Hariti Relief Panel at Candi Mendut, Java
The carved stone relief is from the interior of Candi Mendut, a Buddhist temple in Central Java. Mendut was built during the early Shailendra dynasty in about 824 CE. It may have been built on the site of a Hindu temple from a previous century. The rectangular, stone temple is 26.4 meters (86.6 feet) tall and is constructed on a 2 meter (6.5 feet) platform. The surrounding wall is covered with reliefs that relate stories from Buddhist teachings along with lush carvings of plants, fruits, and flowers. This relief is one of a pair showing the goddess Hariti and her husband Kuwera.
Hariti, depicted in the south panel, is a symbol of good fortune and fertility, but this was not always so. The narrative of Hariti represents the dangers of childhood mortality. In a story with several versions, Hariti was a, ogress, or demoness who had many children, but who hunted and ate human children. One day, the Buddha hid her children and as she searched frantically to recover them, she saw the evil of her ways. She repented and became a guardian to children and a symbol of fertility and good fortune.
The relief panel, shown in many Buddhist temples, depicts Hariti sitting on a bench with a child on her lap and another climbing onto her shoulder. Children play all around her, helping each other climb fruit trees and enjoying games. Under the bench is a bowl of mangoes, a symbol of fertility. Parrots fly above her head. Hariti’s cult as a special guardian of children and women in childbirth traveled widely, expressing the ever-present threat of death especially to children. Hariti is known in Central Asia and in China, and possibly even Japan, where she is similar to the protective boddhisattva Kannon.
Shrine antechamber, northeast wall, Hariti relief panel, 8th - 9th century Indonesia, Central Java, Mendut, Sailendra dynasty; Photograph: Paul Berry, Set 49, Java II: Central Javanese Monuments, ARTstor Collection, Image Gallery ID Number 4913 Photo: © Asian Art Archives, University of Michigan.