Sculpture piece excavated from the Stupa at Bharhut: close view of middle panel on right side of Ajatachatru pillar
Photographer: Beglar, Joseph David
Medium: Photographic print
Photograph of the middle panel 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 relief in this panel represents the Buddha's descent at Samkassa from the world of the thirty-three gods by the great ladder made by Indra. The spectators on the sides represent the crowd of kings, ministers and people who went to Samkassa to wait for the Buddha's return. The ladder in the middle is made of gold whilst the two at the sides are made of silver and precious stones. The Buddha descends by the middle ladder and his descent is represented by the footprints at the top and the bottom of the ladder which indicates that he makes it in one stride only. He is represented in the relief by the altar, the tree and the parasol. From the top of the ladder, which symbolises the highest station of the Sun, he can contemplate all the universes.