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IN017 – Buddha Performing the Twin Miracles at Sravasti

Country of Origin:
India (Gandhara)

Year:
2TH/3TH Century CE

Material:
Grey Schist

Dimensions:
28W × 13D × 78.5H (cm)

Provenence:
Private collection, Japan, acquired 1986-1990.
Sold in Christie’s Indian & Southeast Asian Art,
New York, 12 September 2012, Sale 2578 as lot 507
to BTRTM.

Description:
This beautifully sculpted statue of Buddha Shakyamuni performing the Twin
Miracles of fire and water or yamaka-patihariya at Sravasti depicts Him
standing upright on a pedestal, with a slightly chipped aureole (also known
as a prabhamandala) behind His head. Fire emanates upwards from His
shoulders while water sprouts forth from His toes.

He is dressed in the robes of an ordained person shown in voluminous
cascading folds. His left hand grasps one end of His robes while His right
hand (missing) most likely displays the Abhaya or fearless mudra which is
common for such a depiction (see an iconographically-related example sold
at Christie’s New York, 21 March 2012, Sale 2551, lot 720).

His hair, reflective of the folds of His sanghati, is neatly combed up into a
topknot, forming wavy lines starting from the centre of His forehead and ending in His ushnisha. He has slightly pursed lips forming a subtle smile with halfopened heavy-lidded eyes, a prominent chin and finely arched eyebrows. His moderately elongated earlobes are well-defined, reaching down to the middle of His neck, although His left earlobe has abraded. Interestingly for this type of statue, the urna is not depicted.

The narrative frieze at the front of the pedestal shows two meditating Buddhas flanking a chancel comprising of a central large globular reliquary with a canopy (see Behrendt 2007, 59). To the sides of the Buddhas, at the left and right edges of the panel, are two standing donor figures. The leftmost figure has been severely chafed off while the right figure faces inwards with his hands in the anjali posture and his face facing front. The two Buddhas, though roughly carved, are clearly shown sitting in the dhyana posture on cushioned thrones.

The iconography of this event is probably well-established by the time this statue is made. Other standing Buddha statues from Gandhara portraying this can be found in the Musée Guimet, Paris (Le Buddha au Grand Miracle), the Museum für Indische Kunst, Berlin-Dahlem (The Buddha shows miracles) and the aforementioned lot sold at Christie’s. Both museum pieces incorporate more allegorical elements but retains the symbolic fire on shoulders and water from toes motifs while the Christie’s lot has a simpler figural panel illustrating two kneeling devotees at an altar of a globular reliquary.

Sravasti (or Savatthi) was the ancient capital of the Kosala kingdom where the Jetavana grove was located. Out of His forty five years of teaching, Buddha reportedly spent as many as twenty five retreats there during the rainy seasons and the majority of His teachings were given at the Jetavana grove.

For some years, six non-Buddhist spiritual leaders, emboldened by Mara, have been challenging Buddha to a contest of miracles (some say also of debate). Finally at the age of fifty seven, He acceded to their request at Sravasti where King Prasenajit then built a hall with seven thrones. On the new moon of the first month of Spring, on the first day of the contest the non-Buddhist leaders took their seats while Buddha came flying through the air and performed the titular Twin Miracles:

    “The lower part of his body would be in flames, while from the upper part
    there streamed five-hundred jets of cold water. While the upper part of his
    body was in flames, five-hundred jets of cold water streamed from the
    lower part.”

    —The Mahavastu (Jones 1956, 115)

This destroyed the hall and was reconstituted by the Buddha as a transparent palace. He performed inconceivable miracles for the next seven days and by the end of the eighth day, all six leaders were utterly defeated. Their ninety thousand followers converted to Buddhism, ordained as monks and attained Arhatship.

References:

  1. Behrendt, Kurt A. 2007. The Art of Gandhara in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York:
    Metropolitan Museum of Art; New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press.
  2. J.J. Jones. trans. 1956. The Mahavastu, vol. III. London: Luzac & Company Ltd.
    http://www.archive.org/details/sacredbooksofbud19londuoft.
  3. Marshall, Sir John. 2008. The Buddhist Art of Gandhara. 3rd Indian ed. New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers Pvt. Ltd. First published 1960 by Cambridge University Press.
  4. Padmasambhava Buddhist Center. n.d. “Buddha’s Display of Miracles at Shravasti.” Tashi Deleg! Bulletin. Accessed 15 January2013.
    http://www.padmasambhava.org/morning/teachings/buddhas.miracles.in_.shravasti.printer.friendly.pdf&sa=U&ei=4b33UIrSLc2JrAeKt4GgDA&ved=0CBUQFjAA&usg=AFQjCNE_1xRafL-dCum9yIC6v3MLAqxn8Q.
  5. Russell, Jeremy. 1981. “Shravasti—teachings in the Jetavana Grove.” The Eight Places of Buddhist
    Pilgrimage. “Lama Yeshe Wisdom Archive”. Accessed 16 January 2013.
    http://www.lamayeshe.
    com/index.php?sect=article&id=423&chid=748.
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