Nalagiri – Jataka Tales

Taming of Nalagiri - Amravati Gallery

Taming of Nalagiri – Amravati Gallery

The subjugation of  Nalagiri

The Amravati Gallery in Government Museum, Egmore has several pieces of art from Amravati. Most of these are sculpted on a variety of marble like limestone.

One of the important sculpture here is a medallion depicting the scene if subjugation of the elephant Nalagiri.

The Nalagiri jataka goes something like this:

Buddha’s cousin Devadatta also joins the Sangha and becomes influential.  He also acquires some supernatural powers. However, he becomes jealous of Buddha and his popularity. He wins over some elements with his supernatural powers and tries in several ways to kill Buddha. He is unsuccessful in all attempts.

Finally, he persuades the royal elephant keepers to get the fierce elephant Nalapada (also known as Dhanapala) drunk with intoxicants and sent out to the marketplace where Buddha is expected.

Seeing the enraged pachyderm, people run helter-skelter. Even those watching from the balcony are worried.  In the melee, a woman drops her baby near Buddha’s feet. As Nalagiri is about to trample the baby and charge at Buddha, he does not lose his composure. Instead, he touches the forehead of the elephant and gently strokes it. Nalagiri not only becomes calm but seems to be completely subdued. It bows before the Buddha. Buddha delivers a sermon on dhamma to it.

The two-and-a-half foot diameter medallion from Amravati exhibited at the Madras Museum in Egmore clearly depicts the charging Nalagiri and the subdued Nalagiri. The crowd is terrified while Buddha and his disciple (Ananda?) are composed.     The details of the people in the balcony are also clearly visible. (View full size for better details)


Circa 200 C.E.


Madras Museum, Egmore

Excuse the poor quality of the photograph.