Buddhism, today one of the world’s largest religions, began with a single person. Siddartha Gautama was an Indian prince who lived in the sixth or fifth century BCE and became known as the Buddha (“Awakened One”) after his enlightenment during meditation—a sudden understanding of the cause of human suffering and how to escape it. Also known as Shakyamuni (“Sage of the Shakya clan”), he was revered for his teachings, the basis of the many variations of Buddhism that spread throughout East Asia.
Shakyamuni is depicted here in old age, dying on his bed. Buddhist temples display large paintings like this in February, the month associated with Shakyamuni’s nirvana, or release from mortal suffering.