Sculpture piece excavated from the Stupa at Bharhut: Prasenajit pillar, middle sculpture, outer face.
Photographer: Beglar, Joseph David
Medium: Photographic print
Photograph of the right side of the Prasenajit pillar excavated from the stupa at Bharhut, taken by Joseph David Beglar in 1874. This pillar would have stood close to the south gateway of the stupa complex, forming the corner and terminus pillar of the entrance but also attached to the railing. The exact date that a stupa was first erected at this site is not known, however, by the time the railing was added in the latter half of the second century BC, Bharhut had been established as a Buddhist place of worship for centuries. At this stage, 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, therefore Bharhut was known and important, 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 help the religion appeal to an often illiterate, popular audience.
Due to it's prominent position, the Prasenajit pillar was more heavily decorated than many others at Bharhut. This part of the pillar depicts the Mahasambodhi or the Great Awakening of the Bodhisattva after the Defeat of Mara. In the top scene the three male figures and the standing apsaras holding a lotus flower have come to celebrate the victory of the Prince Siddhartha (Buddha before he became enlightened) over Mara. The dhvajastambha and the elephant on its top symbolise the Buddha himself. The bottom scene represents the kings with their attendants surrounded by Apsaras who pay homage to the Tathagatha (Buddha). The seated figure in the left corner is Mara who has failed in his attempt of seducing the Bodhisattva through his daughters.