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Scenes from ten of the Buddha’s previous lives
Central Thailand
Paint and gold on cloth
Gift from Doris Duke Charitable Foundation’s Southeast Asian Art Collection,

The arrangement of the ten famous tales presented here—in squares arranged in two columns of five squares—is unusual. The first is depicted at lower right, the second at lower left. The stories continue upward in an S curve. The last, at upper left, shows the Buddha in his final previous life as the generous prince Vessantara.

When each story needed to be presented in abbreviated fashion as a single scene, it seems that by the nineteenth century general agreement had been reached about exactly which particular scene would stand for each story. Thus the story of Mahajanaka (lower left) was frequently represented by a ship surrounded by sea creatures, with the main character clinging to the mast or floating on the waves, and the Chandakumara story (left, second from top) was represented by Indra striking down the ceremonial parasols at the place where the main character was to be sacrificed.

To read versions of the ten stories shown here, see Ten Lives of the Buddha by Wray, Rosenfield, and Bailey (1972 and later reprintings).

10 Vessantara, the Charitable Prince 9 Vidhura, the Eloquent Sage
7 Chandakumara, the Honorable Prince 8 Narada, the Great Brahman
6 Bhuridatta, the Serpent Prince Sage 5 Mahosadha, the Clever
3 Sama, the Devoted Son 4 Nimi, the Noble King
2 Mahajanaka, the Lost Prince 1 Temiya, the Mute Prince

all text & images © Asian Art Museum, San Francisco

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