Sculpture piece excavated from the Stupa at Bharhut: pillar with migajataka scene
Photographer: Beglar, Joseph David
Medium: Photographic print
Photograph of part of a pillar depicting a migajataka scene excavated from the stupa at Bharhut, taken by Joseph David Beglar in 1874. We cannot be sure what part of the stupa this piece came from however it was probably part of a railing pillar. The exact date when a stupa was first erected at Bharhut is not known, however, when the railing was added in the latter half of the second century BC, the site had already been established as a Buddhist place of worship for centuries. At the stage when this pillar was added, the stupa complex consisted of a hemispherical dome, encircled by an inner and an outer railing or vedika. This would be made of rectangular stone posts (stambha) joined together by three sets of cross-bars (suchi) mortised into the pillars on either sides and capped by a huge coping (ushnisha). Evidence from inscriptions shows that the construction of the railing was funded by donors from all over India; Bharhut was known to people from a wide geographical area. The railing depicted narratives, such as stories from Buddha's life, the purpose of which would have been two fold: firstly to decorate a sacred place and secondly to allow the religion to appeal to an often illiterate, popular audience.
The medallion on this pillar illustrates the episode of the Miga Jataka, the story of the birth of the Buddha as a golden deer. The deer rescued a man who was drowning in the Ganges, as can be seen in the foreground of the relief. The rescued man, who had promised to keep the existence of the deer secret, betrayed him and revealed his existence to the the king of Benares in exchange for a large amount of money. Later,
when the king was hunting for the golden deer in the forest, he appeared to the king and obtained the protection of him and his followers.