Death of the Buddha


From: Japan

Curatorial Section: Asian

Object Title Death of the Buddha
Native Name Kakemono
Object Number 29-96-555
Current Location Collections Storage
Culture Japanese | Buddhist
Provenience Japan
Date Made 18th Century
Section Asian
Materials Paper | Silk | Paint
Technique Embroidered | Painted
Iconography Death of the Buddha | Sun | Human Figures | Animals

Embroidery over painting on paper. This is an example of a large Nirvana painting displayed in many Japanese temples every year on the 19th day of the second lunar month to commemorate the anniversary of the Buddha's death. The custom is an ancient one dating back to 804 CE in Japan and recorded earlier in China. With only minor variations, the content and arrangement, which follow a description in the Mahaparinirvana sutra, is common to all paintings. The combination of embroidery and painting in our example is unusual but not unique. The Buddha lies on a dais in a grove of sal trees whose leaves are dying. In the sky above him a disciple guides the Buddha's mother and her retinue down from heaven to hear the last teachings. Behind the dais a group representing the Great Disciples and Arhats. Lying prostrate with grief in front of the dais is Ananda, Sakyamuni's constant attendant. Near Ananda is seated the child Bodhisattva, Kanyapa. In front and surrounding the center group is a crowd of virtuous laymen, one or two women, Hindu deities including Indra who was present also at the birth of Sakyamuni, guardian kings, such as Virudhaka who wear the skin of an elephant head, and the ruler of the Naga world. At the bottom of the picture is a large group of grieving animals. Elephants, lions, buffalo, peacocks and others are named in the sutra, but any may be included as all beings possess the Buddha nature and are capable of salvation. In the Buddha's previous lives, on his long path to enlightenment, he, himself, had sometimes been born as an animal. Reclining figure of Buddha and the sun in gold thread. Figures of human and animal mourners in colored thread. Lower section has some unfinished figures.

Length 241.3 cm
Width 117.35 cm
Credit Line Bequest of Maxwell Sommerville, 1904

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