Western Gateway, Exterior


This shows the exterior of the western gateway; the top archway depicts past Buddhas, the middle archway the Buddha delivering a sermon, and lowest one a Chhadanta Jataka scene.


Here's a closer look at the top torana, shown above.  Buddhist scriptures name seven previous Buddhas, which are represented here in the form of trees, receiving worship and offerings (garlands) from worshippers.  This picture shows only five of the seven, since the other two were on the outside sections of the torana, which is outside the frame of this shot (the same motif appears on the top of the outside of the eastern gateway. 


Here's a closer look at the middle torana, in which the Buddha (portrayed as the wheel) is teaching at the Deer Park in Sarnath--the deer are visible on each side at the bottom.  The wheel symbol refers back to his first sermon (The Four Noble Truths) in which he set the "wheel of dharma in motion"--that is, began actively to propagate his teaching and to make disciples, and it stands for the Buddha as an Enlightened Teacher.  This scene may or may not refer to that first sermon--a large crowd has gathered around him for instruction, and the first sermon was preached to only five people--a small group ascetics who had earlier been his associates. 


Here's a closer look at the bottom torana, which shows another scene from the Chhadanta Jataka, in which the elephant-king Chhadanta (seen with multiple tusks in the center on either side of the tree) is sporting with his subjects.  A fuller description of this story is on the interior of the south gateway. 


Each of the gateways is supported by a different type of figure (for the eastern gateway it was elephants), and here on the western gateway it is these pot-bellied dwarves, which may be depictions of yakshas or nature spirits.  Note the differing expressions on these two faces--the one on the left seems to be grimacing, whereas the one on the right seems serene. 


All the pillars bear carvings with various stories, from the Buddha's life or past lives, and this panel (below the dwarves) depicts the Shyama Jataka.  Shyama was the only caregiver for his blind father and mother, but once when he was drawing water from a river, the king of Benares mistook him for a drinking animal, and shot him dead with an arrow.  The king's repentance and the parents' sorrow were so great that Indra (king of the gods) intervened, and not only brought Shyama back to life, but restored his father's sight. 

This image shows the old man and his wife in the upper right hand corner, with Shyama below them drawing water from the river.  The king is shown in three different poses at bottom left--first shooting the boy, then standing with his bow (realizing what he had done), and finally standing penitently before the boy.  The upper left shows all five figures (the boy, his parents, the king, and Indra) at the story's happy ending. 


This panel across from the Shyama Jataka depicts the Mahakapi ('"Monkey-king") Jataka, which stresses self-sacrifice.   In an earlier birth the Future Buddha was a monkey-king living with his subjects on the banks of the Ganges in large mango tree.  When a king and his men came to get the fruit (seen at bottom), the monkey king realized that they were all in danger.  he cut a bamboo shoot on the opposite bank, tied one end to a tree and the other to his waist, and leaped back to where his subjects were huddled.  The shoot was a little too short for him to get all the way back, so his body formed part of the bridge that they used to escape to the other side (seen here at the top).  While doing this he was mortally hurt, but still was able to give the king some teaching before he died (the two are sitting under the tree at the top right).   (Mitra 1965: 25, 27)

November 2005


According to Mitra (1965: 35), this scene depicts a critical moment in the Buddha's early career.  He had just been enlightened (and so is depicted by the tree in the top center), but was uncertain whether or not he would find anyone able to understand his teaching. 

According to tradition, in response the danger that an enlightened being might keep his realization to himself, the gods assembled around the Buddha and begged him to teach, pointing out that some people in the world had "only a little dust covering their eyes"--that is, they would be able to understand at least some of his message.  The Buddha was persuaded by their argument, and set off toward Sarnath, where he preached his first sermon. 

November 2005

On to Next Page (Western Gateway, Interior)


Introduction East Gate:  Exterior / Interior West Gate: Exterior / Interior Final Shots
South Gate: Exterior / Interior North Gate: Exterior / Interior


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Last modified 27 December 2005