Relief with the Dipankara Jatak

  • Gandhara
  • 3rd to 5th centuries
  • 3-5c
  • Schist
  • H-69.3
Catalogue Entry

This relief depicts a tale about the Buddha in his early life as Megha, a young disciple of Brahmanism, when he was given a prophecy by Dpankara Buddha that he would become Buddha, an enlightened one, in the next world. The original word for 燃燈 is Dpankara, which is also translated as 定光 or 錠光 in Chinese. Although this tale is generally called the Dpankara jataka, it is not included in the original tales of the Buddha's previous lives and is rather characterized as the opening tale in the stories of the Buddha's life as Shakyamuni.

One day, knowing that Dpankara Buddha was coming to the town, Megha was eager to see him and to offer him some flowers. However, he found that all the flowers had already been purchased by the king. Then Megha met a girl called Gopy, holding a water jar under her arm and seven lotus flowers. She was reluctant to give him the flowers, but finally he gave her all the money he had and managed to persuade her to give him five of the flowers. The King and all the people threw flowers toward Dpankara Buddha, but only the five flowers Megha had thrown stopped in the air to decorate Dpankara Buddha's nimbus. In addition, Megha spread his cloth on the ground and then untied his hair and spread it on the cloth, prostrating himself to prevent Dpankara Buddha's feet from getting muddy. Dpankara Buddha then prophesied that Megha would become Buddha in the next world. Megha was raised up with joy.

There are many sutras describing the Dpankara jataka. Some variations are found, but the basic elements are common to most of the versions:*1 purchasing flowers, throwing flowers, spreading hair and being raised up in the air. Some examples do not include throwing flowers. This relief shows the purchasing of flowers on the right at the bottom, throwing flowers on the left, spreading hair at the extreme left, and being raised in the air on the upper left. The figure on the right at the top is thought to be Indra, as he is carrying an adamant in his hand.

Reliefs of the Dpankara jataka were produced in different styles. Some of them have a strong narrative character, while some have a more worshipful character, due to Dpankara Buddha being enlarged.*2 This relief is of the the latter type, and is very similar to the relief (no. 64-7-13) in the Kabul Museum from Shotorak. The characteristics of this work, such as its symmetrical structure, motionless Dpankara Buddha facing forwards, with a round face, an unbalanced stocky body, and a stylized surplice, are the features often seen in Shotorak or Paitava in the Kapis region, Afghanistan.