Gandavyūha Story – Sudhana learning from a teacher
The Gandavyūha story panels cover the top three of the five terraces of the Rūpadhātu layer, the middle of the three layers of Borobudur. The bas-relief shown in the image is carved on the east-facing inner wall of the second terrace. Check the Borobudur Temple Layers page for an explanation of all three layers.
The scenes in the Gandavyūha story panels are based on Gandavyūha Sūtra, an ancient Buddhist text that chronicles the journey of Sudhana – a son of a wealthy merchant – in his quest for wisdom and enlightenment. In his epic journey, he meets a total of 52 teachers from all walks of life, including a king, queen, slave, and even a prostitute. His last three teachers before he attains enlightenment are, Maitreya, Manjushri, and Samantabhadra, who are Mahāsattvas (great bodhisattvas).
This beautifully carved bas-relief depicts Sudhana learning from one of his teachers. As you can see from the image, the teacher is seated on a highly ornate throne, which implies that he is a high-ranking person. It appears from his pose and hand gesture (Vitāraka Mudra) that he is delivering a sermon or engaged in a debate. Note: Vitāraka Mudra, one of the standard hand gestures in Buddhism and Hinduism, represents teaching and debate.
Sudhana is seated in front of him with folded hands (namaste gesture), and behind him are the other disciples or courtiers engaged in debate. The discourse appears to occur in a beautiful setting with Sudhana and other disciples sitting under the two big trees with birds flying above.
Borobudur, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is located about 30 miles north of Yogyakarta on the island of Java, Indonesia. It is the largest and one of the most beautiful Buddhist monuments in the world.
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