Buddhist Art in Java

An essay on ‘Buddhist Art in Java’ by A. Foucher.

translated by L.A. Thomas and F.W. Thomas as Chapter VIII of
‘The Beginnings of Buddhist Art’

re-edited with photographs by
Ānandajoti Bhikkhu

A classic essay by Prof. Foucher identifying the main Avadāna reliefs at Borobudur, with photographs.



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Foucher: Buddhist Art in Java

1: The Stūpa of Borobudur Extract from the Bulletin de l’Ecole française d’Extrême-Orient, vol. IX, 1909, pp. I sqq. These notes are a result of a too brief stay which the author was able to make in Java during the month of May 1907.

In this edition I have updated the spelling to comply with modern standards (except when quoting book or article names), and have changed the references so that they apply to the panel numbers corresponding to the photographs. When I have had to omit text I mark it with […] Notes added by me are in square brackets. – Ānandajoti Bhikkhu

The ruins of Borobudur constitute indisputably the most important Buddhist monument of the island of Java. We know also that they alone can compete, in the amplitude of their dimensions and the profusion of the bas-reliefs with which their walls are covered, with the other gem of Far-Eastern archaeology, I mean Angkor Wat. In beauty of site they even far surpass the rival wonder of Cambodia. Occupying a detached position in advance of a small chain of mountains, which forms a screen on the south, the eminence on which stands Borobudur dominates the vast valley of Progo, all covered with shimmering palm-groves and framed on both sides by the majestic summits of great volcanoes. To the west stretch the deep recesses of the Menoreh, flanked by the imposing sugar-loaf of the Sumbing, in height exceeding 10,000 feet; to the east extend the wonderfully pure curves of the twin peaks of the Merbabu, the Mount of Ashes, and of the Merapi, the Mount of Fire, the latter still active; and in the northern distance, half-way to the sea, whose vapours may be faintly descried, the rounded hill of Magelang represents the head of the nail which, according [206] to the native tradition, fixed Java to the bottom of the ocean. The flat and marshy borders of the Cambodian Great-Lake have nothing to compare with this sublime scenery; and yet it is a fact of common experience that Borobudur produces at first sight a general impression much less profound than does Angkor Wat.

No doubt, we must in the first place take account of the difference in dimensions. The rectangular base of the Khmer monument has an exterior measurement of 187 by 215 metres; the lower terrace of the Javanese building forms a square of 111 metres on each side. The former attains an elevation of 57 metres, whilst the present summit of the second does not reach 35 metres above the first steps. It is well likewise to note that the latter, older by three centuries or so and exposed to the same destructive agents torrential rains and the luxuriant vegetation of the Tropics is in a worse state of preservation. Boro-Budur is commonly ascribed to the IXth Century, and Angkor-Vat to the XIIth. The leaning walls of the Javanese Stūpa threaten ruin to such a degree that the Government-General of the Dutch East Indies has been moved thereby. The friends of archaeology will learn with pleasure that a first grant of 60,000 florins (about £5,000) is at present being devoted to works of preservation under the expert direction of Major Van Erp, of the Engineers. But, after all, we must acknowledge that the two monuments, even at the time of their unimpaired splendour, had from an architectural point of view nothing in common. Angkor Wat deploys on tiers rising above the plain its three enclosing galleries, intersected by portals, flanked by eight towers and crowned by a ninth: Borobudur encompasses the summit of a hill with the sacred number of its nine terraces, connected at the four cardinal points by staircases and surmounted by a dome. At Angkor Wat the eye ranges through the colonnades or follows in the distance [207] the ever narrowing flight of the porticoes; at Borobudur the lower galleries, interrupted by twenty right angles and confined on the exterior by a high parapet, narrowly enclose the visitor in their successive recesses. [See the gallery photo in next section.] In Cambodia, whether from the end of the paved approaches he contemplates the clearly defined silhouette of the towers, or whether from the top of the central group he dominates the widely spaced plan of the enclosures, the spectator always embraces in his view the grandiose scheme of the design. In Java, from the foot as from the top, nothing is ever perceived but a compact mass confusedly bristling with 432 niches and 72 little cupolas forming so many pinnacles. The fact is that Angkor Wat led the devotee by the perspective of long avenues straight to the dwelling of a god; Borobudur, on the contrary, opened no access in its massive sides, which were destined solely as a shrine for relics. In one word, the first is a Brahmanic temple; the second is a stūpa, or Buddhist tumulus.

That the architectural form of the temple is infinitely more favourable to the effect of the whole than that of the mausoleum, no one will deny. Still this reason is not entirely satisfying; nor does it suffice to explain what at first sight is wrong with the aspect of Borobudur. It is not a dome with simple lines, like the most ancient Indian stūpas which are preserved to us, for example at Sanchi and at Māṇikyāla. Neither is it a superposition of quadrangular diminishing terraces, a kind of pyramid in steps, such as the Chinese pilgrims describe the pagodas of north-western India. Nor has it the lengthy slenderness of its Burmese or Siamese congeners, which point very high into the air as it were the handle of [208] an enormous bell. To speak candidly, it seems to have been unable to decide clearly whether to be conical, pyramidal, or hemispherical The vertical indented walls of the first six galleries give the impression that the monument is about to mount up straight towards the sky: but with the three upper circular galleries this start is suddenly frustrated, and the whole structure assumes a crushed and heavy appearance. Doubtless we must make allowance for the disappearance of the crown and the depression of the summit under the influence of the rains. Neither must we forget that the wide band of masonry which now forms the first terrace was constructed round the edifice as an afterthought and contributes in no slight degree to the appearance of heaviness. We know that the discovery of this peculiarity is due to an engineer, Heer J.W. Yzerman. The primitive plinth must have very early been buried in the new masonry along with the bas-reliefs wherewith there had been a commencement of decoration. Doubtless it was found necessary to strengthen the foundations, which threatened to give way under the thrust of the upper stories: at the same time perhaps orthodox tradition found the addition of a terrace advantageous, thus completing in the most patent manner the sacred number of nine. This addition is indicated […] by the divergent hatchings. But, all taken into account, the disappointment of the impartial observer exists none the less. That a great tumulus can never be anything but a kind of huge pudding, he is quite ready to admit: but there are puddings which are more or less succesfully constructed. Without irreverence we may say that the stupa of Borobudur, with the endless zig-zags of its passages and the profuse ornamentation of its pinnacles, gives at first the impression of a pasty, as badly raised on the whole as it is minutely carved in detail. In case the reader should be tempted to think that these criticisms are made by a prejudiced and particularly surly visitor, he is begged to refer to the opinion of Brumund in Leemans, Boro-Boudour dans l’ile de Java, Leiden, 1874, p. 679.

[209] It is not enough to state the fact; we must also explain it. Certainly we cannot question the skill of the architect who conceived the complicated plan of these nine stories, who designed the mouldings and provided for the sculptural decoration, who, finally, by an ingenious arrangement of gargoyles carrying away the rain-water, made sure of an indefinite preservation at a slight cost of maintenance. If, therefore, he pitched so low the summit of his construction, he must have had some reason for it. We confess that this reason revealed itself to us only in the evening, when seeing from the verandah of the neighbouring pasangrahan This is the Malay name for the traveller’s house, corresponding to the Indian bungalow and the Cambodian sālā. the obscure silhouette of the monument stand out against the starry sky. The contours of this dark mass, in which all details were obscured, presented themselves to us as distinctly curved: where we were seeking a pyramid, the builder had intended only a dome. Thus we learned our error. It had, in fact, become usual with archaeologists to regard Borobudur as a stūpa erected on superposed terraces after the manner of those of northwestern India. Such, for example, is the idea expressed in the passage of our Art gréco-houddhique du Gandhâra, I, p. 80, to which the present note may serve as erratum. In reality, it is only a stūpa in the form of a dome, according to the old Indian mode, but much more elaborate, being cut horizontally by a series of promenades and itself crowned with a second cupola. The influence which it has undergone, both in its general conception as in the detail of its mural decoration, comes to it not from Gandhara, but, as is natural, from southern India, where [210] its direct ancestor is called Amarāvatī. Cf. Art gréco-houddhique du Gandhâra, fig. 58, a model of a stūpa from Amarāvatī, where the procedure in decorating the walls of the monument with the aid of bas-reliefs and the recourse to a promenade intended to facilitate access to the upper row of these latter are already clearly indicated. Let us add that the excavations judiciously conducted by Major Van Erp have already borne fruit in the discovery of fragments of the balustrade, furnished with doors, which formerly surrounded the base of Boro-Budur. And this theory, imposed on the most uninitiated by observation of the monument, is confirmed beyond all hesitation by an examination of the plans and elevations which have been drawn up by specialists. The ruling lines of Borobudur, notwithstanding the right angles and vertical walls of its lower galleries, are all curves.

Have the goodness to cast a glance [at the aerial photograph reproduced here and one can see] the principles which presided over the construction of Borobudur will become quite clear. The plan demonstrates to us in the most evident manner that each of the lower galleries, however angular they may be, is inscribed within a circle, and is itself, at its principal points, tangent to an inner circle. On the elevation we perceive that the initial project of the architect involved the construction of an edifice assuming the general form of a segment of a sphere.

Henceforth nothing remains but to offer him our humble apology and to try to enter into his views. Naturally our observations of fact still hold good; but [211] what we took for defects no longer appear to us anything but necessities logically imposed by the initial decision. It was in order to keep more closely to the horizontal sections of his segment of a sphere that he gave twenty angles to the parapets of the first four galleries and twelve to that of the fifth: if, in his desire to furnish his band of sculptors with plane surfaces, he had made these galleries simply quadrangular, they would have extended too far beyond the primordial inner circle. It is because a semi-circular profile does not mount like a pyramid, that the upper promenades, themselves circular, are necessarily lowered. This explains at once the contrast between the steepness of the first steps and the gentle slope of the last: not otherwise does one mount the outline of the upper section of a globe. The difference between the steps at the bottom and those at the top is so great that from the first to the second gallery, for example, thirteen steps only go back 3.56 m. in rising 3.84 m., whilst the seven steps which lead to the first circular gallery, the sixth of the whole, have a depth of 3.40 m. in rising 1.80 m.; Wilsen (ap. Leemans, p. 576) asks whether we must not, in the steepness of the first steps, see a symbol, suggested to the minds of the faithful by the intermediary of their legs, of the difficulty of attaining to Nirvāṇa! We conjecture, at least, that the impossibility of imposing upon them still steeper ones is one of the reasons which decided the architect not to conform in all things to the ancient Indian formula of the “air bubble on water”, and made him recoil before the idea of assigning to his monument the form of a complete hemisphere. Neither is it the fault of anyone, but rather in the nature of things, if, having once reached the top of the rounded sides, one can no longer see the foot, just as from the base it is impossible to perceive the summit. If we likewise reflect that the architect of Borobudur was deprived of our favourite resource of colonnades, we shall understand why to the use of mouldings he has added that of antefixes, of niches and cupolas; and we shall no longer be astonished at the symmetrical multiplication [212] of these decorative elements. On the whole, in every point where we were ready to criticize him, we must now, on the contrary, recognize the ingenuity with which he has turned to advantage the ready-made formula which he had inherited from the ancient religious tradition of India, and to which from the very beginning he was bound as far as possible to conform. We cannot render him responsible for the mediocre architectural effect which his monument must always have had, even at a time before the uneven ruin of the decorations, the subsidence of the summit, and the crumbling of the corners had broken and distorted the lines. Let us add that his first plan, by at once raising the level of the first gallery almost six metres above the pavement, indicated much better and in an incomparably more elegant manner, the form of the edifice. But for the heavy terrace in which he very soon had to bury the original foundation of Borobudur, and which still to-day gives the structure an awkward look, we flatter ourselves that we should have made fewer mistakes and felt loss hesitation concerning the real intentions of its author.

II: The Bas-Reliefs of Borobudur

(Principal Wall of the First Gallery)

Whatever from an architectural point of view has been lost to Borobudur through the tyranny of religious tradition is abundantly compensated in the decorative aspect. The 2,000 bas-reliefs, more or less, which formerly covered its walls, and of which about 1,600 still exist to-day, are all borrowed from the legend, or from the Pantheon, of Indian Buddhism; and it was the testimony of these that [213] from the first established the sectarian character of the monument. In abundance and variety of subjects the Brahmanic art and epopee of India have provided for the labour of the sculptors of Angkor Wat nothing comparable hereto. Neither can these latter vie in skill of execution with their confreres of Borobudur. While their chisels could only moderately carve the fine Cambodian sandstone into rather shallow pictures, the artists of Java, not disheartened by the coarse grain of the volcanic stone furnished by their island, have drawn from it veritable high-reliefs of an astounding depth. Their figures, in spite of the effeminate softness of their lines, arc rightly celebrated for the justness of their proportions, the naturalness of their movements and the diversity of their postures. Above all, they exhibit a knowledge of foreshortening, which is totally lacking in the later, but, owing to want of skill, apparently more archaic works of the Khmer artists. Even in India, if we except the few chefs-d’oeuvre that we still possess of the schools of Gandhāra, Amarāvatī and Benares, we find nothing to surpass this final Far-Eastern florescence of Buddhist art.

Among the hundreds of bas-reliefs the first to arouse interest were those which Leemans calls “of the second gallery”, but which Heer J. W. Yzerman’s discovery proves to have originally belonged to the first. This gallery is a corridor, having an interior width of m. 1,85, which, with twenty zig-zags, encompasses the whole monument. It is enclosed between two stone walls, built, like the rest of the construction, without any apparent mortar and interrupted only by the passage of the four staircases, both walls being ornamented by two superposed series of bas-reliefs. Among those which decorate the parapet (the anterior wall of Leemans), formerly 568 in number, [214] whereof about 400 remain, Dr. S. d’Oldenburg has already identified a number of jātakas, or previous lives of Buddha. S. d’Oldenburg, Notes on Buddhist Art, St. Petersburg, 1895 (in Russian, translated into English in the Journal of the American Oriental Society, XVIII, I, January 1897, pp. 196-201). [Note additional to [this, printed at the end of the essay]: Upon reperusing M. August Earth’s Bulletins des Religions de l’Inde (Rev. de l’Hist. des Religions, t. XLV, 1902, p. 354 n. 1, or vol. II, p. 442 n. 1, of the edition of his Oeuvres) we see that the identification suggested above for the bas-relief no. 14 of Dr. Pleyte’s publication has been already proposed by him. He works out in full the same interpretation: “That the maternal womb, the scene of the central incident, has been omitted, is entirely in conformity with the conventions of this art…” We are doubly fortunate in finding ourselves ex post facto at one with him and in rendering to him the priority as regards the identification. On the wall itself of the stūpa Wilsen had early recognized in the upper row scenes from the last life of the same Śākyamuni; and Dr. C. M. Pleyte has recently published a detailed explanation, according to the Lalitavistara, of the 120 panels which it contains. C. M. Pleyte, Die Buddha-Legende in den Skulpturen des Tempels von Boro-Budur, Amsterdam, 1901, in 4°. — In general we are in agreement with Dr. Pleyte as to the identification of the 120 figured scenes, which in fact follow religiously the text which they have undertaken to illustrate. All the same, his figure 14 seems to us to represent not “Śakra and the Guardians of the Cardinal Points”, which would convey nothing particularly edifying, but the Bodhisattva, supposed to be seated in his mother’s womb beneath the “pavilion of precious stone”, at the moment when Brahmā brings to him in a cup the drop of honey, quintessence of worlds, which he has just collected in the magic lotus figured in the preceding scene side by side with the Conception (Lalita-vistara, ed. Lefmann, pp. 63-4). – As to figures 47 and 48, not identified by Dr. Pleyte, we believe, paradoxical as the assertion may seem, that they represent twice the episode of the Bodhisattva’s wrestling, first with a single competitor, and then with all his rivals together (Lalita-vistara, pp. 152-3). This is why on fig. 47 we see a single individual, and on fig. 48 all the young Śakyas, standing motionless and facing the Bodhisattva, who also is motionless and standing: so inveterate was the horror of the sculptors of Boro-Budur for all violent movements. As regards those of the bottom row, the greater number still await an interpretation. We remark at once, by the light of the identifications already made, that these pictures conform in the order of their succession to the general rule of the pradakshiṇā; Cf. Art gréco-houddhique du Gandhâra, p. 268. that is to say, they follow the direction taken by the worshipper who circumambulated the stūpa, keeping it on his right hand, it results quite naturally from this that, on the walls of the [215] parapet, the scenes follow one another from left to right, while, on the building, the succession is from right to left. On both sides they accompany the visitor who makes the round in the only direction compatible with the religious and auspicious character of the monument.

It is all the more expedient not to ignore this law, inasmuch as the identification of the bas-reliefs of this first gallery is, as we have said, very far from complete. Our attention was immediately and forcibly drawn to the 120 magnificent panels on the right wall, below the scenes from the last life of Buddha. Measuring, like these last, from m. 0,70 to m. 0,80 in height by circa m. 2,40 in length, about three quarters of them have until now – partly through the fault of the artists and much more through the imperfections of the only reproductions which have been published We would speak of the enormous folio album of 393 lithographed plates, which is annexed to the already mentioned work of Leemans and which was so uselessly and so expensively designed at Java by Wilsen and Schönberg Mulder from 1849 to 1853, then published in Holland from 1855 to 1871 under the care of the Government-General of the Dutch Indies. – resisted all attempts at explanation. At the time of our visit we had at our disposal nothing but the text of the Divyāvadāna and the excellent Guide of Dr. J. Groneman. Boeddhistische Tempelbouwvallen in die Praga-Vallei, de Tjanḍis Baraboedoer, Mendoet en Pawon, by Dr. J. Gronemann, Semarang-Soerabaia, 1907. The venerable archaeologist of Jogyakarta was so kind as to accompany us himself into the galleries and even to the summit of Boro-Budur; we cannot thank him too warmly for his trouble. The latter indicates in the series in question only two identifications, both again due to Dr. S. d’Oldenberg: one is that of the legend of Sudhanakumāra; the other, which is connected with the history of Maitrakanyaka, has quite recently been corroborated and developed by Prof. Speyer and Dr. Groneman at the cost of an extensive [216] correction of one of Wilsen’s drawings. The reading of the Divyāvadāna gave us at once the key to the illustrations of two other stories, those of Rudrāyaṇa and of Māndhātar. Then two or three of these rebuses in stone themselves bear their own solutions. On the whole, two thirds of the 120 panels in the row are thus clearly elucidated by direct comparison of the texts and the originals. At a time when the government of the Dutch Indies is preparing to endow the world of letters with photographic reproductions of all the sculptures of Borobudur, it is, perhaps, worth while to publish, without further delay, these first results, which cannot but open the way to the complete explanation of the whole. In order to save the reader all confusion and to facilitate the references to the already published documents, we should explain that we here treat in detail only the 120 bas-reliefs called by Leemans “lower row of the back wall of the second gallery”, which, occupying the base of plates XVI to CXXXV of his album, are described (but not identified) from page 194 to page 217 of his book […]

I. South-Eastern Corner. We shall begin our pradakshiṇā, according to rule, at the gate facing the east, which formerly constituted the principal entrance. The proof, if any is needed, is given by the fact that here begins on the upper series of bas-reliefs, the legend of the Buddha Sākyamuni. The 30 pictures of this series which are comprised between the eastern and southern staircases exhibit the very early events of his last life, from the preparations for his descent from the heaven Tuṣita until, and including, his last re-birth upon earth. Of the 30 corresponding panels of the [217] lower row the first twenty are, as Dr. S. d’Oldenburg has briefly recognized, dedicated to the legend of Prince Sudhana. We propose, with the aid of the text of the Divyāvadāna, S. d’Oldenburg, loc. cit., p. 200; Divyāvadāna, XXX, ed. Cowell and Neil, pp. 435-461. to enter into the details of this identification, which may be regarded as definitive: we shall, at the same time, detect the methods of the sculptors.

1. Sudhanāvadāna, the Traditions about Sudhana

[Panel 1] “Once upon a time, says the text, there were in the country of Pāñcāla two kings, the king of the north and the king of the south...” The former was virtuous, and his kingdom prosperous; with the second it was quite otherwise. Leemans describes the bas-relief in these terms: “A prince and his wife, seated in a pendopo Probably a corruption of the Sanskrit word maṇḍapa, which signifies a kind of hall or open pavilion. not far from their palace, are receiving the homage of a great number of persons of rank.” Is it the monarch of the north who is presented to us in all his glory in the midst of his court? Is it the sovereign of the south whom we perceive in the act of deliberating with his ministers concerning the means of restoring prosperity to his kingdom? This it is not in the power of our image-makers to specify.

[Panel 2] What lends more probability to the first supposition is the fact that in the following picture we must in any case recognize as the king of southern Pāñcāla the prince who, sheltered by his parasol and followed by a numerous cortege, is riding on horseback through a conventional rocky landscape. Under a pretext of hunting, as the text tells us, he is making a tour of inspection through his kingdom, which he finds completely ruined and deserted. Perhaps he is even now plotting to rob his flourishing [218] neighbour of the young nāga Janmacitraka, who resides in a pond near the capital of northern Pāñcāla, and who by a dispensing at an opportune moment the exact amount of rain which is necessary assures abundance to the country. But we can hardly rely upon the resemblance between the Brahman ascetic who goes before him, bearing in his right hand a kind of bent pruning-bill, and the snake-charmer whose witchcraft we are soon to witness.

[Panel 3] The following panel represents no less than three episodes. On the right the young nāga recognizable, as on the sculptures of India, by his coiffure of serpents’ heads asks upon his knees, and obtains, the protection of the hunter Halaka. In the middle the same Janmacitraka, grieving and under compulsion, is driven from the midst of the waters and lotuses of his pond by the influence of incantations pronounced (at his right side) by a Brahmanic ascetic before a sacrificial altar; fortunately the hunter, standing (on the other side) with his weapons in his hands, is watching over him. According to the text, he is about to put the charmer to death, not without first having made him annul the effect of his charm. In the third group (on the left) we must therefore, it seems, recognize the same Brahman, not reporting to the king, whose agent he is, a mischance which he has not survived, but at the moment when he receives from this king his secret mission. It follows, therefore, that, by an exceptional, but not impossible, arrangement, the episode on the left, like that on the right, must have preceded in time the one which they both enclose.

[Panel 4] Next, in the text, comes a brilliant reception at the house of the father and mother of the young nāga in honour of the saviour of their son. This is indeed what the bas-relief represents; but then we are forced to admit [219] that for this occasion the hunter has donned a princely costume, much superior to his caste. It is also necessary to supply the fact that in the meantime he has received from his hosts a lasso which never misses.

[Panel 5] The following picture transports us to the Himalāya mountains. On the right we perceive the lean ascetic figure of the old anchorite whose thoughtless chatter has guided the arm of the hunter Halaka. The latter, who is in a squatting posture, holds the Kinnarī Manoharā imprisoned at the end of his infallible lasso, while the companions of the latter, likewise represented in human form, rush towards the left in their aerial flight over a pond of lotuses.

[Panel 6] At this moment, we are told, Sudhana, the Royal Prince of northern Pāñcāla, is passing with a hunting party: Halaka perceives him, and, in order that his captive may not be forcibly taken away, presents her to him. We believe we must twice recognize the hunter in the two persons respectfully stooping down between the prince and the fairy, who are standing: in the first row he is offering his captive; in the second he receives the reward for it. Leemans was wrong in speaking of “a few women of rank”: Manoharā is the only person of her sex. It goes without saying that, as in our stories love springs up immediately between the young people.

[Panel 7] A king, seated in his palace, in the midst of his court, is in conversation with a Brahman. Without the text we should never be able to guess that this king is the father of Sudhana, and that the interlocutor is his purohita, or chaplain, the traitor of the melodrama. The latter is in the act of perfidiously counselling his master to confide forthwith to the royal prince the perilous task of subduing a rebellious vassal, against whom seven expeditions have already failed.

[220] [Panel 8] The unhappy prince, in despair at having to leave his beloved Manoharā, obtains permission to say farewell to his mother before beginning the campaign, and begs her to watch over his young wife. That the bas-relief does, in fact, represent an interview between a mother and a son is clearly proved by the higher seat of the queen and the respectful attitude of the prince.

[Panel 9] Sudhana, as it is written, stopped “at the foot of a tree” near to the rebellious town. Fortunately, Vaiśravaṇa, one of the four gods who reign in the air, foreseeing his defeat, sends to his aid his general Pāñcika with a troup of Yakṣas, or genii. These are the “five giants, or evil spirits”, mentioned by Leemans. The latter continues:

[Panel 10] “A prince, seated in his house with his wife and two servants, is giving audience to six men, perhaps wise Brahmans, with whom he is engaged in a very animated conversation... “ Here, again, it is only from the text that we learn that the locality of the scene is transferred back to Hastināpura, the capital of northern Pāñcāla, and that the father of Sudhana is asking his Brahman astrologers for an explanation of a bad dream. The wicked chaplain takes advantage of this to prescribe, among other remedies forestalling such bad omens, the sacrifice of a Kinnarī. The king seems to make a gesture of protest, and his wife shows manifest signs of sorrow.

[Panel 11] But in the heart of the king the instinct of self-preservation at last gains the victory. Thus, on the following picture we see the fairy Manoharā, with the assent, and even the complicity, of the Queen Mother, flee away gracefully through the air.

[Panel 12] Meanwhile Sudhana, by the aid of the genii, has triumphed, without any shedding of blood. His [221] mission fulfilled, he re-enters the capital, and begins by presenting to his father the taxes which he has recovered and the tribute of submission from the rebels. We shall not fail to observe the grace and suitability of the attitudes of the various persons.

[Panel 13] The prince has no sooner remarked the disappearance of Manoharā and learned the “unworthiness and ingratitude” of the king than he again has recourse to his mother: it is interesting to compare this interview, in respect of variety of attitude, with that at which we were present above (Panel 8).

[Panel 14] Once again a royal personage is presented to us, seated in his palace in the midst of his court; but this time he has a halo. By this sign we shall recognize here, as well as in Panels 17 and 18, Druma, king of the Kinnaras. It is, therefore, his daughter, Manoharā, who, crouched at his left, is relating to him the story of her romantic adventures on earth. It results, further, from this that the scene is suddenly transported beyond the first chains of the Himalāyas to the distant and inaccessible country of the genii and fairies. The sculptor does all that he can to vary in imagination, if in execution he hardly succeeds, the places and persons.

[Panel 15] However Sudhana has set himself to search for his beloved. It occurs to him to enquire of the anchorite, whose incautious words formerly led to the capture of the fairy by the hunter. Now it happens that the faithful Manoharā, bearing no malice, has left with this same ṛṣi a ring and an itinerary, which he is respectively to deliver and to communicate to the prince.

[Panel 16] Without allowing himself to be discouraged by the length and terrible difficulties of the journey, the hero of the story at last succeeds in reaching the city of king [222] Druma. At this very moment a crowd of Kinnarīs is engaged in drawing water in great quantities for the bath of the princess because, they say, of that human odour which she has brought back with her from the earth, and which will not disappear. Sudhana takes advantage of this to throw the ring of recognition into one of the pitchers, which he recommends to the servant as the first to be emptied over the head of Manoharā. According to the text the trick is played without the knowledge of the Kinnarī, but according to the panel, so elegant in its morbidezza, it cannot be that she is deceived concerning the intention of the gesture and the motive for the recommendation of the young man.

[Panel 17] The stratagem succeeds: Druma, warned by his daughter of the arrival of the prince, after threatening to make mincemeat of him, is appeased, and consents to prove him. The bas-relief represents Sudhana standing at the left, his bow bent, ready to pierce seven palms with one single arrow; on the right Druma, seated and with a halo, witnesses his prowess.

[Panel 18] Finally he resolves, as is written and as we can see, to grant the prince his daughter’s hand.

[Panel 19] The newly-wedded couple lead a life of pleasure in the midst of the gynaeceum. According to the customary Indian and Javanese formula these delights are provided by a dancing girl, accompanied by an orchestra of musicians of both sexes. As Leemans has shrewdly remarked, the royal couple do not seem to pay great attention to these amusements: they do not, in fact, suffice to cure the prince of homesickness.

[Panel 20] And this is why, on the following and last picture, we see him and his wife signalizing by a distribution of bounty their return to Hastinapura.

[223] Here, we believe, ends, both on the monument and in the text, the story of Sudhanakumāra and the Kinnarī Manoharā, or, as we may translate it, of Prince Fortunate and the fairy Charming.

The ten panels which continue the line as far as the southern staircase seem to be devoted to another story, in which the exchange by sea and land of portraits, or models, of the hero or heroine A story, likewise Indian and Buddhist, translated from the Chinese by M. Chavannes (Fables et Contes de l’Inde, extraits du Tripiṭaka chinois, in Actes du XIVe Congrès international des Orientalistes, I, p. 94) begins with this double and reciprocal exchange of ideal models: but the continuation of the story does not seem to accord with the scenes of our bas-reliefs. We may also recall, in the legend of Mahākāśyapa, the detail of the fabrication of a type of girl in gold (Beal, Romantic Legend, p. 317; Schiefner, Textes traduits du Kandjour in Mélanges Asiatic de St. Peterburg, VIII, pp. 296 sqq., or Tibetan tales, p. 191). plays a role sufficiently picturesque to suggest sooner or later an identification. For the present we prefer to abstain from all hypothesis. The example of the first twenty of these bas-reliefs proves clearly that it would be idle to attempt, without the aid of a text, an explanation founded solely on the intimations of the sculptors. Even a text is not always sufficient: it must also be well chosen. We have just remarked that our image-makers have, except for a few insignificant divergences, followed the letter of the Divyāvadāna. We should arrive at a quite different result, if we compared with their work another version of the same legend, preserved in the no less ancient and authentic collection of the Mahāvastu. Ed. Senart, II, pp. 94-115. On the other hand, the version of the Tibetan Kanjur, translated by Schiefner (Tibetan tales, pp. 44-74), follows exactly the text of the Divyāvadāna, that is, as has lately been shown by MM. S. Lévi and Ed. Huber, the canon of the Mūla-Sarvāstivādins; we shall have to return to this point. Let us again cite two versions of the Sudhanakumārāvadāna, the one from the Bodhisattvāvadānakalpalatā (no. 64), the other (pointed out by Dr. S. d’Oldenberg, Legendes bouddhiques, St Petersburg, 1894, p. 43) from the Bhadrakalpāvadāna, no. 29. There we have no more question [224] of a preamble, containing the adventures of the nāga Janmacitraka and of the snake-charmer: also it is not with an infallible lasso, but thanks to a “truthful word”, that the hunter gets possession of the Kinnarī. There is no longer any wicked chaplain, any expedition of the prince against a rebel, any bad dream of the king: it simply happens that Sudhana, having in the excess of his love neglected his duties, is put into prison by his father, and the fairy is sent home, but not by way of the air. Then it is with two hunters, and not with an anchorite, that Manoharā leaves her ring and her directions to her lover. It is a huge monkey who transports the prince and his three companions to the town of the Kinnarī, where the best welcome awaits him, without having to undergo any trial of strength or skill. In short, if we had at our disposal only the Mahāvastu, scarcely two or three out of twenty bas-reliefs, for example the capture of the Kinnarī by the hunter and the throwing of the ring into the pitcher, would be susceptible of a detailed interpretation by the aid of the text: and yet it is quite evident to us, thanks to the constant accord between the Divyāvadāna and the sculptures, that the identification with the legend of Prince Sudhana would be on the whole none the less just. This remark deserves to be borne in mind throughout the delicate enterprise of the explanation of these mute stories.


Sudhana and Manoharā


Photographs by Anandajoti Bhikkhu

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