Sculpture piece excavated from the Stupa at Bharhut: right side of Ajatachatru pillar
Photographer: Beglar, Joseph David
Medium: Photographic print
Photograph of the right side of the Ajatachatru pillar excavated from the stupa at Bharhut, taken by Joseph David Beglar in 1874. This pillar would have stood close to the western gateway of the stupa complex, forming part 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. 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 Ajatachatru pillar was more heavily decorated than many others at Bharhut. The bottom panel of this corner pillar represents the Great Miracle of Savatthi. The relief in the middle represents the Descent of the Buddha at Samkassa from the world of the thirty-three gods by means of the great ladder fashioned by Indra. From the the top of the ladder, the Buddha can contemplate all worlds as he reaches a supra-human position. The Buddha is not depicted pictorially, instead he is represented in the relief as the tree, the parasol and the altar and the footprints at the top and at the bottom of the ladder indicate that he makes his descent in one stride only. The top relief represents the Buddha, symbolised by the parasol and the tree, asking questions to his disciples in a square courtyard, the ‘immutable sanctuary’.