles were owing to his own merit, and not due to anyone else’s, the king then determined that jewels would fall into his harem for seven days, and that not one would fall outside. Still the people wanted to claim it was partially because of their own merit!

The king sits in a pavilion and behind him his consorts collect the jewels that are falling from the sky. On the left also jewels fall from the sky and his attendants gather them up. They are male and we can only presume they are somehow allowed into the harem. Perhaps they are meant to be eunuchs.

44 The King as a World-Conqueror

The king at various times relefects on his own glory, and how he possesses Jambudvīpa which is thriving in accordance with his rule. He also relfects on his seven jewels and the 1,000 sons that comprise his army.

The king stands at the head of his army, which is lined up behind him. In front of him are seen some of the marks of a world-conqueror, from the right: the wheel, the elephant, the jewel, the horse, the woman and the householder. The counselor, for some reason, is omitted. Though he could have taken the place of the parasol bearer.

45 The King consults with the Yakṣa

The king nows asks his yakṣa if there was any continent that wasn’t under his control. The yakṣa mentioned Pūrvavideha, and the king set out to conquer it. Later he would ask again, and be told about the other two continents – Aparagodānīya and Uttarakuru – he had yet to conquer.

The scene is simply set. The king sits inside a long pavilion with his consorts behind him. In front of him must be the yakṣa, though he looks more like a brahmin than a yakṣa. Outside his entourage await their orders.

46 The King sits alongside Śakra

The king, after conquering all there was on earth, was told by the yakṣa about the Heaven of the Thirty-Three, which was ruled over by Śakra, lord of the gods. King Māndhātā now determined to become the equal of Śakra, and when he appeared in heaven Śakra invited him to sit on the same throne with him.

Again it is a simple scene: Śakra and the king sit side by side. The text specifies that they were indistinguishable, except that Śakra didn’t blink. It appears however the sculptor is marking them with the help of their attendants. On the right sit the gods, and on the left is the king’s entourage.

47 The Battle between the Devas and the Asuras

After a long time living amongst the gods a war broke out between the devas and the asuras, and the war raged back and forth. When the king heard about the war he asked for his bow and when he strung it, it was heard across the heavens. Then he mounted his chariot and rode above the battlefield, which put the asuras to flight.

Two groups are pictured in the battle here. The devas are on the right. Their leader is sat on a raised plynth, sword in hand. In front of him are more devas with bows drawn, and on the left are the asuras with their leader.

48 The King gives his Final Teaching

In the text things move quickly now: the king, puffed up with his own self-worth, thinks he could replace Śakra. As soon as he has this thought, however, he lost his power, fell back to Jambudvīpa, and before dying gave his final Dharma teaching: sense-desires can never be satisfied and the household life is full of dangers. Many hearing this teaching were converted and went forth. The Buddha then revealed that he had been king Māndhātā in that life.

The king sits once more in his palace on earth and is surrounded by his consorts and attendants. His ministers sit in front of him, with a brahmin at the front, and listen to his Dharma teachings. They are all sat under trees, and a number hold their hands in añjali.

Foucher – and Krom following him – connects this relief and the next two with the previous story. They both have doubts about the connection though, and there seems to be little textual support for the connection. I therefore treat these as a separate, but unknown, story.

49 A Meeting with a King

On the right sit a royal couple in a palace. In an antechamber sits a royal visitor. Outside his entourage sit under a tree, holding up the royal insignia. There appears to be a child in the antechamber on the far right.

On the far left is a curious character marked by a halo and turning away from the proceedings. Without a story to support it we cannot know who it is, and what part he plays.

50 The Queen presents an Offering to the King

This is a very interesting relief, and definitely confirms that this cannot be part of the king Māndhātā story, as nothing of the sort happens there.

On the right a queen sits with her hands held in añjali, and on the far right sits a king in relaxed posture. Between them is a gift – a large circular object covered with flowers that sits in a rectangular basin. Behind the queen is a curious building, the design, with its upturned highest section, is quite unlike anything seen elsewhere on these walls. Courtiers sit and gossip under the trees on the left.

* * *

51 The King and the Toy Kinnaras

This is a very striking relief. On the right we see a king and queen sitting together with a young boy inside a highly decorated palace. Atop the pillars are lions, and atop the roof are birds and flywhisks. In the king’s hand is a small kinnara, and a person who sits in front of him has another. By their size they must be toys.

This is further confirmed by the scene on the left where the character sitting third from left appears to be carving out one of these toys. The character standing third from left also seems to have these toys on his tray. It is surprising that such an unusual scene has never been identified from the literature!

52 Flight and Refuge

This very much looks like an earlier and later scene from the life of the same couple. On the right we see the couple flying through the air and over a lotus pond. The crown is barely visible here.

In the middle though the crown is clear, and we see this is a prince or a king. He lies down and his consort appears to massage him. The stylised rocks indicate they are in a cave. Outside are a pair of deer, a peacock, and a yakṣa, who is holding a sword.

53 Merchants approach a Queen

On the left we see a finely drawn ship, with its masts and the sails drawn up. Some sailors stand and sit around.

In the middle some of the sailors, who are probably merchants, have landed, and they approach a queen pictured on the right. As they bow and makes signs of supplication they must be asking something of her. Birds fly around the queen, and it is hard to tell if she is on land or water.

54 The Queen and the Guesthouse

It is of course impossible to know whether this panel continues from the previous one or tells an unrelated story, however, we do see a queen on the right, surrounded by her ladies-in-waiting. She sits at ease with a knee support.

On the right two men sit under two trees on left and right of what looks like a packed guesthouse. If this continues the story from the previous panel then these must be the sailors now safely housed.

55 A Meeting with a King

This is one of many scenes of a similar sort. A party of people sit under a tree. There are royal insignia, but in this case no one amongst the party looks particularly kingly, and so they may be attendants.

On the right the king sits with his consort and her ladies-in-waiting gathered round him. His attention is on something in the hand of one of the attendants, but it is hard to make out. Perhaps it is a large jewel.

King Śibi and the Pigeon

There are various stories of the great King Śibi, one of the most famous is of the giving of his own eyes (Jm 2), which is also illustrated at Borobudur on the opposite side of the gallery to this story. The story itself is known to the Sūtrālaṁkāra (no. 64) besides other texts. This is one of the most famous stories in the ancient world, and was depicted at Ājāṇṭa, Amaravatī and in the Longmen Grottoes in China. The story here, however, concerns a pigeon.

At one time the Bodhisattva was reborn as the king of the Śibis. Now at that time the lifespan of Śakra, lord of the gods, was coming to an end, and he wished to see a Buddha, but no Buddha existed in the world. Viśvakarma, the architect of the gods, however, told him about the Bodhisattva.

Śakra – as is his want in these tales – decided to test the king to see if his resolve was sufficient for Buddhahood. He therefore took the form of a pigeon and Viśvakarma took the form of a falcon and they approached the Bodhisattva.

The pigeon took refuge under the king’s arm, and the falcon, perched on a nearby tree, requested the pigeon from him. The king refused as he had taken refuge, and the falcon complained that he was missing his daily meal.

The king, unwilling to kill another being in the pigeon’s place, decided to cut off a piece of his own flesh to give to the falcon, but the latter demanded the full weight of the pigeon be given him. The king had some scales brought, but no matter how much flesh was cut off, the pigeon always seemed to weigh more than the flesh, so the king put his whole body onto one side of the scales.

Śakra was then convinced this was truly a Bodhisattva, and Viśvakarma asked him to cure the king. But the king made a declaration of truth that he had not wavered when cutting his own flesh, and by this truth he was once again healed. The devas and men who had watched the proceedings rejoiced.

56 The King’s Flesh is weighed against the Pigeon

This panel shows consecutive scenes from the story. On the right we see the king of the Śibis sitting on a platform with his hand raised in a calming posture. The dove sits near to him. In a tree in front of him sits the falcon who is making his request for food. The king’s courtiers sit on the floor.

On the left we see the scales with the pigeon sitting on one side, while a lump of flesh is placed on the other. It is not made clear that they are of unequal weights, but that is the case. The mutilated king is not shown. The sculptors at Borobudur, be it noticed, never showed anything as gross as the cutting off of flesh in their reliefs.

57 The King is Lauded by Devas and Men

The king sits on a throne in the middle of the relief. He has a halo behind his head which clearly marks him as a Bodhisattva. The funny thing about the scene is that both Śakra and Viśvakarma are missing from it, though there would clearly be room for them.

Instead, on either side we see both devas and men lined up in two rows, one sitting and one standing. Some worship, some make signs, all we may conclude laud the actions of the king.


This story is known to the Avadānaśataka (no 38), and tells of a king Dharmagavesī (one who seeks the Dharma) who desired to hear the true teachings.

The good king Dharmagavesī (the Bodhisattva in a previous life) has a great desire to hear Dharma teaching and asked his ministers to proclaim throughout his kingdom that if anyone could teach him Dharma there would be a great reward.

Hearing of the king’s desire, Śakra – always up to mischief it seems! – decided to test his resolve. He took on a disguise as a yakṣa and spoke just one verse, which the king rejoiced in: ‘One should live by Dhamma, with good conduct, not with bad conduct, living by Dhamma one lives at ease in this world and the next.’ (cf. Dhp 169)

When the king asked him to continue he told him he would if the king would tend a fire for seven days and nights and at the end of that time throw himself into it. The king, of course, agreed, and, after crowning his son king, did as requested. As he threw himself into the fire it turned into a lotus pool.

The king then recited this verse: ‘This ember-pan, fearsome like a fiery torch, I fall into it for the sake of the Dharma, determined and unconcerned for life. Through the power of my merit the fire-pan will be lovely, (like) a lotus pond filled with lotuses that has cool sandalwood infused in its water.’

The king then jumped into the fire, but as he did so it was transformed into a lotus pond and the king was unhurt. Śakra then showed his real form and recited again the first verse, which the king caused to be recited throughout his kingdom.

58 The King offers a Reward

The king, having a great desire to hear Dharma, assembled his ministers and gave a great reward to be offered throughout his kingdom to anyone who could teach him Dharma.

The king sits with his consort on a raised platform on the right. The king is marked as the Bodhisattva by the halo behind his head. In front of them one man holds a money-bag, while others carry away a treasure chest, which presumably is the reward the king will give for hearing the Dharma.

59 The Yakṣa and the King

Śakra, who wished to test the king’s resolve to hear Dharma, approached him and recited one verse, which the king greatly rejoices in. He then told the king if he wished to hear another he must tend a fire for seven days and at the end throw himself into the fire.

In the middle is a large fire blazing from an altar. The king stands to the right of it, holding a lotus on his hand, which perhaps signifies the transfigured lotus pond which is not otherwise shown. On the left sits the large and fearsome-looking yakṣa, Śakra in disguise. He is waiting for the king to fulfil his promise.

60 Śakra recites a Verse

The king did as he said he would and threw himself into the fire in order to learn more Dharma, but as he did so it transformed into a lotus pond, and the king was unhurt. Śakra then revealed his true form and spoke the first verse again, which the king caused to be taught throughout the kingdom.

In this scene the king is sat in the middle in a pavilion and on a raised seat. Śakra sits on the right, presumably with two other devas. Both the king and Śakra are marked by halos. It seems to be the moment when Śakra speaks the verse.

Krom identifies the next three reliefs as belonging to the Sambulā (Ja 519) story. But the reliefs hardly support such a reading, and go against the story as we know it.

It is because of panel 62 that Krom identifies the story as being that of Sambulā, but the characters are wrong: we would at least expect to see the yakṣa and the princess together with Śakra, not Airāvata and a man! Similarly the next scene simply doesn’t fit Sambulā’s story at all.

61 A Royal Couple at Court

In the centre of the relief sit a king and queen casually on cushions. The building is fairly elaborate, with pillars and decorations. The figure of the king is particularly worn down.

On the left we see an attendant holding a fly whisk and courtiers sitting on the floor, with an elephant, leaf-fan and parasol behind them. On the right are more courtiers, including two guards who hold swords, as they sit under a tree.

62 Śakra appears in the Wilderness

There are two scenes in this relief: on the right we see the couple living in a wilderness, there are trees, a river with fish, two lions in a den and deer to mark the scene.

On the left we see Śakra, holding the double vajra, standing between his vehicle Airāvata who sits on the far left, and what is probably the male character from the previous scene sitting holding his hands in añjali on the right.

63 A Meeting between a Royal Couple and a Bodhisattva

In the middle-right we see a large collonaded and decorated building, within which sits the king with his consort on the left and a character marked as a Bodhisattva on the right. The king and the Bodhisattva appear to be in conversation. On the far right two figures crouch in an antechamber.

On the left we see the normal crowd of courtiers sat under a tree, with the usual royal insignia above them. They hold various postures as the action proceeds in the palace.


Unlike most of the Avadāna stories, which take place in a past life of the Buddha or one of his disciples, this one is set contemporary with Buddha Gautama’s life. The story is known to us from Divyāvadāna 37, and it is the last tale in that collection, but it is probable the sculptors knew a somewhat different version of the story.

In the time of Lord Buddha king Bimbisāra ruled in Rājagṛha, and in the distant city of Roruka Rudrāyaṇa ruled as king. One time merchants from Rājagṛha visited Roruka, and there followed an exchange of gifts between the kings, the last of which was a portrait of the Buddha, with some of his teachings inscribed on it.

When Rudrāyaṇa heard of the Buddha he was duly impressed, and asked for a monk to be sent to Roruka. The Buddha sent Ven. Mahākātyāyana and 500 monks to the city. Mahākātyāyana’s preaching led to two householders, Tiṣya and Puṣya, attaining Arahatship. Later they passed away and stūpas were built for them.

The king wanted Ven. Mahākātyāyana to preach in his harem, but the monk told him it was not allowable, and that he should ask for a bhikṣuṇī. He did so and the nun Śailā came with 500 other nuns to Roruka. Her teaching impressed the ladies, especially the queen Candrapabhā, and when the queen learned of her impending death she asked to be ordained for the final week of her life.

After passing away she was reborn in heaven and later appeared to the king as a goddess and spoke about the benefits of ordination, at which the king decided to appoint his son Śikhaṇḍī as king, and get himself ordained. The old king appointed two advisors for his son also: Hiru and Bhiru. He then retired to Rājagṛha and was ordained.

King Śikhaṇḍī, although he started off well, soon started to rule unjustly, and the former king decided to return to Roruka to admonish him. Two evil advisors to the king persuaded him to have Ven. Rudrāyaṇa killed on the road. This was done, but not until shortly after he had attained Arahatship.

The king felt remorse for killing his father who was also a Arahat, and the two evil ministers decided to play a trick on him to persuade him that there were no Arahats in the world. They trained some cats and planted them in the stūpas of Tiṣya and Puṣya, and then persuaded the king the Arahats had been reborn as these cats.

The evil ministers also had Ven. Mahākātyāyana attacked by the townsfolk and buried alive under a pile of dirt. Mahākātyāyana, of course, survived, and then predicted the downfall of Roruka and its folk: showers of riches would fall from the sky for six days, but on the seventh everyone would be buried under a sandstorm. The two good ministers, Hiru and Bhiru, were warned in advance of the coming events, and escaped and founded the cities of Hiruka and Bhirukaccha.

Mahākātyāyana also left the city accompanied by Śyāmāka, Hiru’s son, and by the goddess of the city. The latter later became goddess at Khara; and Śyāmāka became king at a city that was subsequently named after him. Mahākātyāyana himself went on to Vokkāṇa. Along the way he left relics at these various cities, before returning to Śrāvastī. The Buddha then told some past life stories to explain the karmic connection.

64 The King with the Merchants

Some merchants from Rājagṛha undertook a long journey and eventually came to Roruka, where king Rudrāyaṇa ruled. Upon meeting them, the king asked if they knew of any king as great as he himself was, and they described the virtues of king Bimbisāra of Rājagṛha.

King Rudrāyaṇa is seen sitting in his court with his consort behind him. In front of him sit three merchants, the one at the front holds his hands in añjali. It is hard to tell whether the three on the far right are also merchants, or courtiers. Outside we see a group has gathered and are receiving gifts.

65 The King receives a Letter

In Divyāvadāna King Rudrāyaṇa sent a letter and a box of jewels, but these are shown separately in the panels, so it looks like a slightly different text was known to the sculptors. From the panels it seems that Rudrāyaṇa first sent a letter, which the merchants duly presented to king Bimbisāra when they returned.

The panel shows king Bimbisāra sitting with two of his consorts on a decorated podium. He has his hand stretched out and appears as though speaking. In front of him sit an entourage, who have returned from Roruka with a letter, which the foremost of the merchants holds in his hands.

66 The King receives Gifts

It doesn’t appear anywhere in the Divyāvadāna story that a banquet was sent to King Rudrāyaṇa, and it is hardly feasible either, so I think Krom’s identification must be faulty here. We do see dishes full of what are possibly grains, so maybe some sort of tribute was sent.

The king and queen sit on the right of a long pavilion. Before them are many dishes and a large pot, possibly of rice or some other staple. On the left others, sitting and standing under a tree, come with gifts, one holding a bowl, another a pot.

67 The King receives Jewels

If we are reconstructing the story successfully then the second time the merchants returned to Rājagṛha they brought a gift of jewels for the king, and so begins the exchange of gifts between the two kings.

The king and queen sit in a pavilion on the far right. In front of them sit five nobles. The foremost is worshipping the king, and the hindmost is taking possession of the box of jewels from the merchants. Behind the merchants sit others under the trees.

68 The King receives Clothes

King Bimbisāra asked the merchants what Rudrāyaṇa might lack, and was told the king had plenty of jewellery, but lacked the fine clothes they had in Rājagṛha, so Bimbisāra sent a set of fine clothes to his friend.

King Rudrāyaṇa sits with his consort inside a decorated pavilion. Three of the merchants sit on the floor in front of him. Behind them are two who are standing, one of them holding a chest, presumably containing the clothes that have been sent.

69 King Bimbisāra receives a Cuirass

The next gift king Rudrāyaṇa sent was a jewelled cuirass that had various protective qualities. King Bimbisāra asked his experts to assess the worth, but they found each of the jewels on it to be priceless.

King Bimbisāra sits with his consorts on the right. Five nobles sit directly in front of him, and there are merchants sitting under the trees behind who pass the body armour to the nobles for the king.

70 The King sends a Portrait of the Buddha

King Bimbisāra not knowing how to reply to such a precious gift decided to consult the Buddha about the matter, and the Buddha told him to have a portrait of himself made, to add three teachings of the Dharma, and to send that, which the king duly did.

The panel shows the procession as it enters into the city, which was a grand affair. In the centre we see a merchant sitting atop an elephant and holding the portrait, which is rolled up, and on his lap. In front go the nobles who have come out to meet him, though the king does not appear to have been portrayed.

71 The King sends for a Monk

King Rudrāyaṇa, after being impressed by the portrait, examined the three Dharma teachings on it very carefully, and by the end of the night he had attained stream-entry. He then called the merchants and requested that they return and ask for a monk to be sent to Roruka.

King Rudrāyaṇa sits in his pavilion with two of his consorts, before him are a group of people, presumably the merchants, though they look more like nobles. In Divyāvadāna, however, there is no meeting with nobles on this occasion, so we must presume that these are the merchants.

72 Ven. Mahākātyāyana teaches the King

The merchants returned to king Bimbisāra, and the king requested the Buddha to send a monk to his friend. The Buddha, knowing the righ monk for the mission, sent Ven. Mahākātyāyana. After being received, the venerable taught for the king and his subjects, with great success.

There is a long pavilion on the right in which sit the king and Ven. Mahākātyāyana, the latter on a dais that is raised above the king. On the left are nobles and merchants sitting, who will themselves understand Dharma and attain success.

73 Ven. Śailā teaches the Queen

Queen Candraprabhā and the ladies of the court wanted to hear the teachings for themselves, and Ven. Mahākātyāyana advised that the king to request a nun be sent. When the Buddha heard of this he decided to sent the Arahat Bhikṣuṇī Śailā and her followers.

The king, the queen and her ladies-in-waiting sit in a long pavilion. The king himself holds out his hands in añjali. In front of him sits the Arahat nun Śailā, and behind him are four of his consorts, which one is supposed to be Candraprabhā is not made clear. On the right one person appears to be guarding the building.

74 The Queen requests Ordination

The king used to play the vīna and queen Candraprabhā would dance for him. One day the king noticed that she was destined to die within the week. When the queen understood she was dying she requested to be allowed to ordain, and the king granted her request provided she agreed to come back to him if reborn amongst the gods.

Two nuns sit on a raised platform in a long pavilion that takes up the whole panel. In front of them is the queen, now bereft of her finery, which is being held by the lady behind her. I don’t think this is meant to show the actual ordination, which would require more nuns, and separation from the laity. Rather it is the request for ordination that is shown here.

75 The Goddess appears to the King

After passing away the queen was reborn amongst the gods. Desiring to see the Buddha she appeared before him in Rājagṛha and, after listening to the teachings, attained stream-entry. She then remembered she had promised to speak to her former lord. The king, awakened from sleep by her, wanted to make love, and she told him she had been reborn as a goddess owing to her ordination, and he must be reborn in the same heaven if he wanted to make love to her again.

The scene on the relief differs from the text: here the king and the goddess meet together in a chamber, but it does not appear to be a bedroom. Also, outside all his attendants and the nobility are awake and apparently witnesses to what takes place. They are probably included to fill up the space on the relief.

76 The King meets with his Son

The king, being admonished by a goddess thus, decided to pass the kingdom to the charge of his son and to go forth himself. He first advised his son to listen to the ministers Hiru and Bhiru as he would to the old king himself. He then departed for Rājagṛha with a single attendant.

In the middle is a large pavilion with the king and prince Śikhaṇḍī sat inside discussing the king’s decision. On either side are signs of the king’s power: his soldiers with bows, swords and an unsaddled elephant.

77 Rudrāyaṇa meets with King Bimbisāra

When Rudrāyaṇa arrived in Rājagṛha, king Bimbisāra took him to the Buddha, where he was duly ordained. Later when the monk Rudrāyaṇa entered the city for alms he had an interview with Bimbisāra in which he laid out the reasons he had gone forth.

On the right we see signs of some of the nobility that followed king Bimbisāra when he went to speak to the newly ordained monk. The king himself and the bhikṣu Rudrāyaṇa sit in a conventional pavilion, the monk, with simple robes and shaven head, sits higher than the king.

78 Śikhaṇḍī agrees to kill his Father

After a while a merchant arrived from Roruka and Ven. Rudrāyaṇa asked how his former kingdom was faring. He was told the king was now corrupt, and so he decided to go and help get him back on course. When Śikhaṇḍī heard his father was returning, fearing the loss of his kingdom, he agreed to having him killed.

The panel is divided into sections. On the right we see Rudrāyaṇa sitting under trees and talking with the merchant; in the middle we see Śikhaṇḍī talking with his evil ministers who persuade him to have his father assassinated; on the far left someone is informing what is probably the king’s mother of the events.

79 The King hears of his Father’s Death

While Ven. Rudrāyaṇa was on his way to Roruka he first attained Arahatship and then was killed by the assassins. When king Śikhaṇḍī heard he felt remorse, and went to see his mother, who assured him the old king was not his father, and so he had not committed that crime.

Again the panel is divided. On the right we see the king meeting with the two evil ministers who had counselled him badly, and the assassins still carrying their weapons; on the left we see the king meeting with his mother who assures him the old king was not his father after all.

80 The Trick at the Stūpas

In order now to persuade king Śikhaṇḍī that there were no Arahats in the world an elarorate trick was set up at the stūpas of the kingdom’s most famous Arahats, Tiṣya and Puṣya. Two cats were trained to answer to the Arahats previous names and to walk round the stūpas when called, as though they had been reborn in feline form.

On the right sits the king and the queen mother. On the left we see the lovely stūpas of the Arahats. While below them are the trained cats. To the left of them are the two evil ministers who have set up the trick. Notice the parasols (chatra) set up over the stūpas, which is still done today.

81 Ven. Mahākātyāyana utters his Prophecy

After being convinced there were no Arahats in the world, king Śikhaṇḍī stopped supporting the monks and nuns, and they all left, except Vens. Mahākātyāyana and Śailā. One day the king, feeling slighted, ordered his people to throw dirt over the monk. The venerable was buried but survived and uttered a prophecy about the result of that action.

There are two scenes again. On the right the king is traveling around the city in a palanquin with the normal marks of royalty: parasol, peacock-feather fan and standards. On the left Ven. Mahākātyāyana utters the prophecy about the destruction of the city in the presence of Hiru and Bhiru, the good ministers. One other person is present, perhaps it is Hiru’s son, Śyāmāka.

82 The Rain of Diamonds

The prophecy was that on six successive days riches would pour down on the city, but on the seventh all the people who had attacked him would enter it and it would be buried under dirt. He advised the good ministers to collect the rain of diamonds on the sixth day and make their escape by boat.

On the far right the building symbolises the city, and right next to it the king and his queen sit inside a pavilion. On the left riches are pouring down from the sky and the people are collecting them. I think we must take it that the two in the middle left are Hiru and Bhiru loading up their boat before their escape.

83 The Stūpa over the Brass Bowl

On the seventh day the city was destroyed, but the city devatā escaped along with Ven. Mahākātyāyana and Śyāmāka. They went to Khara and the devatā agreed to take up residence there. Ven. Mahākātyāyana gave his brass bowl as a relic, and they built a stūpa over it and initiated a festival.

In the centre we see the stūpa that has been built over the brass bowl Ven. Mahākātyāyana left behind. Left of the stūpa is the devatā who is honouring it with a light, and behind her are her attendants with gifts. On the far left are the musicians celebrating the festival.

84 Śyāmāka gains a Kingdom

After leaving Khara with Śyāmāka Ven. Mahākātyāyana traveled on to a nearby town. He left his attendant outside and went into town for alms. Now the people of that town were looking for someone to make king. Śyāmāka had fallen asleep under a tree, but its shadow never left him, so they took this as a sign and requested him to stay on as king.

On the right is a building signifying the town, and in front of it must be Śyāmāka. In front of him are people on their knees obviously making the request that he stay on as their king. A character on the far left is leaving, perhaps it is meant to be Ven. Mahākātyāyana leaving the city.

85 The Stūpa over the Staff

Ven. Mahākātyāyana next traveled to Vokkāṇa, where his mother was living. He taught Dharma to her and she attained stream-entry. She then requested that her son leave a relic, and he left his staff. Over this staff-relic a stūpa was built.

As in 83 we see the stūpa at the centre of the relief and people gathered all round. Unexpectedly, we do not see Ven. Mahākātyāyana’s mother who asked for the relic. On the right a brahmin stands with a lotus in his hands, and on the left a king offers lights to the stūpa.

The next three panels are assigned by Foucher and Krom to the Rudrāyaṇa story, but on the flimsiest of evidence. In that story it is mentioned in one sentence that after the fall of diamonds in Roruka, the good ministers Hiru and Bhiru sailed away and founded eponymous cities.

86 and 88 are taken as illustrating these events, although they occur in the story a very long time before the end. They also occur simultaneously, and do not interrupt the return of Ven. Mahākātyāyana to Rājagṛha, which supposedly 87 illustrates.

I do not see anything compelling to take the reliefs as illustrating these events, and indeed they seem to be showing another story, unrelated to the Rudrāyaṇa story, and I treat them as such.

86 On Ship and on Shore

The relief in divided into two scenes. On the left we see a very detailed picture of a ship on the high seas, with the sails taking full wind and a great deal of movement. The sea itself looks quite choppy, and even the clouds are bent by the wind.

On the left we see some people being greeted by a king and his queen. The people, in plain clothes, are kneeling and standing, and have their hands out as though receiving something from the royal pair. On the far left we see an ordinary house, with servants’ quarters below, and raised roof above. None of these details are mentioned in Hiru’s story.

87 A Monk approaches a Temple

Taken as being Mahākātyāyana’s return to Rājagṛha by Foucher, it omits the monks who welcomed him home, and adds characters that play no part in the story. On the right we see what is perhaps a king, holding a lotus, and a queen, holding a bowl. They are surrounded by attendants but do not seem to pay much attention to the monk, who is inside a palisade.

On the left the monk is walking towards a stūpa-topped building, which is probably a temple, the illustration of which fills about a third of the relief. The monk seems to be carrying an indistinct object, and around the compound he is in is a palisade with a gateway.

88 A Ship and Gifts

Again we have a well-drawn ship on the right. In this case the sailors are drawing in the sails and the sea looks less turbulent. One man seems to be riding the rudder at the back of the ship.

On shore we see five characters are sitting under trees, and seemingly have brought a gift which they are presenting to the sage on the far left who sits in his own pavilion. Needless to say, nothing like this is mentioned in the Divyāvadāna story.


The story appears to illustrate a story like the Bhallāṭiya Jātaka in the Pāḷi collection (Ja 504). King Bhallāṭiya, the Bodhisattva in a previous life, one time went out on a hunt with his men and dogs and spent a long time on the hunt. Hearing the pitiful wailing of two kinnaras he bid his dogs hide themselves away, and approached very quietly.

He asked them why they were crying and they explained that one time they had been separated from each other for a night, and they still grieved for that unfortunate event, which had happened nearly 600 years previously. The king learned his lesson and returned to Benares where he was henceforth content to dwell.

I am not entirely convinced that this is the story illustrated as nothing about them suggests the kinnaras are weeping – suely the crucial point of the story – and in fact they look quite content. There was quiet possibly another story involving two kinnaras which we do not know now.

89 The King and the Kinnaras

The scene is set in the wilderness which the trees, the stylised rocks and the flowing river all show. On the right we see the king who is standing, and a couple of his men who sit to the side. The figures are unfortunately damaged.

On the left are pictured the pair of kinnaras. Interestingly, although they are described as human-like in the Jataka, and their brethren were portrayed as human-like in Sudhana’s story at the beginning of this wall, the kinnaras here are definitely half bird and half human.

90 The King and the Kinnaras

In the centre sits the king, this time he has his hands held in añjali, worshipping the semi-divine beings in front of him. Behind him are some of his men, and curiously small portraits of elephants and crocodiles.

On the left the kinnaras stand and the male has his hand held out in front of him as though admonishing the king. Notice the birds in the trees who seem to fly in to witness the scene.

* * *

91 A Meeting with a King

Krom assigns this panel to the Bhallāṭiya story, but it seems highly unlikely it is connected, as it is separated by a stairwell from the previous panels, and seems to feature the same characters as on the next panel.

On the right we see a building, and in front of it is a pavilion on which sits a king with his consorts. Many servants seem to be quite squashed under his seat. In front of him is a female attendant with a fly whisk, and then a male figure who sits with his companions and worships the king. Behind the seated figures we see an elephant and horses, so we may take it the visitors are royalty.

92 A Meeting with a King

We have another of these scenes which are seen so frequently on the walls at Borobudur: a king or other member of the royalty arrives for a meeting with a king. Without a specific story to attach it too, of course, it just becomes a generic scene.

The king sits with two of his consorts on the right of the panel inside a simple pavilion. In front of him, and at the same height, is his royal visitor sitting under a tree. Behind him is his entourage including a finely drawn elephant with its full regalia.

93 A King goes Hunting

The scene in set in the wilderness with trees and many birds atop them. A king sits on a small horse in the centre of the relief, behind him an attendant holds a parasol over him, and behind him are more attendants and soldiers who hold arrows.

In front of the king is someone who appears to be pointing to the wild animals seen on the left of the relief. Presumably he is a guide. The animals include a couple of pigs, a deer and a pair of squirrels playing in the trees. In the top left corner we also see a monkey.

94 A Meeting with a King

On the right we see a very well drawn pavilion which is elaborately decorated. On a raised seat inside the king sits with his knee supported by a strap. He is looking back at his queen who sits behind him. At a lower level, and behind the queen, two attendants are pictured.

On the left a group of people sit on the floor, a number of whom hold their hands in añjali. They all have the same type of headband which probably signifies they are from a foreign kingdom. Above them are the regalia: a leaf-fan, a peacock-feather fan and a parasol.

95 Saved from Drowning

The whole scene is set outside under the trees and in rocky terrain. On the right are three men, two of whom hold weapons, and the third is leaning forward and pointing with his hand above his head. The role these three play is hard to know.

In the centre and on the left children are being saved from drowning, and being passed to people who carry them away on their hips, and towards the man who is pointing. On the far left is one boy who stands with his hand on his hip. He must be in the water also, but does not appear to be distressed like the others.

96 A Meeting with a Queen

So many times on these reliefs we have a generic scene which I have designated ‘A Meeting with a King’ as we simply do not know what is taking place without a text to identify it. Here we have a variation, which is a meeting with a queen.

On the right the queen sits inside a very elaborate building and is making a gesture with her hand to the interlocur who sits in a heavily decorated antechamber in front of her. Outside in a pavilion sit eleven members of his entourage. Notice the birds above both buildings.

97 The King and the Nāga

This scene is set in the wilderness, with trees, a lake and birds populating it. In the middle sits a nāga who has apparently emerged from the waters where he lives.

On the right side we see a king in conversation with the nāga. The king and the nāga appear to be positioned at the same height. The king’s soldiers are behind him, holding swords of various kinds.

98 A Meeting with a King

This panel appears to be split into two, separated by the tree trunk in the middle. On the right, which would be seen first, and will therefore come earlier in the story, we see a brahmin sitting with some friends inside a simple building. Towards the centre sit the womenfolk.

On the left it appears the same character is now at the head of a delegation to the king, who sits inside a pavilion on a raised seat with his two consorts. There is a very well-drawn coconut tree above his companions, and birds are dotted about.

99 A King flies in the Sky

Again the scene is in two parts. On the right it seems the advisors and soldiers of the king have accompanied the king to the edge of the wilderness where he stands with his hand held up making a gesture.

On the left what must be the same king and one of his advisors are flying away on a cloud beyond the trees that separate the scenes. Birds are seen in the treetops below them. Reliefs like this make one really want to know the story, which alas! we lack.

100 A Meeting with a King

On the far right we see a very fine palatial building, with stairs in front of it, and clouds and a bird above it. The king, who is presumably the owner also, sits in front of his courtiers and is gesturing as he speaks.

On the left a brahmin sits on a seat at the same height as the king, and his courtiers behind him are holding regalia signifying that he is also a king. On the far left is a finely drawn elephant.

101 A King meets a Queen

This is a rather unusual relief if I am reading it right, it is dominated by a meeting scene which takes place inside a small building in the middle of the panel. What is unusual is that the queen on the left seems to be situated higher than the king, who is worshipping her. In similar scenes where we can identify the characters the king is meeting with his mother, and it may be so here.

On the right are what looks like the king’s men, with swords held high, sitting under trees upon which birds perch. On the left appear to be the queen’s ladies-in-waiting also sitting under a tree.

102 A Meeting with a King

Another of the generic ‘meeting with a king’ scenes, this one differs slightly by being set in the wilderness. On the right is pictured a forest, with seemingly a queen sitting under a tree on the far right. Nearer the centre sit two people who have particularly sublime expressions on their faces.

The king, whose figure is quite worn, sits at ease inside a simple pavilion and may have been speaking. In front of him two people sit on the floor with their hands raised in salutation, and behind them three more stand with bows strung over their shoulders.

103 Two Kings hold a Discussion

On the right two kings sit at ease inside a simple pavilion and appear to be in discussion. On the far right one attendant is holding something up, but what it is is hard to say. Above him is a coconut tree.

On the left are the usual mixture of courtiers, soldiers and attendants that accompany one of the kings. There is an elephant behind them, and the normal regalia: a peacock-feather fan, and a leaf-fan, but no parasol this time.

104 A King meets a Queen

Similar to 101 above we here see a king pictured as lower than the queen he is meeting with, inside a simple and rather plain building. The queen is shown as being much larger than the king, and much higher also.

On the right are the king’s soldiers bearing arms, and many attendants carrying offerings and bearing regalia. On the left the womenfolk of the queen’s court look on.

105 The Bodhisattva King

In the centre we see a very elaborately decorated building and a member of the nobility, probably a king, sitting in meditation posture. Behind his head is a halo signifying that this is a Bodhisattva.

On the right are the courtiers and attendants holding the royal insignia, and on the left we see others, including a brahmin who is sitting near to the building and may be the king’s advisor.


The reliefs follow the Avadānaśataka (no 36) retelling of the story mainly. It is also known to the Divyāvadāna (no 38) and the Pāḷi Jātakas, but the latter has far less details and the main character is not the Bodhisattva, but a wicked man (Mittavinda, Ja 369).

A merchant had a son, the Bodhisattva in a previous life, but his father gave him a girl’s name, Maitrakanyaka. Before the boy had grown the merchant died while on the high seas. When the boy grew up he wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps and asked his mother what his occupation had been.

His mother, not wanting to lose her son, lied and told him his father had been a shopkeeper, a perfumer and a goldsmith in succession. He was successful at all these trades, and so much so the other goldsmiths, who were jealous of him, told him his father had been a merchant who sailed the high seas just to get rid of the competition.

Maitrakanyaka then had it announced he would lead an expedition abroad, and 500 merchants joined him. His mother tried to dissuade him from going, but he kicked her in the head, and left on his adventure. His ship was soon shipwrecked though, and he was separated from the others.

Maitrakanyaka came to the city of Ramaṇaka and was greeted by four divine maidens (apsaras) who invited him to stay with them. He lived there many years, but was curious about what lay south, and set out to find out. Then he came to Sadāmatta, which had eight apsaras, and later Nandana which had sixteen.

Still traveling south he came next to Brahmottara, which had thirty-two divine maidens, but still not satisfied he traveled once more south and came to the city of Ayomaya (Iron-Made). As soon as he entered, the doors slammed shut behind him, and as he went deeper in, he was unable to escape.

Eventually he came into the presence of a tall man whose head was crowned with a wheel which was fiery and tearing his head apart. Asking what the man had done to deserve such a fate he was told he had ill-treated his own mother, at which Maitrakanyaka remembered he had kicked his mother in the head, and the wheel jumped from the tall man’s head to his own.

He asked how long he would have to suffer like this, and was told it would last 60,600 years before someone else who had committed the same sort of deed would take his place. Stirred by compassion Maitrakanyaka made an aspiration that the wheel would never leave his own head and hurt another in the same way. As soon as he made that aspiration the wheel flew away from his head and he was immediately reborn in Tuṣita Heaven.

106 Offering Money to his Mother

When Maitrakanyaka had grown up he asked his mother about his father’s occupation, and was first told he had been a shopkeeper, and later that he had been a perfumer. He took up the trades and at the end of the day offered the money he had made to his mother.

Maitrakanyaka sits inside a pavilion with his mother, who is positioned much higher then he is. He has a money bag in front of him which he is offering to her. On the far left is a building, perhaps meant to signify the city where he had been working.

107 Working as Goldsmith and Departure

Next Maitrakanyaka worked as a goldsmith, but was so good at the trade that other goldsmiths got jealous and informed him of his father’s true occupation. He therefore gave up that trade also and set forth to become a merchant on the high seas, but not before he kicked his mother in the head as she tried to prevent him.

The panel is in two sections. On the right we first see Maitrakanyaka plying his trade as a goldsmith, he sits on the far right and is engaged with his customers who sit in front of him. The building near the middle acts as a divider. On the left we see him departing with another man. In front of him his mother is down on her knees pleading with him not to go.

108 The Ship and the Four Apsaras

In the Avadānaśataka story after Maitrakanyaka sets sail the ship is upturned by a makara fish and clinging to a plank of wood he makes it to shore. None of this is portrayed on the relief, and the sculptors may have known a different version of the story at this point. He eventually came to the city of Ramaṇaka where he was greeted by four divine nymphs (apsaras).

Again the scene is divided into two. On the right we see the finely-drawn ship sailing the high seas with its masts and sails held high. In front of it another boat seems to be grappling with some problem. On the right Maitrakanyaka has landed and is greeted by four well-dressed apsaras who will entertain him for many years.

109 The Eight Apsaras at Sadāmatta

The apsaras at Ramaṇaka always tried to dissuade Maitrakanyaka from going south of the city, which made him want to go there even more. Eventually he decided to go and he came to another city, Sadāmatta, where he was greeted by eight divine maidens more lovely than the ones he had left behind.

Surprisingly, we see nothing of the city, and indeed the scene is set in the wilderness. It is hard to know whether this represents a variation in the telling of the story. Maitrakanyaka stands on the right and sitting before him are the eight apsaras. The landscape is dotted with birds and animals.

110 Eleven Apsaras at Nandana

After enjoying himself at Sadāmatta for many years Maitrakanyaka once again headed south, and met with sixteen nymphs in the city of Nandana, where he again took up residence.

On the relief we see only eleven apsaras, though it would easily have been possible to fit in sixteen if the sculptors wished. It may represent another variation, or it may just be a whim of the designers. Four are seen standing and seven are sitting. Again the scene is set in the countryside, not in the city.

111 Fourteen Apsaras at Brahmottara

After some time Maitrakanyaka, driven by his curiosity and desire, set off again for the south and came to Brahmottara where he was greeted by thirty-two divine nymphs.

It may have been the difficulty of fitting such a large number on the panel that drove the sculptors to start curtailing their number on the last reliefs. Here, anyway, we see only fourteen. One stands besides Maitrakanyaka and the others sit and stand on the left of the relief.

112 The Punishment and Heaven

Traveling again south Maitrakanyaka came to the city made of iron, and as he entered the door shut behind him. He saw a tall man with a fiery wheel which was cutting his head open. Learning the punishment was because of ill-treating his mother, Maitrakanyaka remembered he had kicked his own mother in the head, and the wheel then descended onto his head. After vowing that he would wear the wheel, and no one else should ever suffer like he was suffering, he was reborn in Tuṣita Heaven because of his compassion.

There are two scenes in this panel: on the far right we see the tall man with the wheel cutting his head. Maitrakanyaka stands in front and is in conversation with a rakṣasa who reveals the reason for the man’s suffering. A small building stands in the middle and divides the scene. On the left Maitrakanyaka has already been reborn in Tuṣita Heaven and is enjoying the fruits of his compassion.

The remaining panels on this wall have not yet been identified.

113 A Bodhisattva King

In the centre a Bodhisattva, marked by the halo, is sitting in meditation on a raised seat. He is holding a lotus in his left hand and holding his hand in a mudrā. His sitting cloth drapes down from the seat on both sides in front of him, and underneath a lion is seen looking out at the viewer.

On the right are lined up ten females, three of which are sitting. Some of them hold offerings of various sorts. On the left seven men sit on the floor holding up the regalia, and between them and the Bodhisattva is a female attendant holding a fly-whisk.

114 A King goes Hunting

On the far left we see a wilderness scene with trees, birds and various animals. This is the destination of the entourage who travel from right to left across the panel. On the far right is a fruiting tree, very nicely drawn.

The main part of the panel is taken up with what must be a king sitting on horseback, and his nobles who are going out to hunt. Most hold bows and arrows, or other weapons.

115 A Bodhisattva King

The main character in the scene, who is seated towards the right, is marked as a Bodhisattva by the still visible halo, but the figure is badly worn down and broken in places. We can see that he had one foot on the floor and the other looks like it was in a knee sling.

On the far right are some female attendants sitting and standing near a tree. On the left of the Bodhisattva stand two females, and another character who was sitting and is also worn away. On the left of the panel is the usual entourage and signs of royalty, including soldiers, an elephant, a horse and the regalia.

116 Six Kings visit a King

There are no signs of a halo behind any of the main characters, so we must take it this is a secular scene. On the right, and under six trees, sit six kings, if their jewellery and coiffure are anything to go by. Three of the figures are quite worn down and featureless now.

On the left is the main figure: a king sits at ease on a raised seat, and under a simple pavilion. He is surrounded by female attendants. On the floor in the middle sits a bearded man, presumably an emissary from the six kings, who is presenting something to the person who sits between him and the king.

117 Six Kings and a King

What appears to be the same six kings are seen here again, but this time on the left of the scene, and standing, not sitting. It may also be that the character on his knee in front of them is the same as the one giving the gift in the previous scene.

If we surmise correctly then the character under the parasol will be the main king, who is now standing. The characters on the right behind him are quite possibly his female attendants, but they are so worn out it is hard to tell.

118 Seven Kings visit a King

This time the main character, who sits on the left atop a raised seat is marked by a halo, so that he is probably another Bodhisattva king. His female attendants accompany him. He has his hand raised in the fearless mudrā.

In a simple, but decorated, pavilion on the right of the panel we see now seven kings, a few of whom hold their hands in añjali. Again a number of them are badly worn down.

119 The Archer-King

In one of the most dynamic of the sculptures at Borobudur we see a king, or at least a member of the nobility, drawing his bow back. The whole stance is very dramatic, even though the arrow is no longer seen.

On the right, under a fruit tree, sit four figures, one of whom holds a quiver and one of whom salutes the main character. On the left sit eight members of the nobility, who hold various postures, and similarly sit under fruiting trees.

120 Worship of a Stūpa

A very typical round-shaped stūpa stands at the centre of this scene, it is decorated around the middle, and is under a simple pavilion. The umbrella above the stūpa is clearly drawn, as is the double lotus, which it sits on. Inside the pavilion stand the king and the queen, and flowers fall from the heavens.

On the right are the male characters, some kneeling, some standing, who have various offerings. Amongst the ladies-in-waiting on the left some hold offerings, while others hold their hands up in worship. On this worshipful note we end the reliefs on this wall.


Photographs by Anandajoti Bhikkhu

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