The Buddha's life as a theme has been presented through
five main events in his life beginning with the birth and
ending with his death. The other three are his renunciation
of the world, his defeat of Mara and his enlightenment and
his dharmachakra pravartana or preaching the First Sermon.
The vertical relief presents these events beginning from the
1. The bottom panel depicts four events starting from the
a) The birth: Mayadevi is seen holding the branch of a tree
as the nimbate child is being received by Sakra; on her right
is her sister Mahaprajapati;
b) In the centre the two Nagas, Nanda and Upananda, are
anointing the child as he is about to take the first seven
c) at the bottom extreme left is seen the great departure –
Prince Siddhartha riding his horse Kanthaka out of the
d) The scene above shows the Prince cutting his hair with a
sword as a token of renunciation.
2. The second panel depicts Mara with his three daughters
and other members of his retinue attempting to distract
Siddhartha from his penance while the latter invites the
Earth to witness his attainment of bodhijnana; the female
figure below his seat is mother Earth and the snake next to
her is Kala, who came to wish the sage as he meditated.
3. The third panel depicts the nimbate Buddha seated in
pralambapada on a lotus in dharmachakra mudra delivering his
sermon in the deer park at Sarnath. He is flanked by
Vajrapani and Maitreya.
4. The topmost panel depicts the mahaparinirvana, the great
demise of the Buddha. His body is laid on the couch which
is surrounded by mourning devotees.
While individual scenes from the Buddha's life were
depicted separately, it was during this period that such a
sequential presentation was introduced by Sarnath.