Avadāna Story – King distributing food
The bas-relief shown in the image is part of Avadāna story panels covering the inner walls on the first terrace of the Rūpadhātu layer. This detailed bas-relief likely depicts the court of a king. As you can see, the king is seated on a throne on the right side and is receiving offerings from a well-dressed lady. Behind her is a person carrying a box and walking away from the court. Standing at the center is an elegantly dressed young man – most-likely a prince – handing over fruits to the people, some of whom are kneeling with their hands stretched to receive them.
The term avadāna means a great act or achievement in Sanskrit. In Buddhism, Avadānas refer to the ancient texts that narrate short stories about the heroic deeds of the people in their previous lives, and the role of Karma in their present lives. The heroic deeds include sacrifices, such as one’s life or wealth, for the good of others. The laws of Karma applies to one’s actions, i.e., the good deeds result in good outcomes, and evil deeds result in grave consequences.
The Buddhist teachers use the avadāna stories to teach morals to their followers. A typical story starts with a context, goes into the details of the deeds in one’s past life, and then their consequences in the present life. The story ends with a moral drawn from it. The Buddha himself narrated some of the stories in his sermons. The avadana stories are somewhat similar to the parables in the Bible.
Located about 30 miles northwest of Yogyakarta in the island of Java, Borobudur is the largest and one of the most fascinating Buddhist monuments in the world. It was built between 778 and 850 CE by the rulers of the Shylendra dynasty, who were the followers of Mahāyāna Buddhism. According to an inscription, it was founded by King Samaratungga of this dynasty.
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