Buddha in art : images of enlightenment

      Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha or the enlightened one, was born in the sixth/fifth  century B.C. and was the founder of Buddhism, a religion based on his teachings. He was Siddhartha Gautama and also Shakyamuni Buddha. He lived and taught mostly in Magadha and Kosala in eastern India of ancient times. He attained Enlightenment or full Buddhahood as  understood in Buddhism.

     He preached a middle path between over-indulgence connected with the senses and severe asceticism.He shared his insights to help sentient beings end rebirth and suffering. His discourses, monastics and various accounts and incidents of his life were summarised by his disciples and followers. The knowledge was passed on through oral tradition and written accounts were made 400 years later.   The sources for the life of Siddhārtha Gautama are a variety of different, and sometimes conflicting, traditional biographies. These include the Buddhacharita, Lalitavistara Sutra, Mahavastu, and the Nidanakatha . The Jataka tales tell tales about his previous births.

      Gautama was born as a Kshatriya, the son of Suddhodana,  chief of the Shakya clan whose capital was Kapilavastu, Gautama was the family name. His mother was Maya-devi.

      At the age of 29 Siddhartha left his palace,his wife and son, despite his father’s efforts to hide from him the sick, aged and suffering. Siddhartha was said to have seen an old man,a diseased man, a decaying corpse, and an ascetic. All this depressed him, and he tried to overcome ageing, sickness, and death by living the life of an ascetic sage. However Gautama realised that meditative dhyana was the right path to awakening, but that extreme asceticism did not neccesarily  work.

          Gautama meditated  under a pipal ( variety of fig) tree or Bodhi tree at Bodh Gaya where he vowed to meditate until he had found the truth. Evil demons like Mara tried to disturb him along with his army. He raised violent storm and rain. He even sent his daughters to seduce him. After  49 days of meditation, at the age of 35, he is said to have attained Enlightenment, and became the Buddha or Enlightened one. He realised the Middle Way, a path of moderation or the Noble Eight-fold Path is the right way. Thus he attained liberation from samsara or the cycles of birth or death.At the age of 84, the Buddha announced that he would  reach Parinirvana, or the final deathless state.He abandoned his earthly body soon after having his last meal.

File:Four Scenes from the Life of the Buddha - Enlightenment - Kushan dynasty, late 2nd to early 3rd century AD, Gandhara, schist - Freer Gallery of Art - DSC05124.JPG

Enlightenment of Buddha,schist, 2nd-3rd century,Kushana,Freer Gallery, USA.

By Daderot (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

The Ajanta Caves in Aurangabad are 30 rock-cut cave monuments which date from the 2nd century B.C to 600 A.D. The caves include paintings and sculptures considered to be masterpieces of Hindu, Jaina and  Buddhist religious art including the Jataka tales.The caves were built in two phases starting around 2nd century BC, with the second group of caves built around 600 A.D.  A sculpture from Ajanta of Buddha in padmasana is depicted below, his hands in dharmachakra mudra.

File:Lord Buddha at Ajanta caves.jpg

Buddha, Ajanta caves, near Aurangabad,Maharashtra.

By Manu Jha (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons



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Buddha meditating while demon Mara tries to disturb him, painting, Lao monastery.

By myself (Painting in Laotian monastery) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC BY-SA 2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5-2.0-1.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons


Sri Lanka, Buddha, Sri, Lanka, Statue, Religion

Buddha meditating, sculpture, Gal Vihara, Sri Lanka.

Source of image : pixabay.com/en/photos/buddha/(CC O, Public domain)

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Manuscript of a meditating Buddha being disturbed by Mara, the demon,Pala period, Nalanda.

By Asia Society created the file. Artwork created by an anonymous ancient source. – http://asiasocietymuseum.org/region_object.asp?RegionID=1&CountryID=2&ChapterID=10&ObjectID=479, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11441827


Buddha,painting,Mogao caves, 4th-11th century, Dunhuang,China.

By AnonymousOriginal uploader was Евгений Ардаев at ru.wikipedia – Transferred from ru.wikipedia, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7855466



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Buddha Tanhankara, 13th century, Upali Thein temple, Bagan, Myanmar.

By Jacklee (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

File:Shakyamuni Buddha - Google Art Project.jpg

Thangka,Shakyamuni Buddha,18th century, Tibet,Rodin Museum of Art.

See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

File:Buddha, resisting the demons of Mara, Wellcome V0046085.jpg

Buddha resisting Mara,lithograph,19th century,Sri Lanka. (Wellcome images)

See page for author [CC BY 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

File:The Victory of Buddha.jpg

Victory of Buddha, painting, Abanindranath Tagore, Myths of the Hindus & Buddhists,1914.

Abanindranath Tagore [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
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Buddha,acrylic on canvas,20th/21st century.


References :

  • Thomas, P/Epics, myths and legends of India, Bombay : D. B. Taraporevala and Sons.
  • wikipedia.org


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Soma Ghosh


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