This exceptional sculpture reveals numerous remarkable features. The scene illustrates the miracle of Sravasti where Buddha performed eight miracles to demonstrate his superiority over the Kasyapas. During the first miracle, Buddha levitated in the air, emitting flames from his shoulders and water from his feet, cf. the image of a 'Fire Buddha' sold at Christie's New York, 17 September 2003, lot 5. Then, during the second and decisive miracle, the two Naga kings, Nanda and Upananda, created a lotus on whose petals the Buddha seated himself and by supernatural power created multiple images of himself that issued all around him.
The present scene refers to this second miracle, but is reduced to its essential elements in an unusual abstraction. Buddha is seated on an inverted lotus throne, in turn supported by two elephants centered by a lion. The eminent early scholar Alfred Foucher first pointed out that the Sanskrit word naga denotes both serpent and elephant, allowing for the sculptor to draw on a linguistic pun and the interpretation of the two elephants as elephant-nagas evoking the serpent kings Nanda and Upananda, cf. H. Ingolt, Gandharan Sculpture in Pakistan, 1957, p. 125. The elephants trunks appear serpentine in their upturned curved form supporting lotus buds; Ingolt illustrates a related example with a similar architectural setting, but far less refined in execution, with three elephants supporting the throne above water, clearly establishing the connection to the Sravasti miracle, cf. Gandharan Art in Pakistan, fig. XVI, 4; a further example at the Peshawar Museum (fig. 257) and a smaller example (fig. 261) where the base is supported by three elephants surrounded by water; a frieze with the teaching Buddha in a similar architectural setting and on an inverted throne supported by two elephants centered by a lion is in the Matsuoka Collection, see Matsuoka Museum of Art, Ancient Sculptures from the Matsuoka Collection, 1994, pl. 13.
While it is reasonable to assume that many schist figures were originally polychromed following Greco-Roman prototypes, or in some cases gilt, only very few examples bearing remnants exist in stone as opposed to stucco. In the present example, it is likely that the whole sculpture was originally gilt, the underlying red pigment lending the gold a warmer tone in areas and allowing for a variegated effect. Upon close examination, the halo reveals fine detailing with a starburst design (see detail on p. 15 of this catalogue); cf. I. Kurita, Gandharan Art, vol. II, 2003, figs. 192 and 193, where the water-moistened state illustrated on p. 74 reveals a similar design on the halo.