Amaravati Art in the Context of Andhra Archaeology

by Sreyashi Ray chowdhuri | 2018 | 90,477 words

This page relates ‘first Sermon or Dharmacakrapravartana’ of the study on Amaravati Art in the Context of Andhra Archaeology, including museum exhibitions of the major archeological antiquities. These pages show how the Buddhist establishment of Amaravati (Andhra Pradesh) survived from 4th century BCE to 14th century CE. It includes references and translations of episodes of Buddha’s life drawn from the Avadanas and Jatakas which are illustrated in Amaravati art.

[Full title: Depiction of scenes from the life of Buddha: The first Sermon or Dharmacakrapravartana]


Lord Buddha preached his first sermon to the panca vargiya monk in the Deer Park at Sarnath. Sitting on a buddhāsana surrounded by five monks he delivered his first sermon comprising the dharmacakrapravartana sutra. It consisted of the madhyama pratipadā (middle path), the four Āryasatyas (nobel truths) and the aṣṭāngika mārga (eightfold ways).[1] The Mahavagga[2] and Nidānakathā mentions the episode.


A pilaster in the British Museum from Amarāvatī shows this episode. The third narrative register from the bottom illustrate the first sermon of Buddha in the Deer park at Sarnath near Benaras. Here Buddha is seated on a square throne. To the sides and back of the throne are standing and seated worshippers. At its foot is a pair of small deer with long antlers facing each other[3].

The third register of a drum pilaster from the bottom illustrates the first sermon of Buddha in the Deer Park at Sārnath. It is preserved in the British Museum. Buddha’s head is surrounded by a large halo. He is seated on a throne decorated with lotuses. He is flanked by worshippers and a male chowri bearer. At the foot of the throne is a pair of small deer[4]. (Pl 23d)

An ornate railing pillar from Amarāvatī preserved in the British Museum consists of several narratives dealing with Buddha’s life story in the inner face. The right side of the lower fluted area shows the scene of the first sermon of the Buddha. A dharmacakra or the wheel of law, the symbolic representation of the Master, surmounts an empty throne surrounded by worshippers. At the bottom of the panel sits a pair of small deer symbolizing the Deer Park at Sārnath where the first sermon was preached[5].

An upper panel of a dome slab from Amarāvatī placed in the British Museum depicts the first sermon in the form of a large spoked dharmacakra mounted on a low pillar above the fluted cushions. The entire thing is mounted on a three sided throne. To the right of the panel is a pair of seated male worshippers in anjali mudrā.[6]

A fragment of a dome slab depicts the first sermon of Buddha. The panel is badly broken at the bottom. The dharmacakra is mounted on a pillar with the stepped capital above a fluted cushion. On the capital is a pair of seated lions, back to back. To the sides of the wheel a pair of broken flying worshippers carries offering bowls on their raised hands. To the sides of the pillar are male worshippers displaying anjali mudrā. At the sides of the panel are broken standing male figures with left hand on hip and waving chowri in the right[7]. This depiction is found in the British Museum.

A dome slab preserved in the British Museum consists of three registers depicting Enlightenment, Dharmacakrapravartana and Mahāparinirvāṇa from the bottom. The Dharmacakra rests on the top of a pillar with a stepped capital on which is seated a pair of lions back to back. Standing male figures flank the throne. On either side of the Dharmacakra are flying worshippers with offering bowls on their raised left hands[8].

The central part of the rail pillar showing circular medallion contains the relief of the first sermon. The relief illustrates an empty throne with Buddha’s feet flanked by deer suggesting the deer park. This is preserved in the Madras Government Museum[9].

Representation of the first sermon is found in several reliefs from Nāgārjunakoṇḍa (Pl 24a) and other art centres of the Amarāvatī School.

Footnotes and references:


Rao Vinay Kumar, Op.cit, p 52.


Davids T.W Rhys and Oldenberg Hermann, 1974, Op.cit, pp 89-102.


Knox Robert, Op.cit, p 158, fig 84.


Ibid, pp 157-158, fig 83


Ibid, p 58, fig 11(inner face)


Ibid, pp 182-183, fig 101 (Reverse of middle register)


Ibid, p 168, fig 93


I bid, pp 63-64, fig 88.


Sivaramamurti C, Op.cit, p 181, pl XXXVII, fig 3.

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