Sculpture piece excavated from the Stupa at Bharhut: left side of Ajatachatru pillar
Photographer: Beglar, Joseph David
Medium: Photographic print
Photograph of the left 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 subject of the top relief is the festival to celebrate Sakra enshrining the hair the Bodhisattva cut off with a sharp sword and threw in the air as an initiation to the ascetic life. To the right of the relief, there is the palace of the devas and, beside, the domed temple enshrining the hair-lock. Below this scene, the apsaras or heavenly nymphs, are dancing and singing in honour of the holy relic. The middle panel depicts the episode the Deva Mahesvara who, entering the palace of Suddhodana and recognising the symbols of the Buddha, adores his footsteps along with an assembly of gods.