A Temple painting depicting the Conception and Birth of Buddha

A Temple painting depicting the Conception[ The White Elephant Dream of Maya devi] and Birth of Buddha[Mayadevi , a Sakyan bathed in Lotus pond prior to birth of Buddha ]

The skills of ancient Sinhala artist can be appreciated in the artifacts such as coins. These craftsman or die-makers  of old displayed their imagination on the very little space available on the face of a coin.The portraits on ancient Greek coins made of gold and silver are very much sort after pieces of art , other than the numismatists value. The most sort after  Sri Lankan  ancient pieces of miniature art is perhaps on the Lady of the Cast and Struck plaques in Copper or its alloy. There is controversy as to who this Queen /Goddess on these plaque is ?. In displaying this artistic excellence; was it a religious theme that  the die-maker wish to portray on the face of the coin?. what ever it was -It must have been a  symbol  well known and in the mind set of the Sinhalese during the period of issue and could easily recognised by the people of that period.

The coin is question are dated from the period of King Devanampiyatissa. This may well have been after the arrival of Rev Mahinda to Sri Lanka.


The present art on the gateways were perhaps of a later period, but many believe that the very same figure may have been engraved on a wooden structures until they were replaced by stone during the Satavahana period. To quote from the web site on Sanchi;

  “A thrilling experience to remember when one walks over the same place where Devi, wife of Emperor Asoka, and son Mahendra had walked over, several hundreds of years back. Imagine that two thousand three hundred years back thousand of pious monks and nuns might have flocked to this place in saffron robes for spiritual solace. It was considered so pious that many of them wanted to attain salvation here. Then, the whole area, the valley down below and mountains across it might have been reverberating with “Buddham Sharnam Gachhami.” The place was sanctified by the visit of Mahendra, son of Asoka, who came to meet his mother Devi, perhaps living in one of the cells of the monastery located near Stupa 2, clothed in saffron cloths and a begging bowl in hand.

It was from here, Mahendra, embarked on the missionary journey to Ceylon for propagating the message of the Buddha. From Ceylon, Buddhism spread to many countries of South East Asia such as Burma, Java, Sumatra, Thailand and Korea etc. Thus Sanchi is the proud mother of Buddhism to many South East Asian countries. “

The Symbols found on Ancient Coins found on the Sanchi Gateway.

The  symbols depicting the important events of Buddhas life was placed on most ancient coins of Sr Lanka, and similar symbols are found on the Four Sanchi gateways. These sculptures of the 1 Cent BC, were perhaps copied on to stone from the original gateways of King Asoka period which may have been on wood. What was depicted at Sanchi may be  an important evidence to understand the ancient Die-makers of Sri Lankan coins mind set.

The Southern Gateway: Reveals the birth of Gautum in a series of dramatically rich carvings and is  crowned by a wheel of law, illustrates the miracle associated with the Buddha as told in the Jataka tales. The Eastern Gateway, depicts the young prince, Gautam, leaving his father’s place, renouncing worldly life to seek enlightenment .The inner face of the right pillar portrays the dream of Maya, the mother of Buddha, when she conceived him. The Western Gateway depicts the Seven incarnations of the Buddha, four represented by trees and three by stupas; the Buddha preaching his first sermon at the Deer Park, Sarnath and the Chhaddanta Jataka tale. Stupa No. 2, dating back to the 2nd Century BC, stands at the very edge of the hill and its most striking feature is the stone balustrade that surrounds it. Stupa No.3 situated northeast of the Great Stupa is where the relics of Sariputra and Mahamogualana

The Elephant depicting the dream of Maya devi, the Conception of the to be Buddha, the Horse his renunciation, the Bodhi tree his enlightenment and the Caitiya his passing away. The most celebrated event by  Buddhists was his birth on the full moon day of Vesak. This event was depicted in later sculpture[ 3/4 Cent ] with a figure of Maya devi holding a branch of Sal tree and the baby appearing at her hip.

How this very same events was depicted on the Gateways at Sanchi, India?. The life and stories of the Buddha are depicted on stone are woven out of miracles associated  Indian  deities. The  conception is remembered by the dream of a White Elephant, the Birth with the miraculous stream of water issuing from the ground under the influence of two Nagas.

All these photos is taken off the web sites on ancients Buddhist sites in India.Please visit these sites for more details.


A  count of the main events in the life of the Buddha on the four gateway is shown below.

Sanchi 1


These above pieces are found in most ancient sites of Sri Lanka. They appear in the various denominations. The earliest found coin is perhaps 2  Cent BC. They were found in C14 dated layers from 1 Cent BC up to 7 Cent AD. Some of the figures on the coins are about finest pie4ces of miniature art found in Sri Lanka.They are the most abundant of ancient coins of Sri Lanka.  They may cost between $ 20 to $300 [for good copies- depending on the condition and Artistic Merit], but they are forbidden to be taken out of the country , with out the inspection and approval  of the Archaeological Department of Sri Lanka.

Where else did our ancient Craftman use this symbol?.

1.The Makara-Thorana over the cave at Issurumuniya.

2.Wahalkada at Abeyagiri Vihare now chiselled off[ DPE Hettiarachchi].

3. Lintal in the Dalada Maligawa at Yapahuwa- Where the sacred Tooth relic was worshiped in 13 Cent AD.

4. The side of Gal-potha at Pollonnaruva.

1 and 2 are not dated, the 3and 4 are almost a thousand years after that on Sri Lnkan coins.

This very same concept was used on coins of India, they all have the  Buddhist symbols which are found on the plaques found here.


More reading; wordpress.sirimunasiha . Appendix to Chapter III- HW Codrington



  1. Wonderful study. why dont you publish this as a booklet it will defenitely help some on in the future ? If not now?

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