3. Standing Siddhartha
Mathurā region, Uttar Pradesh, India
2nd century CE
Spotted red sandstone
The stele is carved out of the spotted red sandstone typical of the Mathurā region of northern India. It depicts a male figure standing erectly in samapada at the centre of a composition. He has his right hand raised up to his shoulder in the abhaya mudrā while his left hand, positioned by his waist, holds his upper robe. He wears an almost transparent lower garment, like a dhotī, through which his knees and thighs are clearly visible. It is held up by a sash which is tied at the waist and whose ends fall down his right thigh. Folds of his dhotī fall between his slightly spread legs, the ends falling like a waterfall between his feet. A very stylised upper robe or uttarīya with many folds passes over his left shoulder and falls over his left hand. Except for the folds of the uttarīya, the upper torso is bare. The figure sports two necklaces, one around his neck while the other falls in a v-shape down to his chest. He also wears bangles, armlets and very long kuṇḍala-type earrings, which rest on his shoulders. An elaborate fan-shaped turban adorns his head. The body is muscular, with slight tension visible in the belly area, which protrudes slightly to imply the inner breath or prāṇa within the body. The figure is not fat or pot-bellied in any way, unlike the earliest images from Mathurā and the pre–Kuṣāṇa Śaka-Parthian period. This figure instead exhudes power and strength. In comparison with the body, the face is small and quite rounded, with large, and very open eyes, small nose and pursed lips. Besides strength and confidence, the figure also exhudes a calm and gentle reassurance with the slight smile on his lips and the abhaya mudrā of his right hand which symbolised reassurance and was a gesture of blessing. He stands on a small pedestal below which can be seen three lions. One is immediately below him and sits frontally, facing the viewer, while the others two are depicted in profile at the two ends of the pedestal. On the subsidiary pedestals on either side stand two smaller male figures. They are portrayed almost identically: each wears a lower garment, leaving their torsos bare, they are bejewelled and wear a less elaborate version of the turban. It is clear that they are both attendants by the fact that they both hold up a fly-whisk or cāmara over their left shoulders, while their right hands rest on the right side of their waist. The central male figure has a halo around his head. It is plain at the centre with a scalloped edge, and around the edges are visible the leaves and branches of a tree. On the upper left and right sides of the halo two flying divinities are visible. These figures too wear turbans, uttarīyas over bare torsos, and lower garments. Each grasps a large decorated pot in his left hand, while the right bunched and raised. These flying divinities are gandharvas who shower the central figure with flower petals. In addition, we note that in the centre of his right palm, which is raised in the abhaya mudrā, is a wheel shaped design denoting the cakra symbol which was a mahāpuruṣalakṣaṇa, to be seen on the bodies of great men. The turban too could be indicating the uṣṇīṣa or cranial protuberance which marked such individuals from birth. Similarly a mark between the brows indicates the ūrṇā. These were clearly all signs of a great being.
In addition to these signs of a mahāpuruṣa, we also see the branches of a tree with pointed leaves which look like the pīpal leaf. These are visible emanating from the surrounds of the halo, particularly centred above it. This is reminiscent of the pīpal tree under which the Śākyamuni Buddha gained enlightenment. It is interesting moreover to note that the side and back of the stele are also carved with the rest of the tree, showing it completely and realistically with the main trunk and the branches and leaves, thus giving the tree an obvious significance. Since the main figure is dressed in rich princely attire, we must conclude that we have here a Buddhist cult icon.
The fact that the central male figure is shown with the mahāpuruṣalakṣaṇas, including a turban covering his uṣṇīṣa, and stands under a tree would lead to an identification with Śākyamuni himself rather than any other bodhisattva. This is further confirmed by the fact that we have lions on the pedestal below this figure. The lion shown frontally immediately below the standing figure seems particularly significant. It recalls the association of Śākyamuni as Śākyasiṃha or the lion of the Śākya clan. We know from accounts of his life that Śākyamuni was born with these mahāpuruṣalakṣaṇas. Thus, this image showing the standing figure with cihnas shows us Śākyamuni prior to the attainment of his buddhahood, standing under the pīpal tree before enlightenment. The tree, his lakṣaṇas, and the lions are all clues to his identity.
Other bodhisattva images from Mathurā show many similarities to our bodhisattva Siddhārtha. One example worth comparing is with the free-standing inscribed Maitreya Buddha from Ahicchatrā today in the National Museum, New Delhi. The bodhisattva is shown standing in the abhaya mudrā with a scalloped edge halo around his head. He is dressed identically to the Siddhārtha figure including the way the uttarīya and jewellery (particularly the two necklaces) are portrayed. He also wears similar kuṇḍalas. The differences of course is that he wears no turban and instead his head is covered in curls, and he wears an amulet string and holds a pot in his left hand. It is also worth noting that many other examples of bodhisattvas wearing similar turbans have been found from Mathurā. They can be seen on seated and standing examples showing that this style of turbans were very popular.
Thus, our standing image of the bodhisattva Siddhārtha with the pīpal tree carved at the back, from the time of the reign of the great Kuṣāṇa emperor Kaniṣka I, probably to the middle of his reign, is unique.
Provenance: Formerly in a French collection
Detail: side view
Detail: back view