The Great Departure

East Gate of Stupa #1, Sanchi

At the left is Buddha's home city of Kapilavastu. The palace arches and other architectural details are echoed in early monastic caves (see for example at Bhaja, dating from 100 BC - 70 BC, the facade of the Caitya Hall, and the inner wall of Vihara 19). From left to right across the architrave, Prince Siddhartha proceeds out of the city, his horse's hooves supported by attendant spirits so as not to alert the household to his departure. The horse is shown several times, as a standard narrative convention denoting movement. At the far right, Siddhartha's followers return to the city. Throughout the panel, as everywhere at Sanchi, the Buddha is represented aniconically -- in the present scene by parasols and, at the far right, by a pair of footprints under worship.

Susan Huntington has reinterpreted this scene as depicting a ceremonial reinactment of the Great Departure, rather than the Great Departure itself. Her interpretation should be understood in the context of Huntington's comprehensive reevaluation of aniconism in early Buddhist art. The reader is referred to her publications for more details.