This sculpture represents one of the eight great events of the Buddha’s earthly life. During a rainy season retreat, when a quarrel broke out between his followers, the Buddha, also known as Shakyamuni, left the monks to sort the matter out among themselves. He retreated to Parileyyaka Forest where he sheltered under a tree. He was joined by an elephant who had been separated from his herd and was seeking solitude. The elephant brought water to the Buddha. Later, the Buddha was also visited by a monkey who offered honey. So heartbroken were the two creatures after the Buddha’s departure that they both died and were reborn in Tavatimsa Heaven, also home to the Buddha’s mother.
Shakyamuni is shown here seated, with hands in his lap, one palm facing upwards, and dressed in finely decorated robes. The entire scene is embellished with gold leaf, and the setting of the forest is represented by a single tree with delicate, individually crafted leaves. The elephant and monkey kneel before the Buddha, with offerings of a water pot and honeycomb. The small size of the animals in relation to Shakyamuni reinforces the greatness of the Buddha and the humility of the devoted animals.
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
From: Ron Radford (ed), Collection highlights: National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2008