Railing Pillar: The Great Departure of Siddhartha
c. 100 B.C.E.
Asia: India, Madhya Pradesh, Bharhut
Not on View

Prior to the development of anthropomorphic images of the Buddha, the great sage was represented by symbols associated with his divinity or royal lineage. This pillar chronicles the tale of Prince Siddhartha’s escape from his father’s palace and his pursuit of Buddhahood (enlightenment). The narrative begins at the top of the pillar, with Siddhartha leaving the palace, represented by his wheel-marked footsteps approaching his trusty horse and groomsman. Above the horse, two flywhisks and an umbrella—symbols associated with royalty—represent Siddhartha seated on his steed. On the lower register, flower petals are strewn on the ground to muffle the sound of the horse’s hooves and to symbolize the future Buddha’s divine presence.


  • Title: Railing Pillar: The Great Departure of Siddhartha
  • Date: c. 100 B.C.E.
  • Medium: Sandstone
  • Dimensions: 54 x 9 x 11 in. (137.2 x 22.9 x 27.9 cm)
  • Credit Line: The Norton Simon Foundation
  • Accession Number: F.1972.55.S
  • Copyright: © The Norton Simon Foundation

Object Information

Ben Heller, New York, sold 1972 to;
The Norton Simon Foundation.

Tree and Serpent: Early Buddhist Art in India, 200 B.C.-A.D. 400

  • The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2023-07-17 to 2023-11-13
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  • Leoshko, Janice, Asian Art: Selections from the Norton Simon Museum, fig. 2 pp. 6-7
  • Cunningham, Alexander, The Stûpa of Bharhut: A Buddhist Monument Ornamented with Numerous Sculptures Illustrative of Buddhist Legends and History in the Third Century B. C., 1879,
  • Barua, Beni Madhab, Bharhut, 1934,
  • Lüders, H., Bharhut und die buddhistische Literatur, 1941, p. 172
  • Coomaraswamy, Amanda K., La sculpture de Bharhut, 1956,
  • Bharhut Inscriptions, 1963,
  • Pal, Pratapaditya, Asian Art at the Norton Simon Museum, Volume 1: Art from the Indian Subcontinent, 2003, fig. 19, no. 11 pp. 22, 44
  • Campbell, Sara, Collector Without Walls: Norton Simon and His Hunt for the Best, 2010, cat. 895 p. 349
  • Meher McArthur, Highlights of Buddhist Art at the Norton Simon Museum, 2018,
  • Guy, John, Tree & Serpent: Early Buddhist Art in India, 200 BCE-400CE, 2023, Cat. 25 pp. 55-56, p. 56 (ill.)

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