A finely illustrated version of one of the most popular stories of Buddha’s life.
What is the Lalitavistara Sūtra?
The text narrates the extraordinary events in the life of Buddha unfolding from his descent from Tuśita Heaven to the First Sermon (the Setting in Motion of the Wheel of Dharma) in the Deer Park at Sarnath near the holy Indian city of Varanasi.
The bodhisattva (Buddha-to-be) born as a prince in the Śākya tribe gives up all his material privileges to find a way to end suffering and compassionately chooses to teach the doctrine for the benefit of all living beings.
The Lalitavistara Sūtra originated from Pāli scriptures of early Buddhism and was later expanded and incorporated in the Mahāyāna tradition.
It was commissioned by the British resident in Nepal, Captain William Douglas Knox of the East India Company’s army, and copied in clear Devanāgarī writing by the scribe Amritananda in Patan, Nepal.
Written on yellow-dyed handmade paper leaves held between two painted wooden boards, the Sanskrit text is illustrated by twenty-seven fine miniatures in opaque watercolour.
Captain Knox and Amritananda appear on the inside rear board and in a miniature at the end of the manuscript in which the British official is depicted seated, wearing his uniform and holding a prayer-wheel whilst in conversation with the scribe.
This manuscript is a significant example of British patronage of art and culture in the Indian Subcontinent.
- Article by:
- Peter Harvey
- Buddhism, Sacred texts
Professor Peter Harvey recounts the life and teachings of the Buddha, as well as considering the role that the Buddha plays in the different branches of Buddhism and how his teachings have been collected.