Mathura, 2016.05.22 (VT): Lord Buddha is known to have made two visits to Mathura during his lifetime. On his second visit it seems he predicted the future shape of region. His disciples had made Mathura a Buddhist center, which it remained for nearly a millennium until Hinduism reestablished its dominance in the Gupta period.
It also became a major center of sculpture and many of the early figures of Lord Buddha are held in the collection of the Government Museum in Mathura.
Lord Buddha visited Mathura twice. The first time he was apparently not so satisfied with the condition of the city, which was ruled by Yakshas at the time. These rulers created obstructions to his visit, but they were converted by him and the Buddha established viharas or ashrams in their honor.
Not long before his final Nirvana, the Buddha came again to Mathura. The ruler at the time was named Avantiputra, who offered royal hospitality to the founder of Buddhism. The Buddha then highly praised the city of Mathura, its monasteries and its monks, as well as making very positive predictions about the future greatness of the city. This is told in the Pali text Divyavadana.
The king had conversations with one of the Buddha’s leading disciple, Mahakatyan, inquiring from him on philosophical and religious issues. Interestingly, these conversations were held in a wooded place called “Kanhagundāvana.”
Another prominent disciple of the Buddha, Mahakashyapa, was married to a woman from Mathura, Bhadra Kapilani.
The Maurya emperor Ashok invited a prominent Buddhist teacher from Mathura, Acharya Upagupta, to his capital Pataliputra to give religious discourses. Under his guidance, Ashok developed his concept of universal dharma and planned his “conquest of dharma” (dharma-vijaya), by which he attempted to spiritualize the character of his people in his empire. As a result of Acharya Upagupta’s leadership, Mathura became a seat of the Buddhist Sarvastivadin sect. According to John Strong, The Legend and Cult of Upagupta: Sanskrit Buddhism in North India, Mathura was one of the places where “Pure Land” Buddhism developed.
Fa-Hsien, who visited India during the reign of Chandragupta II (about 400 AD), saw Buddhism flourishing in the city with 20 monasteries and more than 3000 Buddhist monks. He also saw six stupas erected in the honor of some famous Buddhist monks. Two hundred years later, when Hieun Tsiang visited India (630 – 644 A.D.) during the reign of Harshavardhana, Hinduism was flourishing in Mathura while Buddhism continued to maintain its stronghold. Hieun Tsiang noted five large Hindu temples, twenty Buddhist monasteries, about 2000 Buddhist monks and nuns and a good number of Buddhist stupas at Mathura.
The very earliest known sculpted image of the Buddha is held in the Mathura Museum collection.
This 2000 year-old statue was discovered in 1962 in a dig at the Katra mound near Krishna’s birthplace. The statue shows the Buddha under the Bodhi tree on a stone singhasan, raising his hand up to shoulder height in the gesture of bestowing fearlessness (abhaya mudra). It is said that this symbolizes his teaching to act for the benefit of all humanity. His head is surrounded by a halo and the contours are engraved. A circle of hair between the eyebrows (urna), the indicator of attainment of knowledge, is a prominent mark.
He is dressed like a sadhu, with a cloth covering his left shoulder and arm, and there are swastikas, the three jewels, etc., the signs of a great being, marking the soles of his feet and palms of his hands. The inscription in Brahmi script says it is the Bodhisattva. Lions are depicted under the throne. This statue of Buddha is an indicator of knowledge.
Among the best examples of Indian sculpture from the period
The famous statue of the Buddha uncovered at the Jamalpur mound in 1864 found is considered to be one of the best examples of ancient Indian sculpture. There are two such images, one is held at the Museum and another at the Presidential Palace in Delhi. The 1,500 year-old statue with lotus-like eyes, pretty curly hair, long ears show a mastery of expressiveness. Gallery museum assistant Hari Babu says that such artistry is not achieved by accident, but comes after many centuries of hard work, experience and tradition.
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