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The Birth of the Buddha

Proceedings of the Seminar

Held in Lumbini, Nepal, October 2004

Edited by
Christoph Cueppers
Max Deeg and
Hubert Durt


The Birth of the Buddha

LIRI Seminar
Proceedings Series
Edited by


Volume 3

The Birth of the Buddha

Proceedings of the Seminar

Held in Lumbini, Nepal, October 2004

Edited by

Christoph Cueppers,
Max Deeg and Hubert Durt

Lumbini International Research Institute

Lumbini 2010

Lumbini International Research Institute
P.O.Box 39
Bhairahawa, Dist. Rupandehi
© Lumbini International Research Institute

Cover: Nativity of the Buddha, 9th century, stone, h: 84 cm

Courtesy of the National Museum, Kathmandu

All rights reserved.

Apart from any fair dealing for the purpose of private study,
research, criticism or review, no part of this book may be
reproduced in any form, by print, photocopy, microfilm,
scanner or any other means without prior written permission.
Enquiries should be made to the publisher.

ISBN 978-9937-553-03-2

First published 2010

Printed in Nepal, Dongol Printers, Kathmandu


Introduction 1
Max Deeg

Buddha’s Birth
and Reassessment of the Archaeological Evidence 19
Giovanni Verardi

Prior to Birth
The Tuƪita episodes in Indian Buddhist literature and art 41
Christian Luczanits

Why is the Buddha Riding on an Elephant?

The Bodhisattva’s Conception and the Change of Motive 93
Max Deeg

On Some Late Records

About the Buddha's Birth and Genealogy 129
Michael Hahn

The Deva with the Swaddling Cloth – On the Western Origins

of Gandháran Birth Iconography and Their Implications for
the Textual and Art History of the Buddhist Saviour’s Nativity 157
Martina Stoye

The Lady under the tree

A visual pattern from Máyá to the Tárá and Avalokiteüvara 193
Claudine Bautze-Picron

Visionary Consecration:
A Meditative Reenactment of the Buddha’s Birth 239
Nobuyoshi Yamabe

The Birth of the Buddha in the Chinese Anthologies
of the Early Sixth Century 277
Hubert Durt

The Birth of the Buddha and Related Episodes as Represented

in Chinese Art 305
Nicoletta Celli

The Birth of the Buddha in Korean Buddhism: Infant Buddha

Images and the Ritual Bathing 321
Juhyung Rhi

Lumbinð: liturgy and devotion 345

Peter Skilling

The Narrative of the Birth of the Buddha

as Told by Bskal-bzang Chos-kyi Rgya-mtsho (15th Century) 355
Franz-Karl Erhard

Plates and Figures 377

The Lady under the tree –
A visual pattern from Máyá to the Tárá and
Claudine Bautze-Picron

1. Introduction
The visual representation of the birth of the Buddha follows a very specific
pattern which has been permanently reproduced since its time of creation,
some two thousand years ago. It implies a selection of very precise
elements which are always organised within a particular composition.
From the very beginning, the model is set, letting no space for basic
variations and reflecting, through its achievement, an underlying clear
and strong will. The central elements are evidently Máyá, standing below
a tree, and the child who emerges out of her right side. A number of other
elements and characters can be distributed around this scene which
occupies the centre of the composition, eventually referring to further
events subsequent to birth but they will not retain our attention here. Let
us simply observe that the selection of characters and items changed in
course of time and relates also to geographical boundaries.
Within the geographical framework, the Northwest region apparently
held a major function, since it was most probably there that the iconographic
type of the birth was created at the beginning of our era; however, and
unfortunately, a proper chronological setting has not yet been established
for the development of this image within this region (as in fact for most
images of the events of the Buddha’s life). Representations of the birth
are also noticed in the àndhra Valley at a slightly later period. The reliefs
of Andhra Pradesh integrate the depiction of the birth within a set of other
scenes all carved on a single slab, as seen below, whereas those from
Gandhára are eventually carved on independent panels. We can,
nonetheless, suggest, that these panels were integrated within a set of
sculptures, devoted to the (main) events of the Buddha’s life.
Claudine Bautze-Picron

From the 4th c. and onwards, the birth is practically always seen as
part of an ideal rendering of the Buddha’s visual biography (Mathurá;
Sárnáth), it becomes one of the four major events rythming this life,
before this set increases up to eight events, a topic which is commonly
depicted in Eastern India after the 8th c. before being reproduced in Tibet
and Burma.1
The present paper is neither basically concerned with a study of the
iconography of the birth scene and its development, nor an iconological
approach allowing a better understanding of it, but is essentially trying to
perceive how the model of the woman under the tree has been retained for
illustrating certain concepts pertaining to the representation of the
Buddha’s birth. Within this context, it will consider the particular attitude
of the woman, and see how it has been introduced in the iconography of
the cakravartin, source of richness, before being passed to the
iconographies of the Tárá and Avalokiteüvara.

2. The “Lady under the tree” type

Most authors having written on the model of the woman under the tree,
put forward the similarity which this representation shares with the
depiction of Máyá at the moment of the future Buddha’s birth: both
women, indeed, stand below a tree and stretch their right arm towards the
foliage. Based on such similarities, those authors concluded that the
scene of the birth is based on the composition of the woman under the
tree.2 Mostly, the interest paid to these images aimed at relating them to
literary terminology, trying to recognize in images specific descriptions
found in texts. Without entering into a detailed discussion or presentation

1A broad presentation of the depiction of the Buddha’s biography in India was

made by Bautze-Picron 2002. I wish to thank Joachim K. Bautze, as ever, for his photos,
Anna Maria Quagliotti for sharing her comments during our long phone sessions, and
Ken Ishikawa for the help brought in handling the Japanese sources.
2 Viennot 1954: 146–147 (the authoress recognizes two ways of depicting the birth

of the Buddha, i.e. this one which she considers to have appeared during the second
century AD, and the image traditionally identified with Lakƪmð watered by two elephants
(Viennot 1954: 137–146), following thus the identification made at an earlier period by
A. Foucher 1934); Zimmer 1955, I: 80–81, also quoted by Roth 1957: 111–112; Roth
1957: 98, 108–109; Coomaraswamy 1955: 64.

The Lady under the tree

of this question – which would be out of context here – we should remind

that Gustav Roth pointed to a major difference in the understanding of the
two terms which are regularly used with reference to artistic representations,
i.e. dohada as referring to the function of “fertilizing of trees, plants and
creepers by the contact of woman, direct or indirect,”3 and āèlabhañjikè
which “denotes the act of bending down the branch of a tree,”4 an image
which should “be understood ... in the sense that the tree renders its
protection, life-substance and fertility power in support of the successful
deliverance of the child [i.e. the future Buddha].”5 According to the same
author, the first term cannot apply to the representation of Máyá at the
moment of her delivery, whereas the second term could be used in this
context.6 The detailed analysis of the terminology made by G. Roth
echoes the study of the artistic representation of the woman standing
below the tree which had been published by J.Ph. Vogel in 1929 and
collected all available information on the topic. It would be out of question
to dwell here upon these two particular treatments of the question – we
shall consider the motif from a different point of view, and only a short
art historical survey is necessary in the present context – and the reader
should therefore refer to those two authors for further information on the
terminology and on the artistic development up to the 4th c.
Some aspects of those images which were only evoked or even not
considered by Roth and Vogel, might help to understand the meaning of
this iconography within the broad frame of sacral architecture on the one
hand, and within the iconography of the Buddha’s birth on the other one.
Reading Vogel’s words, it is evident that it was impossible to him (and
his contemporaries most probably) to relate the representation of half-
naked women stretching themselves below a tree (or also without any

3 Pisharoti 1935: 110; see also Zimmer 1955, I: 80 (also quoted by Roth 1957:
111–112); Roth 1957: 107.
4 Roth 1957: 104.

5 Roth 1957: 107 and 112 (for the quotation). Concerning the topic, see also

Agrawala 1983: 44–45.

6 Roth 1957: 108, note 40, 112–113. It should also be noted that Roth does not

consider likewise the images of Bhárhut (see below) as dohada, since the literary sources
referring to the dohada, donot mention the right hand grasping a branch of the tree (Roth
1957: 109, 112).

Claudine Bautze-Picron

tree) on the balustrade surrounding a stąpa, to a religious Buddhist

context; those images could at the most be understood as having “not a
structural, but a purely decorative significance” [italics by us] since they
are carved in relief in front of the pillar, not in the round and constituting
the pillar as such; even when the image is carved in the round and
constitutes a bracket, still it remains an object of “ornamentation”.7
As a matter of fact, Vogel only shortly mentioned that such female
images at Bhárhut8 could act as protectors of the sacred monument and /
or worshippers of the Buddhist Law; at an earlier period, Foucher also did
not attempt to understand the position of those images, carved on flat
pilasters separating reliefs in Gandhára.9 The most challenging ideas
were suggested more recently by P.K. Agrawala, seeing these sculptures,
like those of Mathurá at a later date, as images of “the incomplete
At the beginning of the first century B.C., a sculpture from Sáñcð 211
shows a woman embracing the tree with the right arm and holding the
foliage with her left hand. Although the relief reflects the uneasiness and
stiffness generally characteristic of the ornamentation of the fence of this
monument, it is closely related to the slightly later images at Bhárhut.

7 Vogel 1929: 207. See also 216 (“... the four gates ... are decorated with standing
figures ...”), 220 (“... these decorations...”), 223 (“... the decoration of the railing pillars
consisting of a female figure ...”), 228 (“... to decorate railing pillars or to provide an
ornamental bracket ...”), 229–30 (“... the disappearance of the railing ... reduced at once
the chief decorative use made of the āèlabhañjikè”) [italics by us]. Being a structural
element, the bracket shaped as the woman in considered to be “ornamental”, not
“decorative” (230). Apparently also, the image carved as a bracket deserves more
attention than a sculpture which does not have apparently a structural function (220:
“these intervening figurines [at Sáñcð] do not possess the same interest as the bracket
figures and do not call for a detailed description”, in the line of Alfred Foucher’s words,
which are quoted by Vogel 1929: 219: “Les plus intéressantes [des figures détachées en
ronde-bosse] sont les fées qui découpent ... une console si ingénieusement décorative.”
[italics by us])
8 Vogel 1929: 217.

9 A. Foucher quoted by Vogel 1929: 228.

10 Agrawala 1983: 43–46.

11 Agrawala 1983: ills.148.

The Lady under the tree

Better known are the five sculptures from Bhárhut and the surroundings
which depict a female character standing below a tree, and holding with
the right hand a branch of the tree (fig. 1).12 In the three well-known
images of the vedikè preserved in the Indian Museum, she embraces the
trunk of the tree with her left leg. These images are not isolated but
integrated within a set of male and other female characters carved on a
number of pillars. Some are “identified”, i.e. “named” through an
epigraph, some not; most names were most probably attributed to local
deities and only rarely occur at a later period. The divine nature of these
characters, depicted in a human form, was put into evidence through the

12 Most published are the three images of the Indian Museum, which are carved in
alto-relievo on pillars of the balustrade, they are quoted by Pisharoti 1935: 115–116;
Roth 1957: 91, 104, 107, 108 and figs.1–2 (pl.I), reproduced by Coomaraswamy 1928:
pls.4.2, 5.1; Coomaraswamy 1955: 42, figs.21, 63, figs.48–49; Agrawala 1983: ills.147,
149; Koezuka / Miyaji 2000: figs.16–17, 267. A fourth image, betraying a much rougher
treatment, was not found at Bhárhut but in a nearby village, see Coomaraswamy 1955:
fig.37 and p.59; Agrawala 1983: ills.148; it shows the particularity that the tree is carved
at the right of the woman who does not intertwines its trunk with her leg. As to the fifth
sculpture, kept at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, only fragments of it survived
(Agrawala 1983: 64–65, figs.50 and 55). It should also be noticed that authors did not
agree on the identification of the trees which are depicted: the “Cadá Yakhð” illustrated
by Coomaraswamy 1956: fig.21, stands under the ironwood tree or nagkesar (or naga
champa) (Mesua ferrea) according to this author, or under a Kuravaka (Barleria cristata:
Viennot 1954: 276), or under a Jasmine-tree (Millingtonia hortensis) (Roth 1957: 106,
and note 36a, 108 for the last two identifications. The first identification, provided by
Coomaraswamy is more likely, see the relevant photographies in the website of Kazuo
Yamasaki –!) Roth (ibid.)
noticed the difficulty of identifying the trees at Bhárhut (106, note 36a), and as a matter
of fact, much confusion remains, concerning the identification of the trees depicted
there (or elsewhere). For instance, Coomaraswamy 1956: 63, recognizes the pèŤali or
pèŤala (Bignonia suaveolens, named “trumpet-flower” or datura, see Coomaraswamy
1956: 63,) above the two women of figs.37 and 48 (by comparison with the tree seen on
his fig.56, which is the tree of the Buddha Vipassð (Skt. Vipaüyin) – but clearly this tree
is not the one traditionally said to be the one below which this Buddha sat at his
enlightenment, which is the “trumpet-flower” tree or datura!); or Viennot 1954: 273–
279 recognizes the Bignonia suaveolens as being the pèŤala (Viennot 1954: 273), the
pèŤala as being the Stereospernum suaveolens (Viennot 1954: 276), the jasmine and the
trumpet flower as being both the pèŤala (Viennot 1954: 278 and 279). The trees above
the women respectively depicted on figs.21 and 37 / 48 in Coomaraswamy’s book differ:
but the tree of fig.21 is identified by Roth as a Jasmin-tree, and those on figs.37 / 48 as
being the same by Coomaraswamy!

Claudine Bautze-Picron

adjunction of various motifs, such as a tree, a snake-hood, and through

various types of motifs sustaining them, such as a real or fantastic animal,
a monstrous squatting figure, a balustrade or rocks, a lotus, etc. Most
male characters hold the hands clasped in front of the breast in an evident
gesture of veneration whereas women present a flower or a fruit in the left
When compared to the ornamentation of the later porticoes at Sáncð
1, it is evident that
a) the number of male and female characters is practically the same at
Bhárhut whereas at Sáncð, the male must have reached the number of
eight, two at each portico;13 there also the female images were much
more numerous, at least eight forming the brackets14 plus four

13 Both are still visible at the northern and eastern portico, one is only preserved at
each of the south and west toraŨa: see Coomaraswamy 1928: pl.8, Dehejia 1996: fig.6
(north, eastern post; mango and aāoka tree, and flower in the right hand). Rao 1984:
pl.21 (north, western post; no tree). Viennot 1954: pl.IV.E; Rao 1984: pls.41 and 43
(eastern portico, both posts, mango tree and aāoka?, plus large flower in the right hand).
For an image in the site museum, see Rao 1984: pl.87.
14 North gateway, under the aāoka: Rao 1984: pls.12, 18. Eastern gateway, northern

end, under the mango tree: Coomaraswamy 1928: pls.11.1-2, Dehejia 1996: fig.3, Rao
1984: pl.31 (and pl.30 for the much damaged bracket at the south end of the portico),
Koezuka / Miyaji 2000: fig.50. Further fragments are preserved in the local museum. A
large fragment of a female body under the mango tree is reproduced by Rao 1984: pl.85;
see also Hamid et al. 1922: 24, cat. A27 for the tree (probably from the western portico);
and the same pl.IX “A28” (inv. 2794) for the woman (also in Gill 1999: ill.51, after
Hamid et al.): however, the description given for “A28” p. 24 does not seem to apply
fully to this carving. Reading the description given for cat. A26 some lines above, we
notice therein that the ornamentation seen by the author on “A26” (inv.2867) (also
reproduced pl. IX and Gill 1999: ill. 53) is in fact observed on the image reproduced as
“A28” and not on the reproduced A26 (only the last sentence, mentioning the place
where the sculpture was broken seems to apply to this sculpture); further, he recognizes
the right forearm of “A28” in the “mango tree” above her: clearly, the tree seen above
“A28” (on pl. IX) is not the mango tree whereas a forearm is noticed in the mango tree
numbered “A25”! “A26” is said to be probably from the south end of the eastern portico
(p.24) – which is likely: the ornamentation is similar to the one seen on the image still
in situ, “A25” probably from the southern gateway, “A28” probably from the western
portico (and this image is now seen below the tree also said to be from this portico, as
illustrated by Rao). More fragments are preserved in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
(Gill 1999: ill.54 with further reference), the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (Gill
1999: ill.55; Pal 1986: cat.S30: 150 with further references), the Museum für Indische

The Lady under the tree

independant images carved in the round and distributed in the upper

levels of each portico (figs.2–3);15
b) due to their position, at Sáncð, the male figures are carved in alto-
relievo, the female ones in the round;
c) the characters at Bhárhut are all distributed on the pillars of the vedikè
whereas at Sáncð, only the male figures are seen at eye-level and the
female ones occupy the upper levels;
d) the male characters are depicted on the side inner surface of the
pillars, thus turned towards the passage through which the devotee
has to pass when entering the path of circumambulation whereas the
female images are all directed towards the outer world;
e) the variations noticed in relation to the support, the attributes, etc.
disappear at Sáncð where all women stand below a tree. Two trees are
mainly represented, i.e. the aāoka (mostly) and the mango trees. Due
to the rule of symmetry, the tree is seen at the left or at the right of the

Considering the depiction of the woman under the tree in various sites of
the early period (first century B.C. – first century AD), we notice that she
usually embraces the trunk of the tree with her left leg, while her right
hand stands up and holds the foliage of the tree. The left hand can hold
the tree trunk, a fruit or a flower and is clearly positioned near the pubis.
Within this context, we notice that this position of the left hand also
occurs in depictions of the woman where the tree is absent, and in those

Kunst, Berlin (Härtel 1960: 51–52 and Tafeln 3–4; Gill 1999: ill.52 with further
15 For a fragment, preserved in the site museum (inv.2789), see: Rao 1984: 84 (Gill

1999: ill.57). Other alto-relievo images from the porticoes are preserved in the Indian
Museum, Calcutta (inv.S.12; Anderson 1883: 164–165; Majumdar 1937: pl.XI.b and
pp.63–4; Agrawala 1983: ill.150; Gill 1999: ill.56; here fig.2), The British Museum,
London (Gill 1999: ill.59 with further reference; Deneck 1967: Abb.5; here fig.3).
Besides, a double-faced image with two women, one on each side, is preserved at the
Los Angeles County Museum of Art (Pal 1986, cat.S29: 149–150 with further references;
Gill 1999: ill.58); this carving departs from the other images, not only through the fact
that it includes two women carved back to back, but also because on one face, the tree
is a fantastic tree carrying garlands and no fruit or flower. See also Coomaraswamy
1931: pl.7.1 for a woman standing under the mango tree at the northern gateway.

Claudine Bautze-Picron

of the “ûrð / Lakƪmð” type where the goddess stands among flowers of
lotuses; similarly, in these images from Bhárhut,16 Sáncð 217 or
Chandraketugarh,18 the woman can have her left hand on the hip or hold
her girdle as if wanting to pull it down or to undo the knot, in an evident
gesture of disclosing herself, and most probably attesting this way to her
own fertility.19 This gesture constitutes also a clear invitation to sexual
intercourse, and reminds of the so-called dohada, a ritual where the
woman touches in various ways a tree and brings it to flower. The most
famous of them is the aāokadohada where she kicks the trunk of the tree
which instantly blossoms with its deep red flowers. It is not difficult to
read here that the touching of the phallus (tree) provokes its erection
(blossom). As Odette Viennot observed, to this first part of the game –
which is symbolized by the dohada –, succeeds the moment where the
tree lets its flowers (i.e. the semen) fall down over the woman and fertilizes
her – as illustrated by the āèlabhañjikè.20
Not only the aāoka, but the mango tree is also often depicted, for
instance at the brackets of the eastern portico of stąpa 1 at Sanchi, and
above free-standing images at the northern and eastern toraŨas (e.g.
fig.3).21 The mango tree implies richness and abundance, as it may result
from the sexuality symbolized by the aāoka. As such, both form a pair at
the entrance of different caves of AjaƞƬá towards the end of the fifth

16 Coomaraswamy 1956: fig.46.

17 Viennot 1954: pl.VII.C; Régnier 1998: 55 and 154.
18 The position of the hand is quasi generalized at Chandraketugarh (numerous

examples in Bautze 1995) where the girdle is at times no more horizontal but slightly
put down by the left hand (Bautze 1995: pl.Xc e.g.; a gesture which is even more evident
in the depiction of mithunas: ibid., pl.XXXI.a). When shown as part of a couple, it is the
man who can put down the girdle of his lover (Bautze 1995: pl.XXX).
19 This reminds us that the left part of the body is related to sensuality; “the left

side ‘is the lying pose of those who enjoy sensual pleasures’...” (Balbir [in press] quoting
Buddhaghosa; see also Fischer 1984: 250).
20 Viennot 1954: 119, where she quotes the passage of the Kathásaritságara

describing how trees blossom when young women embrace them, or kick them, or spit
wine on them for instance. See also Pisharoti 1935 for a detailed study of the topic in
literature. Fischer 1979: 79, reached the same conclusion in his observation of the
woman under the tree at Sáncð.
21 Above notes 14–15.

The Lady under the tree

century.22 Both are combined in an interesting composition on the most

famous representation of the Birth from Nepal: whereas the “main” tree
is the aāoka, recognizable with its long leaves and blossoms, the queen
holds a mango bunch apparently attached to the trunk (fig.21).23
Among the plaques from Chandraketugarh, one shows the goddess
holding a lotus plant, not the tree, with her right stretched arm (fig.4).24
It evidently evokes ûrð, the goddess of fertility who is closely related to
the lotus, sitting or standing on it, being surrounded by it with elephants
profiled on two flowers and watering her, as known from this period and
onwards, but still it differs from other contemporary representations of
the goddess, all being probably prototypes for the later visual imagery
and understanding of her personality known as Lakƪmð.25
The Chandraketugarh plaque relates to a depiction of ûrð on the upper
architrave of the southern toraŨa of stąpa 1 at Sáncð (fig.5).26 The goddess
stands on the vertical axis of the panel, within a large pond of lotuses
whereas two elephants water her. She does not stand perfectly erected
like on her depictions of stąpa 2, but like the images at Bhárhut and most
ones at Chandraketugarh, shows a slight sway of the hip; whereas the left
hand lies at hip level, the right one is stretched upwards. The goddess

22 Bautze-Picron 2001a: 298–301. Where one can understand that the desire
preceeds the fertility, that the desire coincides with the fact of entering the monument,
whereas the fertility results from this visit, and expresses itself when one leaves the
monument. See also Coomaraswamy 1928:32 –33, who observed that the mango and
aāoka trees were the most often encountered ones below which a woman stands, and
Meyer 1937, I: 28–38 studying the aāoka as being the place or residence of Káma, and
p. 64 relating the fertility and the mango tree heavy with its fruits (both quoted by
Bautze-Picron 2001a: 300, note 52).
23 Published by Pal 1974, I: fig.87 and pp.59–61 with further references on p.59,

note 1; Bangdel 1987: Abb.168. Pal 1974: 61, observes that different flowers are carved
and that “neither the blossoms nor the leaves are of a mango tree, although the fruit
appears to be a mango.”
24 Bautze 1995: pl.Xb.

25 On the question, see Bautze 1995: 15–16 and the relevant illustration quoted on

these pages.
26 Coomaraswamy 1929: fig. 21; Viennot 1954: pl.VII.A; Rao 1984: pl.4. And for

similar rendering of the goddess, see Coomaraswamy 1929: figs.13, 15, 16, where the
slight but allusive sway of the hip is only seen in the last example.

Claudine Bautze-Picron

occupies here a pro-eminent position, being seen on the higher architrave

and in the centre of the composition; as such, it differs from all her further
(and later) depictions on the porticoes, which are distributed in square
panels on the posts sustaining the architraves, thus no more in the position
of being the main image to be venerated. ûrð arose out of the churning of
the Milk Ocean, she constitutes a perfect symbolization of the cosmic
creation; she is the goddess through which infinite fertility flows and
which allows the acquisition of richness. She belongs to the origins, and
as such, occupies the highest position in the architectural structure;
similarly, on the back of this architrave like on each upper architrave of
the other three porticoes, the presence of the Buddhas of the Past is evoked
through the tree of their enlightenment or the stąpa where their ashes are
preserved. Both iconographic types, i.e. ûrð and the Buddhas of the Past,
refer to a moment of creation which is beyond the limits of our perception.
Their presence at the highest level of the porticoes identifies this position
with the most remote times; the goddess like the Buddhas belong to a
period preceding ours, whereas the narrative panels carved on the lower
architraves and on the lower part of the posts depict either jètakas or
events of the Buddha’s life – which belong evidently to times closer to
ûrð Lakƪmð will preserve this position on the lintel of the entrance to
the sanctuary in later Hindu architecture; she sits among lotus flowers
and is watered by elephants at the treshold between profane and sacred
spaces. In the particular context of the southern portico of stąpa 1 at
Sáncð, I think that we face the place and the situation where the shift took
place from the yakŪõ to Máyá. The position within the architectural
ornamentation shows how this image was valued, it is not carved at eye-
level, as it used to be at stąpa 2 or at Bharhut, or on the ground like the
male figures protecting the entrance to the monument and who are there
in charge of the richness. It is, on the contrary, seen at the highest position
in the structure of the entrance, a position which is, as already mentioned,
also presented by the Buddhas of the past in all four porticoes (in the
panel backing the image of the goddess in the southern gateway). As also
evoked above, the goddess is the most closely possible related to cosmic
creativity, and as being the mother of the Buddha of our eon, Máyá reflects
a similar function. Be that as it may, it does not imply that images of the

The Lady under the tree

goddess on the porticoes of stąpa 1, or earlier on the balustrade of stąpa

2, symbolizes the birth of the Buddha as it had been suggested by some
scholars in earlier times. The seated images of ûrð Lakƪmð, which are
distributed on the other porticoes, are rather inscribed in a development
which spread all over North India, from the Jain caves of Khandagiri in
Orissa, up to Pitalkhora in Maharashtra, from the second century B.C. up
to the first century AD.27
Being distributed on the outer façade of the monument, these images
of the lady under the tree face the profane world and seem to emerge from
the religious construction, but if we can try to understand them as an
expression of the power on richness, welfare, fertility, which the religious
space (and thus the religious community) could provide, they most
probably basically reflect the needs of the lay community. The auspicious
nature of these mature women is evidently put into evidence by their

27 For a study of the images of the goddess at that early period, see Coomaraswamy
1929. For further images at Khandagiri: Coomaraswamy 1929: fig.2 and 1931, pl.44.1;
Foucher 1934: pl.IV.15; Viennot 1954: pl.VI.C. Bodhgaya: Coomaraswamy 1929:
fig.15; Foucher 1934, pl.IV.14. Bhárhut: Coomaraswamy 1929: fig.4; Foucher 1934:
pl.II.5–6. Sáncð 2: Coomaraswamy 1929: fig.6; Foucher 1934: pl.III.7–9; Régnier 1998:
55, 154; Taddei 1996: fig.8. Pitalkhora: Rao 1984: pl.116. Junnar: Coomaraswamy
1929: fig.13. Further images of probably the goddess were produced at Chandraketugarh
in Bengal (Bautze 1995: 14–16). Sáncð 1: Foucher 1934: pl. III.11–13.The stretched
right hand is preserved in a number of cases (Coomaraswamy 1929: figs.1, 7, 9–11),
with the hand holding a padma. The standing position seems also to pre-date the seated
one in the iconography of the goddess. Contrarily to Foucher (1934: 2), I would not dare
to say that “not only is there nothing to preclude, but everything to prove that the modern
Hindu Lakshmð started in olden days by being the Buddhist Máyá.” It appears rather that
this image held from the very beginning a specific function in the architectural
ornamentation where it is clearly related to the entrance, above which it is depicted
(nothing can be said about the use of the Chandraketugarh terracottas). Such is its
position at Khandagiri, a Jain site, and at Pitalkhora and Junnar. It holds a similar
situation, on posts of the balustrade and jambs flanking the entrances to stąpa 2 at Sáncð
or on the posts of the Bharhut balustrade, and on the architrave of stąpa 1 at Sáncð. And
being considered the fact that this particular use of the topic is noticed all over north
India from that early period, I would suggest that it must have already been used in
wooden architecture in this particular setting. “Hindu” deities find their sources in the
Brahmanical surrounding out of which Buddhism emerged and developped, and at that
early period, some among them, such as ûrð, SĂrya, Indra / ûakra and Brahmá were
integrated within Buddhist monuments – but clearly always preserving their

Claudine Bautze-Picron

broad hips, narrow waist and large uncovered breast, and simultaneously
refers to sexuality and fertility, which are evidently more concerns of lay
people than of monks. As a matter of fact, their presence around narrative
scenes drawn from the Buddhist lore, contribute to mark the porticoes as
a place of compromise between the needs of the lay and religious
communities; in the structure of the toraŨa, these women are somehow
added to the central elements, i.e. the architraves and the posts which are
carved with scenes drawn from the Buddha’s previous or last lives,
reflecting thus the relation of the lay community lives around the
monastery. The image itself of the woman intertwined around the tree
does not only symbolize the sexual union, but also the moment when the
cosmic pillar emerged out of the chaos and when life spread around it.
Within this perspective, the images of the “woman below / around tree”
would constitute the infinite reflections of this initial differentiation in an
understandable visual vocabulary.28
The type of the yakŪõ with tree is preserved in the first centuries AD,
as seen through images from Bihar for instance.29 Numerous brackets and
posts of vedikè from Mathurá and the region are also known.30 However,
a modification in the relation between the woman and the tree occurs: the
foliage forms a canopy above the woman who hides the trunk, which is
thus no more visible. This contributes to a radical change in the relation
between both of them: neither does the woman wind her leg around the
trunk anymore, nor does she stretch her hand and hold a branch of the
foliage. The composition does not show the assymetry, and thus the
movement, noticed earlier, but tends to become symmetric and more
static; being also no more fully engaged in her relation to the tree, the
woman can hold various attributs, such as water pot, plate with food, or

28 Concerning the cosmic pillar which sustains the differentiation of heaven and

earth, and its use in Buddhism, see Snodgrass 1992: 163–164, 170–177; for the cosmic
tree: Snodgrass 1992: 180–184. See also Viennot 1954: 26–37.
29 Asher / Spink 1989: figs.1–3 and 4–5, two double-sided carvings showing the

woman holding above her head a branch of the blossoming aāoka (?) and the trunk with
the second hand; the tree appears here more to be a creeper.
30 See following notes for the posts. For the brackets, see Asher / Spink 1989:

figs.10–11; a further bracket was found at Sonkh: Stone 1994: fig.172; Koezuka / Miyaji
2000: fig.87.

The Lady under the tree

fruits.31 The next step in the development shows the disappearance of the
tree.32 This change implies a radical transformation of the understanding
of the motif, which does not allude to the arousal of desire any more, but
essentially to abundance and richness being directly drawn from the
These changes take place in the second and third century A.D. and
coincide with the introduction, from the first century A.D., of couples or
mithunas folded in each other’s arms flanking the entrances of Buddhist
monuments in Maharashtra. The motif of the couple can be traced back
to sites of the first century BC, like Kondane or Pitalkhora, where both
characters use to frolick, trying to undress each other, in the upper part of
the façade.33 On the façade of the caitya hall of Karle, on the contrary,
practically all couples are folded in each other’s arms, the man holding
the shoulder of his female companion, who can present a very allusive

31 Compare for instance Coomaraswamy 1928: pls.6.2 to 6.3: the second plate still

illustrates the woman, profiled, and leaning back against the trunk of the tree, only
partly seen at the left of the panel, but otherwise being hidden by the woman who holds
a branch with her left hand. As to the first plate, it shows the woman facing the viewer,
hiding completely the trunk, and holding a necklace with both hands whereas the foliage
spreads in the upper part of the panel. For a second example of “static” composition
from Mathurá, see Vogel 1929: pl.III.b; Coomaraswamy 1931: pl.10.2. Further examples
of a woman standing below the tree and carrying various objects: Coomaraswamy 1931:
pl.2.3; Agrawala 1983: ill.156.
32 Vogel 1929: pl.III.a; Agrawala 1983: ills.154–5, 157–8; Asher / Spink 1989:

figs.12–13; Koezuka / Miyaji 2000: figs.88–89.

33 Rao 1984: pls.106, 110, 119, 120, 122 (pl.105 is an exception with the woman

sitting on the lap of her male companion who holds her waist; see also pl.115); Agrawala
1983: ill.107 (Pitalkhora); Stone 1994: fig.73, Koezuka / Miyaji 2000: fig.188 (Kondane).
Mithunas are already depicted on the posts at the entrance of the fence at Sáñcð 2,
venerating various images, such as the pillar, the tree, the goddess under the elephant
(Agrawala 1983: ills.96–100), at Bodhgayá (Fischer 1979: fig.38; Agrawala 1983:
ills.37–38) where couples play and frolick like at Kondane, and at Bhárhut, particularly
on the side of a post of one of the entrances (Régnier 1998: 17–18; Coomaraswamy
1954, fig.24, and pp.46–47; Fischer 1979: fig.34) in the representation of two previous
lifes of the Buddha. In this case, we can surmise that the rendering of these two tales
which seems quite simplified has been dictated by this particular location (without the
inscription identifying the scenes, the spectator would only see here two couples). As
Agrawala 1983: 34, observes, the concept of the mithuna also emerged in the depiction
of pairs of animals on the vedikè of stąpa 2 at Sáñcð.

Claudine Bautze-Picron

position, the arms being stretched above the head (fig.6).34 On the Karle
panels also, both characters have practically the same size (like at
Pitalkhora or Kondane at an earlier time; or like the images of Bhárhut).
Those carved on the façade of the caitya hall of Kanheri, on the contrary,35
shows the rigidity encountered in the depiction of the door-keepers of
cave 3 at Nasik (Gautamðputra vihèra),36 with the women clearly smaller
than their companions.
Single women are rarely encountered in Andhra Pradesh,37 where
couples are practically generalized on the rectangular slabs having
adorned èyakas. Rarely encountered at Amarávatð, 38 these panels were
found in larger number at Nágárjunakoƞƀa:39 frolicking couples are

34 Rao 1984: pls.144, 146–152; Agrawala 1983: ills.65–66. The arms stretched
above the head, with hands eventually joined and forming like an arch, is a gesture of
seduction, the woman offering herself to her lover, see Bautze 1995: pls.XXX, XXXII.
b – c. In this context, the panel showing four scenes which is preserved in the British
Museum (Knox 1992: cat.61; further references here in note 45, image 3), clearly
includes images of desire (upper right scene, conception) and fecondity resulting from
the expresion of this desire (lower right scene, birth). And a much later period, the queen
is shown as such, both arms stretched above the head, hands clasped together in the
foliage of the tree, in the nativity scene from Nepal illustrated here on fig.18. The gesture
is known as karkaŤahasta or “the gesture of the crab” in dance terminology, and its
function is broadly speaking, as reminded to us by Klaus Fischer (1979: 16), to express
a wide range of confused feelings or of situations, such as the deep ascetic meditation,
tiredness, desire, sufferings, love pains, satisfaction and enjoyment. As also noticed by
Fischer (1979: 17) both arms forming an arch above the head with hands touching each
other, may illustrate the karkaŤahasta and/or the añjalimudrè - such is the case of a
woman at the entrance of the Karle cave (reproduced by Fischer 1979: fig.3, and fig.2
where another similar woman is shown; here fig.6).
35 Koezuka / Miyaji 2000: fig.199.

36 Rao 1984: pls.137–8. Cave dated towards the end of the first century A.D. (Rao

1984: 51).
37 Sivaramamurti 1977: pl.LXI.2; Viennot 1954: pl.V.A: two examples from

Amaravati showing the woman standing, cross-ankled, with one hand on the hip, the
other seizing a branch of the foliage above and behind her head. For another example
from Nagarjunakonda, see Stone 1994: fig.282.
38 Knox 1992, cat.55: 114–5, cat.57–58: 116–8; Sivaramamurti 1977: pl.LIX.1;

Stone 1994: figs.49–50, 69, 74–75.

39 Stone 1994: figs.33–34, 36–37, 41–42, 64–66, 79–80, 83, 88, 127–132, 158–

159, 168–171, 176, 181, 195–197, 199–200, 203–215, 221, 257, 259, 260, 263–264.

The Lady under the tree

depicted between the narrative panels and, in large size, at both extremities
of the slabs, reflecting the understanding of the topic seen in the caves of
Maharashtra, i.e. as flanking the passage to the sacred space, which is, in
the case of the sculptures from Andhra Pradesh, not an architectural space
within which one enters, but the depiction of narratives drawn from the
previous or last lifes of the Buddha (within which one penetrates in order
to read the story). As such also, single women are carved in Gandhára at
the same period (see below). As single women under a tree, or flanked by
a male companion, these images simultaneously betray apotropaic and
auspicious functions towards a place of transition between two spaces,
here the sacred and the profane world, functions which will be inherited
in later times by erotic scenes in temple architecture.40
Thus we noticed that from the second half of the first century A.D.
and onwards at Mathurá, the woman does not show anymore the intime
relationship which she used to have with the tree at an earlier period, and
that in Maharashtra, embracing couples are introduced at eye-level on the
façade, a transformation of the “woman iconography” which strongly
sustains the interpretation given above, i.e. the woman and the tree – when
she is intertwined around it, constitute a symbolised image of the coitus.41

40 Concerning the subject, consult Meister 1979 (and the references included in his
footnotes); concerning the gateway as a place of religious symbolism, see Grimes 1987.
However, it might be possible that the introduction of mithunas in the ornamentation of
the gateway, contributed to express the idea of the co-existence of sacred and profane
spaces side by side, just like man and woman stand side by side. In the circumambulation,
the sacred monument is always at the right, i.e. the profane space is spread all around at
the left of this monument, and in the representation of (married) couple, the woman
stands / sits at the left of her companion who occupies thus the most sacred position, at
her right.
41 As Agrawala 1983: 31, writes “the pair of male and female stands as an exemplary

model of the creation and its fertility. There is also associated with it some apotropaic
quality as all symbols of beauty and weal [sic, read: wealth] are supposed to convey
through them,” or again on p.43: “it is the dualism of the male and the female that
constitute the Mithuna nature. They are the universal male and the universal female
complementary to each other; accordingly, the presence of the one suggests the
corresponding presence of the other, for each of them alone is ‘incomplete’ and represents
only a half or a fragment of the complete Mithuna....” However, I would here object that
at an earlier period, like at Bhárhut or Sáncð 2, the woman is depicted only apparently
alone, the tree constitutes then and there the image of the complementary “missing”

Claudine Bautze-Picron

But on the other hand, the disappareance of the tree, and as observed at
Mathurá, the rendering of the “woman motif” in a manner which is more
and more mundane, as well as the introduction of the more or less taller
male character at her side imply that her function as provider of fertility
and abundance is fading, and that it has eventually to be shared with a
male companion. Even though we do not have visual examples showing
the birth of the Buddha in the region, we should not neglect the fact that
this is precisely the period when this topic was introduced in Buddhist
iconography in the Northwest (see below), and possibly, this scene acted
not only as part of the illustration of the Buddha’s biography but as the
best possible depiction of (cosmic) creativity and fertility, pushing back
all other ways of illustrating them. The topic of desire and fertility reduces
itself to the depiction of mundane couples, the tree is progressively
expelled from the image, the power of creation generated by women is
taken away from them and shared by men, and Máyá appears like an
eternal virgin hiding the trunk of the tree when she gives birth to her son,
her function is not anymore to arouse desire, she is reduced to the sole
consequence of being the mother of the Buddha.42
The “woman under the tree” type has also been introduced in the art
of the Northwest in the course of the Kuƪáƞa period.43 She stands cross-
ankled, one hand on the hip, one holding a branch of the foliage forming
a canopy above her, whereas the trunk of the tree is invisible – being

male. Agrawala 1983: 9, himself reminds that “the aspect of progenition happens to be
more obvious and directly connected with the female sex”, which would account for the
overwhelming presence of the female in the earliest period, but the non-representation
of the male directly at her side, does not imply that he is altogether ignored: the tree is
there to act symbolically as image of the phallus, and Agrawala himself speaks of the
“incomplete mithuna”, listing all motifs which fulfill this symbolic function of replacing
the image of the man (1983: 43ff.).
42 She was even not active in the procreation of the child, since it did not take place

because of the arousal of desire in her husband, and since, moreover, she slept at the
moment of being penetrated by her own son. Being pregnant of the future Buddha,
Máyá (or the mother of any other Buddha) renounces all desire and sexual pleasure
(Roth 1957: 108, note 40, and 112): “the mothers of all Buddhas are always pure” (Roth
1957: 108, note 40, quoting a Chinese translation).
43 Foucher 1905: fig.106 (see also Vogel 1929: 229, concerning the images from

Nathu monastery); Vogel 1929: pl.II.b; Viennot 1954: pl.IV.B

The Lady under the tree

hidden behind her. These images were carved on flat pilasters separating
niches with narrative scenes, and as such they were also noted on a relief
from Mathurá where they are depicted with alternating left and right arm
being stretched;44 their position on flat pillars underlines their function of
protecting the sacred space (here the reliefs). Couples are most rarely
encountered – and even the woman alone does not constitute a generalized
topic in the monasteries of the region, a situation which, related to the
rather stiffness of the rendering of the woman standing below the tree, or
to her isolation on flat pilasters between scenes devoted to the Buddha’s
life, betrays a secondary attention to the topic, inspired by the ornamentation
of monuments in India at the same period. Clearly, the motif is not “at
home” in Gandhára where the iconography of fertility and creativity will
be fundamentally resumed by the images of Máyá giving birth to the
Buddha and of Hárðtð (below). Although it is possible to provide a
“practical” or realistic explanation for this fact, it is, nonetheless, striking
to notice that the female body remains by large hidden behind heavy
layers of clothes in the Northwest. On the whole, here more than anywhere
in India, independant female images are practically expelled from the
architectural ornamentation.

3. Máyá under the tree in Gandhára, Kuƪáƞa period

Whereas this shift is noticed in the iconography of fertility, which
introduces the image of the man at a pre-eminent position and forces the
woman to share her space with him on the one side, and whereas the
relation between the woman and the tree is modified on the other side, the
proper image of the birth of the future Buddha emerges. It drew its central
and fundamental part from the earlier “lady under the tree” model, and
preserved it all through Asia till the most recent times.
A major difference is noticed between the images from Gandhára and
those from India proper: the queen stands in front of the tree, right below
the foliage and hides thus completely the trunk in the Northwest (figs.7-

44 Agrawala 1983: ill.152 (Banerji 1930: 105, ill.). This alternating position is also
noted in the caryatids from Nathu (see Vogel 1929: 229), and helps to define these
images as pairs flanking particular scenes, thus sharing this function with the images
actually carved in the round at the porticoes of Sáñcð for instance.

Claudine Bautze-Picron

8) while she only does it partly, if at all, in India,45 a position which

relates her more directly to the earlier “woman under the tree” type, and
which underlines the “Indian” component of her iconography. Like this
woman also, the legs of Máyá are usually cross-ankled in Gandhára as
well as in India proper. The baby arises out of the right side of his mother,
being received and venerated by various gods, while female attendants
stand on her left: this pattern is generalized in the Northwest and only
rarely avoided in Andhra Pradesh.46 The tradition introduced in Gandhára
of having Sakka (Skt. ûakra) / Indra first alone, and then in the company
of Brahmá standing at the right of the queen whereas a female attendant
usually identified with Máyá’s sister Maháprajápatð,47 sustains her at her
left, will be inherited in later Buddhist art. Further characters, male and
female, can be added to the central group, distributed at the right and the
left respectively of the queen, which contributes to the partition of the
image in two parts, female at the proper left and male at the proper right,48

45 See the following examples: 1) Kaushambi (Quagliotti 2002: fig.1), where the
queen is practically profiled at the side of the trunk; 2) Kaushambi (Chandra 1970,
cat.74: pl.XXIX – here fig.9): in these two examples from Kaushambi, the degree of
relationship between the queen and the tree is identical to the one noted in the images of
the “normal” woman with tree; 3) Amarávatð (Knox 1992, cat.61: 121; Viennot 1954:
pl.VIII.D; The Way 1956: §II, fig.16 on p.34; Stone 1994: fig.189; Quagliotti 1998:
fig.5; Koezuka / Miyaji 2000: pl.112); 4) Amarávatð (Knox 1992, cat.41: 100, Quagliotti
1998: fig.7); 5) Nágárjunakoƞƀa (Viennot 1954: pl.VIII.C; The Way 1956: §II, fig.23 on
p.39; Stone 1994: fig.188; Quagliotti 1998: fig.6); 6) Nágárjunakoƞƀa (Stone 1994:
fig.210; Quagliotti 1998: fig.8). In all examples, the trunk is completely or partly seen.
46 Examples 1 and 5 of the previous notes inverse the distribution of the male and

female attendants, with the female ones seen at the right or around the queen and the
four guardians of space at her left.
47 Foucher 1905: 301; Quagliotti 1998: 260. Concerning the scene in Gandhára,

see Foucher 1905: 300–305.

48 See also the examples from Andhra Pradesh quoted in note 45, the fifth example

being apparently the only exception. On the identification and function of the women
attending to the birth, see Quagliotti 1998: 259–262; the authoress identifies them in
Andhra Pradesh and Gandhára as servants holding various regalia, a jar of water, a
brazier, a club, a palm-branch, etc which are used in specific rituals. Foucher 1905: 301
already observed that female attendants were introduced at the left of the queen,
contrebalancing the presence of the male gods at her right. Similar observations were
already made in another cultural context by Hertz 1928: 91, and more recently by
McManus 2002: 27 and 38 (quoting inter alia Freud; for a lenghty quote of Freud from

The Lady under the tree

a composition which is here established for the first time and which will
remain a permanent feature in the structure of the image in all aspects of
Indian art in the following centuries. Without going more in detail into
this aspect – which would be beyond the limits imposed to the present
study, we should remind that the position of the child, i.e. of the embryo,
finds its justification within this frame: the right side is traditionally the
“better” side as attested not only in India but in most cultures, and in
Buddhist embryology, the male embryo is said to curl up on the right side
of the mother’s womb, the female on the left while milk first appears in
the right breast for the boy, in the left one for the girl.49 Sustaining this
interpretation of the composition, we notice that the queen grasps the
foliage above her with the right hand, stretching herself towards heaven,
i.e. higher levels, the nature of which is also loaded with a more positive
connotation than the earth, positioned at a lower level.50
This composition is observed at the same period and in the early
Gupta period in the art of Mathurá: the queen stands below the foliage of
the tree, the trunk of which is hidden behind her, whereas her sister attends
to her at her left and Indra welcomes the newborn at her right. This triad,
where the attendants are practically of the same size, occurs on a rare
number of carvings where the scene is integrated to a larger set of scenes
depicting the life of the Buddha (figs 12-13).51 Two pairs are here formed,
Indra / Sakka and the child, Máyá and her sister, reproducing the
distribution of genders noticed in Gandhára.
Máyá is initially a “woman under the tree,” and as such she is
represented in pre- or an-iconic Indian art, particularly in the early ex-
amples from Kaushambi (fig.9). Within the context of the birth scene, the
presence of her image reflects the assimilation by the male monastery of

his “Interpretation of Dreams”, see the hyperlink

pdf/NOTES2.PDF under note 2.27).
49 Young 2004: 59; Fischer 1984: 250 (with further references).

50 Hertz 1928: 91. Further images of Máyá with the right hand grasping the foliage

are reproduced by Kurita 2003: pls.V–VI, figs.31–43.

51 Bautze-Picron 2002: 212. 1) Sharma 1995: fig.168 (Koezuka /Miyaji 2000:

pl.77; Parimoo 1982: fig.88) – here fig.12. 2) Sharma 1995: fig.169 (Koezuka / Miyaji
2000: pl.78) (Kuƪáƞa period). 3) Parimoo 1982: fig.25 (Williams 1975: fig.13a; Koezuka
/ Miyaji 2000: fig.148) (early Gupta period) – here fig.13.

Claudine Bautze-Picron

a power of creation initially possessed by female divine beings. In the

particular context of Gandhára, this image of the auspicious fertile female
led to the practical disappearance of any other ornamental female images
on the wall of the monasteries while in India proper, the iconography of
fertility in the Kuƪáƞa and Gupta period preserved a major position in the
architectural ornamentation.52 What was then observed in Gandhára, was
a radical shift in the iconography of fertility, with the introduction of
dionysiac scenes where male figures held a more important position than
their female companions.53
Another category of cult images of fertility in the region shows either
Háritð surrounded by children, alone, or accompanied by her companion
Pañcika (whoever he can be and whatever the name given to him).54 The
fundamental nature of the image “woman under the tree” can be here
appreciated, since these two types of images more clearly express the
idea of “mother and child” than the preserved model with the tree could
ever do it.55 And as suggested above, it is likely that the shift from
“woman under the tree” to “Máyá under the tree” took place at sites like
Sáñcð or Kaushambi, where the initial visual model is clearly dis-

4. Mandháta, the cakravartin, Andhra Pradesh

Fertility is thus a major concern of female characters, divine or human.
However, in a symmetric position, male characters such as yakŪas are
related to the function of acquiring material richness and / or of actually
protecting the monument. This type of image occupies an overwhelming

52 Under various aspects: fluvial goddesses, woman with male companion, etc.
53 On the topic, see the various articles by Martha L. Carter.
54 On the topic, see the various papers by Anna Maria Quagliotti (1999/2000;

2003). Images of the queen holding the baby are also, but rarely, encountered, and
always in a narrative context, i.e. when they go back to Kapilavastu, see Kurita 2003:
pl.IX, figs.59–60.
55 The couple related to fertility is often addorsed at a tree, a motif which only but

rarely penetrated the art of Andhra Pradesh, see Knox 1992, cat.55: 114, for the
identification (above note 38 for further references). For the mango tree in this
iconography, consult Quagliotti 2003: 250–251.
56 Above notes 26 and 45.

The Lady under the tree

position in Indian culture, and, as such, is encountered in Buddhism.

Nonetheless, a particular way of illustrating the acquisition of material
richness through a male and relating it to a state of spiritual fruition
emerged at an early period in Buddhist art of Andhra Pradesh.
In one of his previous lifes, the future Buddha was a cakravartin ruler
named Mandháta who, we are told in jètaka 258, “was endowed with the
Seven Precious Things and the Four Supernatural Powers; and he was a
great monarch. When he clenched his left hand and then touched it with
his right, there fell a rain of seven kinds of jewels, knee-deep, as though
a celestial rain-cloud had arisen in the sky; so wondrous a man he was.”57
This became a commonly met with topic in the valley of the Krishna,
where its numerous images are all elaborated on the same structure: the
king stands in the centre of the composition, the right arm stretched
towards the sky and the clenched left hand in front of the breast. The
seven jewels which he owns are distributed around him whereas coins
can be incised in the background (figs.10–11).58 Worth mentioning is the
position of the cakravartin’s wife on the panels from Amarávatð, standing
at his side in a position which often reproduces the one of the woman
under the tree, i.e. one arm turned upwards above the head, or one on the
hip, while being accompanied by a servant on whom she can lean.
The figure is evidently source of richness like the lady with tree is
source of fertility (thus reverting to the traditional pattern of having the
male responsible for the acquisition or development of material richness
whereas the female stands for the fertility and fecondity of the nature).
And like this woman hangs at the tree which fertilizes her, the king
stretches his right hand towards the sky before touching with it his left
hand, which provokes a “rain of seven kinds of jewels”. These seven
jewels are testimony to the nature of the king as cakravartin; their presence

57 Cowell 1990, II: 216–218 (for the citation see 216). Also told by Sivaramamurti
1977: 223.
58 From Jaggayyapeta: Rao 1984: pl.310 (Koezuka / Miyaji 2000: fig.106). From

Vemavaram: Okada 2000: cat.13 (with further references). From Amarávatð: 1) Knox
1992, cat.62: 122–123 (Rao 1984: pl.158); 2) ibid., cat.101 (front and reverse) pp.181–
183 (Rao 1984: pl.164); 3) ibid., cat.102: 184 (Rao 1984: pl.168); 4) Sivaramamurti
1977: pl.XXXIII.1 (Rao 1984: 226). From Nágárjunakoƞƀa: 1) Stone 1994: fig.146; 2)
ibid., fig.198; 3) ibid., fig.202 (Rao 1984: pl.384).

Claudine Bautze-Picron

insures the presence of welfare, abundance, peace in the kingdom, and

before, in the sense of spiritual precedence, or after, in the chronology of
events, Mandháta, it is ûákyamuni who owns the seven treasures which
appeared at the precise moment of his birth as told in the Nidánakathá:
“At the time as our Bodhisatta was born in the Lumbinð Grove, Ráhula’s
mother the queen, Channa the minister, Káludáyð the minister, the lordly
elephant of high bree, the royal horse Kanthaka, the great Bodhi tree and
the four treasure-urns, also came into being.”59 We recognize here the
three human characters and the two animals belonging to the set of the
seven jewels, whereas the jewel and the disk are replaced by the tree and
four jars of plenty.60
In these two examples, the seven jewels appear in the context of a
birth or of creation: the birth of ûákyamuni, and the abundance of richness
which belongs to the rule of a cakravartin. To sum up, as far as we are
concerned with the visual formulation of the topic, Mandháta stands with
one hand stretched towards the sky – where the woman had it towards the
foliage, and somehow holds the jewels from the sky when he brings this
hand down on his left one. Considering the later images of Avalokiteüvara
standing below the tree analysed below, we cannot fail to underline the
stretched position of one arm of the bodhisattva, sustaining the tree which
is adorned with the presence of the seven jewels.

5. Máyá under the tree, from the fourth up to the eighth century
The conception which had been a main topic in the early centuries of
Buddhist art history, disappears now from the visual field,61 and the life

59 Jayawickrama 1990: 71–72.

60Viennot 1954: 134, referring to Émile Sénart who had recognized in this list part
of the seven jewels of the cakravartin. The list is also mentioned in the Lalitavistara
(Viennot, ibid.). Concerning the seven jewels, see Armelin 1975: 12, and note 40. For
the cakravartin, see the same and Nanayakkara 1977: 594–596 (and 595 for the
61 Two last examples are still provided on the sculptures 1 and 2 quoted in the

following note. Other secondary events related to the birth are eventually seen on these
images, drawing again their inspiration from Gandhára. But on the whole, a strong
tendency towards iconism is here perceptible, with all secondary characters disappearing
from the composition.

The Lady under the tree

of the Buddha is depicted as a whole through a set of four or eight events

on fifth century sculptures from Sárnáth. Specific events can also be the
object of isolated images.
Whereas the concept of having scenes superimposed on each other
can be probably traced back to the art of Andhra Pradesh, the composition
of the scene showing the birth is borrowed from the Northwest: the queen
stands below the tree, hiding its trunk, attended by her sister whereas the
newborn child is received by Indra. As such, the scene is integrated at the
lower level of the image (fig.14).62 Simultaneously to the tendency of
abandoning the narrative model for an iconic rendering of the subject – a
tendency which is noted in the representation of any moment of the
Buddha’s life on these panels –, a clear structure emerges, with four
superimposed panels illustrating the four major moments of this life, as
those were already seen, side by side, on an early Gupta relief mentioned
above (fig.13).63
The birth is always depicted in the lower part of the image, right
below the enlightenment, the first sermon and the decease, introducing a
composition inherited in the following centuries by the artists of Eastern
India. A chronological development is thus illustrated here, starting with
the birth and culminating with the parinirvèŨa. The presence of the birth
in the lower part of the image relates also directly this moment to our
world: the lowest part of the image is the most terrestrial or material, the
less valuable one, and integrates also our plane of existence while the
highest level is also the most spiritual or divine.64 The birth scene is thus

62 1) Williams 1975: fig.1 (and p.191, 3rd quarter of the 5th c. or earlier) (Parimoo

1982: fig.89; The Way 1956: §II, fig.4, p.28); 2) Williams 1975: fig.2 (Parimoo 1982:
fig.90); 3) Williams 1975: fig.5 (Parimoo 1982: fig.92; Koezuka / Miyaji 2000: fig.153);
4) Williams 1975: fig.4 (Banerji 1954, fig.1; Parimoo 1982: fig.91); 5) Williams 1975:
fig.9 (Banerji 1954: fig.3; Parimoo 1982: fig.95; The Way 1956: §II, fig.3, p.28); 6)
Williams 1975: fig.3 (and p.191: 7th – 8th c.)(Banerji 1954: fig.2; Parimoo 1982: fig.94;
Koezuka / Miyaji 2000: fig.166).
63 Mentioned in note 51, 2). Of course, these are the four moments mentioned in

the MahèparinirvèŨasątra (MahèparinibbèŨa-suttanta), i.e. the birth, the enlightenment,

the first sermon and the final decease (Bautze-Picron 2003: 15).
64 Bautze-Picron 1986, concerning the structure of the image, the ornamentation

and its meaning, and 1995, concerning specific motifs distributed on rectangular slabs
or in the lower part of the slab.

Claudine Bautze-Picron

at human level and stands directly upon the earth (there is no other scene
below it), because the queen below the tree is like the yakŪõ below the
tree, she has preserved from this character whose image was the model to
her own, the basic function of contributing actively to the fertility of
nature, i.e. of integrating the chthonic powers lying beneath. The scene
reflects also the creation which unfolds in the upper levels of these
sculptures. (And being also at earth level, this image holds a transitory
position between the world outside the image and the image as such.)
Buddhist images of the fourth and fifth centuries mainly depict male
characters, and it might also be that the position allocated to the queen, in
the lower part of the sculpture, reflects the tendency of pushing her in the
background or, at least, at a lower position, at a period and at a site,
Sárnáth, where the Buddha integrates the feminine in himself.65 However,
reconsidering the fact that in most cases, Máyá holds the central position
in the lower scene, I would suggest that she owns the crucial position of
transition between the materiality of the earth and the spirituality reflected
by the Buddha’s life, like the yakŪõs used to stand at the treshold between
the sacred and profane spaces.

6. Máyá under the tree, after the eighth century, Eastern India
Among the Sárnáth images, one includes eight and not four scenes,
introducing thus a set which is generalized in Bihar from the eighth
century and onwards, before spreading towards the East.66 The Jagdishpur
image, near Nálandá,67 is the largest surviving sculpture illustrating those
eight events, and it must have served as a model for a very large number
of images, including twelfth and thirteenth centuries Burmese carvings,

65 For instance: The Way 1956: §V, fig.10, p.192.

66 Above note 62, image 6.
67 This large image has a very intricated iconographic program, which goes beyond

the set of the eight great events, since it includes also the five Tathágatas, the eight great
Bodhisattvas, two aspects of Márðcð, a detailed rendering of the attack and attempt at
seducing the Buddha by Mára, and the seven jewels. For total or partial views, see
Leoshko 1992/93: figs.2, 4–7; Bautze-Picron 1995/96: figs.23a–c; 1996: figs.13–16;
1997: figs.20–21; 2001b: figs.10–13.

The Lady under the tree

votive seals (fig. 35) and murals at Pagan;68 the same program occurs on
twelfth century sculpture from eastern Bengal69 and on cloth paintings,
becoming as such a topic in Tibetan art. 70
In this type of images, the “eight great events” are organized in a
fixed composition where the birth scene is depicted in the lower part,
forming a pair with the offering of the madhu by the monkey at Vaiüálð.
Seven scenes are distributed around the main scene, i.e. the enlightenment
– examples with another scene in the centre being extremely rare.
Similarly, the proportion of sculptures showing the enlightenment alone
is higher than of images illustrating any other event.71

68 It is striking that most Indian images introduce the birth scene at the right of the
central image of the Buddha whereas the artists reversed this distribution on the
Jagdishpur image, and as such, i.e. with the birth scene at the left of the Buddha, it is
encountered in non-Indian illustrations of the eight scenes. For the “andagu” slabs, see
Bautze-Picron 1999a, and Bautze-Picron 2003: 14, note 48 (quoted on p.211); for the
murals, see Bautze-Picron 2003: figs.2–4 and 8–12; and for examples of sealings: Luce
1969–70: III, pls.70–71 (the examples on pl.71 are similar to the one published here).
Fragments from a second large image depicting the same topic, including the birth
scene, were collected at Lakhi Sarai, they are preserved at the Indian Museum and in a
private collection: see Bautze-Picron 1991/92: figs.4a–b and 256 “A.4”; and 1996:
figs.18–22 and 125–128; see also Foucher 1934: pl.VI.3.
69 Bautze-Picron 1992a: the image at Betagi was again, and better, reproduced in

Bautze-Picron 1995/96: figs.15, 22a–b; 1996: figs.22–26.

70 On the relevant bibliography, see Bautze-Picron 1995/96, and 2003: 211,

note 44.
71 The number of images is fairly large; hence, only some of them will be here

refered to (for further references on the topic, consult Bautze-Picron 1992b: 25, §29,
Bautze-Picron 2003: 211, note 42; see Parimoo 1982: figs.96–102. The only
bibliographical references to be quoted here are those directly relevant to the topic of the
Buddha’s life, those including more than one mentioned image, or quoted elsewhere in
this paper). From Nalanda: 1) Banerji 1933: pl.XXII.a (Banerji 1930: fig. on p.104); 2)
Misra 1998, vol.3: fig.41 (Banerji 1933: pl.XXIV.e); 3) Parimoo 1982: frontispice and
fig.96 (Misra 1998, vol.3: fig.43; Snellgrove 1978: fig.208; Paul 1987: fig.71). 4) Neg.
Archaeological Survey of India, Calcutta: 443/456. 5) From unknown origin, but most
probably Nálandá: Menzies 2001, cat.34 (further reference in Bautze-Picron 1999a: 50,
appendix 46) (detail, here fig.19). 6) Standing crowned Buddha: Bharat Kala Bhavan
inv.21866 (Bénisti 1981, II: fig.101; Parimoo 1982: fig.101; here: fig.20). The set can
also be distributed on the drum of votive stąpas, see for instance the birth scene on such
a bronze image from Nálandá: Misra 1998, vol.3: fig.64/1, p.271, or Bangdel 1987:

Claudine Bautze-Picron

As far as the birth scene is concerned, only a very limited number of

examples of this iconography can be listed, most of them dated in the
ninth and tenth centuries. Two groups of images can broadly be
distinguished in Bihar, which relate to two sites only separated by the
Rajgir hills, i.e. Kurkihar, south of the hills,72 and Nálandá, north of
them,73 respectively. The Kurkihar group (fig.15) shows the queen being
attended by Indra and a female servant; the god presents the standing
newborn child, naked or dressed like a Buddha already. The god is not
properly depicted as welcoming the child but rather as presenting him, as
it is already observed on a earlier image from Mathurá (fig.13).
The second group is centred on Nálandá, and apart from the exception
of a bronze which reproduces the Kurkihar model – but without the female
attendant (fig.16), it shows a different rendering of the topic. As a matter
of fact, the panel in the lower right corner of the Jagdishpur large sculpture
(fig.17) and a free-standing sculpture (fig.18) include a depiction of Viƪƞu
beside Indra and Brahmá.74 The Nálandá images depict also twice the
newborn child: first, emerging from the side of his mother and shown as

72 1) The Brooklyn Museum, New York, Gift of the Charles E.Bloom Foundation
in Memory of Charles and Mildred Bloom, inv.85.223.2. Ref.: Parke-Bernet 21.10.1965,
cat.68; Oriental Art, XXXI,3, 1985: 232; Artibus Asiae, XLVI, 3, 1985: unnumbered
page at the end of the issue; Huntington / Huntington 1990, cat.11.
2) The Newark Museum, inv.65.43. Ref.: Olson 1966; Indian Buddhist Sculptures 1968,
cat.39; Reynolds 1970, cat.4; Heston 1989: 123, fig.72; Menzies 2001, cat.1.
3) The Cleveland Museum of Art, John L. Severance Fund, inv.59.349. Ref.: Boger /
DeOreo 1985: 38, fig.20.
4) Indian Museum inv.B.G.50. See Banerji 1933: pl.XXV.a; on the provenance said by
Banerji to be Bodhgayá (hence also the, consult Anderson 1883: 43: “the history
of this sculpture is unknown, but it is probably from Buddha Gayá.”
73 1) Bronze. National Museum, New Delhi, inv.66.168. Ref.: Misra 1998, vol.3:

fig.40 (Saraswati 1977: ill.193; Ray, et alii 1986: ill.97); here: fig.16.
2) Stone sculpture. Indian Museum, Calcutta, inv.A24254/8670. Ref.: Misra 1998,
vol.2: fig.98, and vol.3: fig.38 (Annual Report 1930–34: pl. CXXXI.a and p.350 n°481;
Huntington 1984: fig.128; The Way 1956: §II, fig.26 (p.40).
3) Stone sculpture, Ghosravan, in situ. Ref.: Bautze-Picron 1996: fig.12.
74 Which is not surprising, see Bautze-Picron 1996 for a study of the presence of

Hindu gods and goddesses in images of the Buddha, in particular fig. 14 showing the
descent from heaven of the 33 gods on the same Jagdishpur sculpture (with SĂrya and
ûiva beside Brahmá and Indra, Bautze-Picron 1996: 116).

The Lady under the tree

if flying, and second, standing upon a pile of seven lotuses which remind
of the first seven steps. On the images depicting the eight great events, the
reduced space may impose a simplification of the scene: Máyá stands
alone under the tree with the child emerging from her right side; only the
seven superimposed lotus or a jar of abundance are carved below the
future Buddha.
Being the initial scene in the set of eight great events, the birth is also
reproduced in manuscripts of the eleventh and twelfth centuries illustrating
this biographical topic (fig.22); it can likewise be seen on book covers
(fig.24). 75 Painted and carved images were used, as we shall see hereafter,
as models in the representation of a specific aspect of the Tárá and

75 Bautze-Picron 1996: 133, note 21, lists six painted examples of the birth where
only Indra appears (add to the first reference: Stooke 1948: ill. on p.6; and to the fifth
one: Menzies 2001, cat.17); further representations are seen on a book-cover preserved
at the Rietberg Museum, Zürich (unpublished scene; see Asiatische Malerei 1994: 12–
13) (regnal year 13 of Madanapála), on two badly damaged folios in The County
Museum of Los Angeles (Pal 1993, cat.1 [regnal year 27 of Mahðpála] and cat.3 [regnal
year 14 of Nayapála]: 50–53, 56–57), on a folio of a manuscript dated in the regnal year
6 of Mahðpála (Das Gupta 1972: fig.12; Saraswati 1977: ill.252; Pal / Meech-Pekarik
1988: fig.14); on a folio in a manuscript dated in the regnal year 5 of Mahðpála (Foucher
1900: pl.X.3; Zwalf 1985: cat.155, ill. on p.117; Pal / Meech-Pekarik 1988: fig.15). To
these we shall add paintings where Brahmá and Indra are depicted:
1) illumination in a manuscript preserved at the Asia Society, New York, dated in
Gopála IV’s reign, year 8. See Bautze-Picron 1999b: 182–183 concerning the two
periods during which the paintings were made, includes further references of publication;
here fig.22;
2) book-cover preserved in The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, dated in Gopála IV’s
reign, year 4. See Bautze-Picron 1996: 116; various illustrations of both covers in
Coomaraswamy 1923: pl.XXXII; Sawamura 1926: pl.11; Bautze-Picron 2000: figs.11–
14, Pal 1988: fig.22. Here fig.24 (for the birth) and figs.23, 25–28 for other views of
both book-covers. A green-skinned god flies from heaven together with Brahmá, a blue-
skinned one stands with Indra on either side of the standing newborn; both depict most
probably ûiva and Viƪƞu, but due to the poor state of conservation of the painting at
those places, a more definite identification is made impossible.
3) Nepalese book-cover preserved in The Metropolitan Museum, New York. See Lerner
1984, cat. 30: 86–89; Pal 1988: fig.7.

Claudine Bautze-Picron

7. The Tárá
Within the context of the Buddha’s iconography, the topic of the birth
found a secondary position, as mentioned above, when it became part of
a sequence where it could be simplified to its utmost basic expression, i.e.
the tree, the mother grasping the foliage and the child emerging from her
right side, or when it is rarely depicted as an independent image. However,
an interesting change occurs in this iconography. Máyá lets often her left
hand hovering at the level of her left hip, but in some cases, she holds the
extremity of her shawl (fig.16),76 or a flower. On the Jagdishpur image,
she apparently holds a flower (of the aāoka ? under which she stands)
(fig.17), on another sculpture from Nálandá (fig.18), the identification is
not very evident but on all other examples, she has a flower the shape of
which reminds of the utpala (figs.19–20).77 Similarly, the queen holds
the utpala together with a mango bunch attached to the aāoka tree on the
sculpture from Deo Patan (fig.21).
Within the rich Buddhist pantheon of the period, one female deity has
for constant attribute the utpala, i.e. the Tárá. Her most representation
shows her standing or seated, the right hand usually displaying the gesture
of bestowal, the left one holding the utpala; she is usually green-skinned
as we see, for instance, on the book-cover dated in the regnal year 4 of
Gopála IV, i.e. around 1134, (fig.23) where she forms a pair with Máyá
(fig.24),78 both flanking a dramatic depiction of the enlightenment
(fig.27): as a matter of fact, both stand below an umbrella and an aāoka
tree, both share a similar position, but seen symmetrically, both are
attended by figures whose distribution is also similar on both panels;
whereas the Tárá is green and leans on a pale-skinned attendant, Máyá is
pale-skinned and leans on her green-skinned sister. The representation of
the Tárá is clearly based here on the image of Máyá.
As such, this pair occurs also on the pedestal of a standing image of
the Buddha surrounded by depictions of the eight great events.79 Without

76Images 1 and 3 in note 72.

77Images 2, 5, 6 in note 71.
78 Bautze-Picron 2000: pls.7.11–12 and p.112.

79 Bautze-Picron 2000: pls.7.15–17, and note 77 for further references; Menzies

2001, cat.36.

The Lady under the tree

dwelling too heavily on the understanding which can be suggested for

this particular position within the image – where clearly the only two
female characters present within the whole image seem to support the
sculpture, but where also their depiction is tiny when compared to the
different images of the Buddha seen above them, we should only mention
that this simultaneous presence remains a unique example in stone
sculpture and reflects concepts which mainly surfaced in illuminated
The full assimilation of the visual pattern of the birth by the image of
the Tárá is not only seen on the Boston book-cover mentioned above, but
is also shown on two stone images from Orissa80 and on one of the covers
from another pair preserved in Los Angeles where the goddess is depicted
in the panel on the extreme right (fig. 30). She stands there like Máyá,
cross-legged, supported by a female attendant, looking at her right as if
she was watching the newborn. However, the artist was well aware that
he was not painting the birth, because a careful attention paid to this panel
allows to see that he omitted a major motif which is an indispensable part
of this iconography, i.e. the tree, replaced by an umbrella. Another
depiction of the Tárá occupies the symmetric panel in the left corner,
showing her standing and argumenting with the attendants (fig.29).81
The relation between the central scene of the enlightenment, and the
side scenes is evident on both book-covers from Boston since no other
“event” drawn from ûákyamuni’s life is depicted apart from the birth and
the enlightenment (figs.24, 27). It is, indeed, likely that these two particular
events should not be actually understood as being part of the depiction of
the life, but rather that they share the symbolic function of alluding, partly
or in toto, to the birth of a Buddha from the Tárá. As a matter of fact,
literary sources extoll the Tárá as being the “Mother” of (all) Buddhas,
the “Mother” of Mañjughoƪa, and even the “Mother” of the Prajñápáramitá
with whom she can be identified.82 A step further is reached in the

80 Donaldson 2001: figs.289–90.

81 Bautze-Picron 2000: pls.7.6 (left panel) and 7.10 (right panel), and p.111.
82 Arènes 1996: 106–107; further references in Bautze-Picron 2000: 123, note 79.

A critical review of Western sources having made use, at times exaggerated, of the term
“mother”, is to be found in Arènes 1996: 101ff., and Kinnard 1999: 123ff.

Claudine Bautze-Picron

GaƞƀavyĂhasĂtra where “Máyádevð [is] the Mother of all the Tathágatas,

beginning with Vairocana himself.”83
The penetration in each of the two panels showing the Tárá and Máyá,
of elements reminding of the other one is thus a logic and well-thought
off procedure, and fosters the identification of Máyá with the Tárá, or
vice-versa. The birth of a Buddha takes place when he sits below the tree
of “his enlightenment”, then at this very moment, the Buddha arises out
of the Bodhisattva, and is thus born.
Two further panels are introduced at both extremities with depictions
of Mañjuürð and the Tárá, both of them seated and teaching to a crowd of
Bodhisattvas and Buddhas (figs.25–26), the first one behind the standing
Tárá, the second one behind the birth scene. Both of them act here as
parental figures. As a matter of fact, the Bodhisattva is here perceived as
being “in the religion of the Buddha the father and mother [of all
buddhas].”84 “Mañjuürð is the errorless comprehension of the character of
bodhicitta, the birthplace of all the Buddhas. For this reason, he is the
mother of all the Sugatas, the sole path of the Jinas.”85 Both, the Tárá and
Mañjuürð sit and preach, displaying their function of “father and mother”
of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas who listen to them; their function of
giving birth is symbolized by the pair Máyá / Tárá standing below the
aāoka tree, and the birth itself of the Buddha out of his previous state of
Bodhisattva is illustrated through the dramatic conflict between Mára and
The central field of the second Boston book-cover includes a
representation of the seated Prajñápáramitá who teaches to the Buddhas
of the past and to Maitreya distributed around her (fig.28); the Prajñá-
páramitá herself is said to be the “Mother” of all Tathágatas,86 and being
considered the fact that she “gives light ... [that she] is the remover of the

83Gomez 1977: 258, note 11, quoted by Bautze-Picron 2000: 112.

84Quoted by Bautze-Picron 2000: 112, and note 79 for further references. Arènes
1996: 106, for further quotations.
85 Quoted by Bautze-Picron 2000: 112, and note 80 for further references.

86 Arènes 1996: 96, 107–108. Kinnard 1999: 127–130 stresses the metaphoric use

of the word “mother” when applied to the Prajñápáramitá.

The Lady under the tree

darkness of ignorance and delusion”,87 it becomes clear that her depiction

constitutes an echo to the scene of the enlightenment painted on the first
cover. Both covers form a whole expressing that the origin of the buddhas
lies within the triangular relation built by the Tárá, Mañjuürð and the

8. Avalokiteüvara
The two panels painted at the extremities of the second book-cover
preserved in Los Angeles introduce another iconographic composition.
The panel in the extreme right corner illustrates, for the third time on this
set of covers, the Tárá grasping the tree and showing her infinite generosity
(fig.32). When we consider this illumination together with the one filling
the right extremity of the first cover (fig.30), it becomes evident that the
depiction of the birth has been split between these two illuminations, one
preserving the attitude of Máyá shown as if looking at her child, the
second one keeping the tree behind and above the Tárá. The confusion
between the two characters has been willingly underlined, and we see
here how the Tárá has fully incorporated the personality of Máyá.
The transfer of this visual pattern evidently serves to define the Tárá
as a source of life, to recognize in her the function of giving birth, of
being the mother as seen above. Moreover, this transfer is channelled
through this third image of the Tárá on the image of Avalokiteüvara which
is painted in the left panel (fig.31). The Bodhisattva stands indeed below
the tree which he holds while bestowing his infinite compassion to various
characters, among whom the Tárá.89 This scene has been also represented

87 Kinnard 1999: 127, quoting the AƪƬasáhasriká (she is named mètè in the same

passage). In relation to this quotation, let us mention two illuminated folios preserved in
the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (references in note 75), and containing, each of
them, the very same three images: the central field is occupied by the Prajñápáramitá,
surrounded by the birth of the Buddha in the left field, and the enlightenment in the right
one – which would also corroborate the assimilation suggested above of the enlightenment
as being a second (spiritual and more real) birth.
88 The panels on either side of the Prajñápáramitá show Samantabhadra on his

elephant, Mañjuürð on his lion, on their symbolism and their position here, see Bautze-
Picron in press-b (in particularly note 100).
89 For a detailed description of these four panels, see Bautze-Picron 2000:

Claudine Bautze-Picron

in stone images, at times, of very imposing size like the sculpture from
Dharaut, which measures nearly two meters (fig.33),90 and is included in
the illustrated KáraƞƀavyĂhasĂtra preserved in the Royal Library,
Like Mandháta, at an earlier period, the Bodhisattva owns the seven
jewels of the cakravartin and they are usually borne by the tree.92 This
tree above the Bodhisattva, the preta(s) and the human devotees at his
feet, are constant features of this iconographic topic. Thus, we are told by
the Tathágata ûikhin in the KáraƞƀavyĂhasĂtra that when the Bodhisattva
leaves the country of Sukhávatð, “various wish-fulfulling trees, mango-
trees, fragrant oleander flowers, and campaka trees appear, together with
lotus pools (puŪkariŨyaŮ) abundant with flowers and hundreds of
wondrous jewel trees. Flowers, jewels, various marvellous mango trees,
and divine garments fall like rain. Near the vihèra, the seven jewels
appear (hastiratnaŬ, maŨiratnaŬ, aāvaratnaŬ, strõratnaŬ, gŚharatnaŬ,
pariŨayakaratnaŬ). The ground is seen (…) to be bright gold. When
Avalokiteüvara leaves Sukhávatð, the whole of creation trembles in six
ways.”93 The mere appearance of the Bodhisattva generates the appearance
of trees, symbols of abundance, and of lotuses and flowers, symbols of
creation. The authors of this text clearly saw the Bodhisattva as creator of
the universe and rescuer of souls, two functions which he assumes in the
stone and painted images from Eastern India. He holds the tree with one
hand, standing with a slight sway of the body in an attitude which reminds
of the position shown by the woman under the tree at an earlier period.

111–114. And we are perhaps here reminded that the Tárá is born out of the Bodhisattva’s
tears, that she illustres the expression of his infinite compassion and is finally this
expression (Arènes 1996: 46, 145–146, 154 –155; Bautze-Picron 2000: 111–112
concerning this painting).
90 Bautze-Picron 2004: figs.25–26, 28 and 33 show the Bodhisattva seated below

the tree and sunk in a pensive mood, whereas figs. 29–32 show him standing and holding
the tree with one hand. See also pp. 243–250 and in the appended list 1, images 31–39
(seated, where the tree is not necessarily present) and 40–46 (standing). What follows
is mainly drawn from this recently published article, see in particularly pp. 245–250.
91 Losty 1989: 14–15, and fig.48.

92 Bautze-Picron 2004: 247.

93 Bautze-Picron 2004: 249, and note 175 for further reference.

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Moreover, an image from Ayodhyá in Orissa depicts him

simultaneously seated at the foot of the tree, deeply sunken in his sad
thoughts, and standing below the tree and distributing his infinite
compassion to pretas and human beings (fig.34).94 This double image of
the Bodhisattva probably shows that the tree, as source of spiritual and
material richness, emerges out of the Bodhisattva’s sadness, that it is a
transformation of this feeling, a positive reaction created by this sadness,
a feeling which forces Avalokiteüvara to act, to stand up, to appear and
generate hope for all suffering sentient beings.95
The tree expresses the activity of compassion, and this might partly
explain why the Bodhisattva stands below the tree like Máyá or the Tárá
do: the Tárá manifests Avalokiteüvara’s activity of compassion, and by
assimilating this position, the Bodhisattva clearly expresses this feminine
part of his personality.96 In all images, the tree grows out of the vase of
plenty, both elements reproducing thus a motif of fertility know in Indian
art from its very beginning, and particularly in the Ayodhyá image, the
Bodhisattva sunk into his sad thoughts hides a fairly large jar hidden
behind him (as if this vase would be confused with him, or / and as if this
vase would be a symbol of his infinite potentiality of generosity). The
tree symbolizing the activity of compassion grows out of the jar, and,
similarly, the standing Bodhisattva, presenting himself like the Tárá can
do, is a transformation of the seated Avalokiteüvara. In another context,
he generates the Tárá from the tears which he sheds when considering the
misery of the world, and she inherits his “great compassion” or
mahèkaruŨè.97 The tree arising out of the jar is like the creeper arising

94 Bautze-Picron 2004: figs.32–33 (= appendix 1.44, p.256 for further references).

95 But the “wish-fulfilling tree” (kalpataru) like the “wish-fulfilling gem”
(cintèmaŨi) can also be both the “fulfillment of what one desires” as formulated by
ûántideva (Kinnard 1999: 98) – and in what concerns the tree, we recognize here the
pattern noticed above: through her desire, the young woman brings the tree to blossom,
which, in its turn, spreads its fertility above her.
96 Arènes 1996: 46–53, mentioning the similarities between the two characters in

China (after R. Stein), and 160, quoting a contemporary Tibetan scholar.

97 See above, note 89.

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out of Viƪƞu or of the Buddha’s navel, its presence expresses and is an act
of creation.98
When he stands below the creeper bearing the jewels, Avalokiteüvara
acts as if he was the “lady below the tree”. Beyond these broad similarities
with an iconographic type which is spread all through Indian art, one can
ask what could lead the introduction of such a visual treatment for a male
character. Why was the Tárá not retained in this function since we know
that it was possible? What has probably occurred – during the post-Gupta
period already – is the emergence of the female part of the Bodhisattva in
the visual field, which is, more than probably surmised, a strong component
of the Bodhisattva’s personality in Indian art. This emergence has been
made visible through the use of a well-established model: use of the tree,
hand grasping the tree, swaying position of the body, attention turned
towards the devotees, all elements which contribute to create an image
differing deeply from the traditional representation of the Bodhisattva
where he stands or sits facing the devotee in an equipoised attitude.99

9. Conclusion
From its very first representation, the image of the woman under the tree
was an auspicious image of creation, of abundance, a positive vision of
the female channelling chthonic powers. The image of the “lady under
the tree” carries more information than being the symbolic representation
of a birth. Being such an image of creation, reflecting the transition
between the two stages of the unformed and uncreated and of the formed
and created, and thus the transformation which takes place between these

98 Concerning the image of the (future) Buddha dreaming of himself as reclining

on the cosmic water whereas a creeper grows out of his navel, see Bautze-Picron 2003
and in press-a.
99 This is true for most images from eastern India up to the late 10th century, but in

the 11th and 12th c., all images practically display the sway of the hip, in which case we
can surmise that the feminine component of the Bodhisattva’s personality tended to
emerge in his different aspects. The shift in the personality took place between the sixth
and eighth centuries in Maharashtra: as a matter of fact, Avalokiteüvara and the Tárá
seem to have then exchanged some of their functions. If the Bodhisattva assimilates
female aspects, the goddess integrates from then and onwards the protective function
shown up to then by Avalokiteüvara (Bautze-Picron 2004: 239–240).

The Lady under the tree

two poles, this image was practically and logically aimed at being
positioned at a place of passage in the architectural ornamentation. It
marks the limit between the sacred and profane spaces, and this value is
retained up to the later period with the position of the birth scene in the
lower part of the image, thus at the threshold between the material and the
spiritual levels.
As image of the birth, the scene was integrated by artists working for
the Buddhist community before being used for illustrating the moment
when the Buddha started his last life, and from there, it was integrated in
the iconographies of the Tárá and Avalokiteüvara in order to show them
as being the source or the expression of infinite compassion. When it is
presented by the Bodhisattva, it most probably contributes to illustrate
the great compassion emerging out of him. Let us remember that this
compassion is symbolically shown as being the Tárá who can be born out
of one of his eyes, out of his tears, out of “the lotus” of his face.100 This
particular literary imagery is rather difficult to be transferred as such into
a visual vocabulary, and therefore, artists made use of a pattern known
since the very beginning of Buddhist art, at least in its narrative part, for
illustrating the concept of birth. Simultaneously, these images of the
Bodhisattva show him, a male figure, letting surface his female (hidden)
component, which is the way leading to the expression and practice of the
great compassion.

(Unless specified, all photos are copyright Joachim K. Bautze)

1. Bharhut, Indian Museum, Calcutta.

2. Sanchi, Indian Museum, Calcutta.
3. Sanchi, The British Museum, London.
4. Chandraketugarh, private collection.
5. Sanchi, southern gateway.
6. Karle, couple at the left of the main entrance of the caityagƤha.
7. From Gandhara, Indian Museum, Calcutta.

100 Arènes 1996: 154–155 summing up the various origins of the Tárá.

Claudine Bautze-Picron

8. From Gandhara, Patna Museum.

9. Kaushambi, Allahabad Museum. After Pramod Chandra 1970:
10. Jaggayyapeta, Government Museum, Madras. After Koezuka / Miyaji
2000: pl.106.
11. Vemavaram, Musée Guimet, Paris.
12. Mathura, Government Museum, Mathura.
13. Mathura, Lucknow Museum.
14. Sarnath, Indian Museum, Calcutta.
15. Kurkihar, The Cleveland Museum of Art.
16. Nalanda, National Museum. Photo copyright A.S.I.
17. Jagdishpur, detail.
18. Nalanda, Indian Museum, Calcutta. Photo copyright A.S.I.
19. Nalanda style, detail. Private collection. After Menzies 2001, cat.34.
20. Bodhgaya, detail. Bharat Kala Bhavan, Varanasi.
21. Deo Patan, detail. National Museum, Kathmandu. After Bangdel
1987: Abb.168.
22. Nalanda, Gopála IV, regnal year 8 (around A.D. 1136), detail. Asia
Society, New York.
23. Gopála IV, regnal year 4 (around A.D. 1132), book-cover A, the
Tárá. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
24. Gopála IV, regnal year 4 (around A.D. 1132), book-cover A, Máyá.
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
25. Gopála IV, regnal year 4 (around A.D. 1132), book-cover A, Mañjuürð.
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
26. Gopála IV, regnal year 4 (around A.D. 1132), book-cover A, the
Tárá. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
27. Gopála IV, regnal year 4 (around A.D. 1132), book-cover A, the
Bodhi. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
28. Gopála IV, regnal year 4 (around A.D. 1132), book-cover B, the
Prajñápáramitá. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
29. Book-cover A, 12th c., the Tárá. Los Angeles County Museum of
30. Book-cover A, 12th c., the Tárá. Los Angeles County Museum of

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31. Book-cover B, 12th c., Avalokiteüvara. Los Angeles County Museum

of Art.
32. Book-cover B, 12th c., the Tárá. Los Angeles County Museum of
33. Dharaut, Bihar.
34. Khutia temple, Ayodhya, Orissa. After Donaldson 2001: fig.198.
35. Sealing, Pagan. Private collection.

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Plates and Figures
Plates and Figures

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Bharhut, Indian Museum, Calcutta.

Plates and Figures

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Sanchi, Indian Museum, Calcutta.

Plates and Figures

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Sanchi, The British Museum, London.

Plates and Figures

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Chandraketugarh, private collection.

Plates and Figures

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Sanchi, southern gateway.

Plates and Figures

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Karle, couple at the left of the main entrance of the caityagƤha.

Plates and Figures

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From Gandhara, Indian Museum, Calcutta.

Plates and Figures

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From Gandhara, Patna Museum.

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Kaushambi, Allahabad Museum. After Pramod Chandra 1970: pl.XXIX.

Plates and Figures

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Jaggayyapeta, Government Museum, Madras. After Koezuka / Miyaji

2000: pl.106.

Plates and Figures

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Vemavaram, Musée Guimet, Paris.

Plates and Figures

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Mathura, Government Museum, Mathura.

Plates and Figures

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Mathura, Lucknow Museum.

Plates and Figures

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Sarnath, Indian Museum, Calcutta.

Plates and Figures

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Kurkihar, The Cleveland Museum of Art.

Plates and Figures

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Nalanda, National Museum. Photo copyright A.S.I.

Plates and Figures

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Jagdishpur, detail.

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Nalanda, Indian Museum, Calcutta. Photo copyright A.S.I.

Plates and Figures

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Nalanda style, detail. Private collection. After Menzies 2001, cat.34.

Plates and Figures

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Bodhgaya, detail. Bharat Kala Bhavan, Varanasi.

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Deo Patan, detail. National Museum, Kathmandu. After Bangdel 1987:


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Nalanda, Gopála IV, regnal year 8 (around A.D. 1136), detail.

Asia Society, New York.

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Gopála IV, regnal year 4 (around A.D. 1132), book-cover A, the Tárá.
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

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Gopála IV, regnal year 4 (around A.D. 1132), book-cover A, Máyá.

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Plates and Figures

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Gopála IV, regnal year 4 (around A.D. 1132), book-cover A, Mañjuürð.

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

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Gopála IV, regnal year 4 (around A.D. 1132), book-cover A, the Tárá.
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Plates and Figures

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Gopála IV, regnal year 4 (around A.D. 1132), book-cover A, the Bodhi.
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

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Gopála IV, regnal year 4 (around A.D. 1132), book-cover B,

the Prajñápáramitá. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

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Book-cover A, 12th c., the Tárá. Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

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Book-cover A, 12th c., the Tárá. Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

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Book-cover B, 12th c., Avalokiteüvara. Los Angeles County

Museum of Art.
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Book-cover B, 12th c., the Tárá. Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

Plates and Figures

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Dharaut, Bihar.

Plates and Figures

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Khutia temple, Ayodhya, Orissa. After Donaldson 2001: fig.198.

Plates and Figures

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Sealing, Pagan. Private collection.

Lumbini International Research Institute
P.O. Box 39, Bhairahawa, Dist. Rupandehi