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Upagupta

Upagupta

The basics
Quick Facts
Gender male
The details
Biography

Upagupta (c. 3rd Century BC) was a Buddhist monk. According to some stories in the Sanskrit text Ashokavadana, he was the spiritual teacher of the Mauryan emperor Ashoka. Upagupta's teacher was Sanavasi who was a disciple of Ānanda, the Buddha's attendant. Due to the absence of his name in Theravada literature it is assumed that Upagupta was a Sarvāstivādin monk. In South East Asian countries and Bangladesh Upagupta is a great cult figure. In Myanmar he is known as Shin Upagutta. In the Lokapannatti Upagupta is sent by Ashoka to tame Mara during an enshrinement ceremony festival, afterwords he asks her to take the physical form (rupakaya) of Buddha so that everyone at the festival can see what Buddha looked like.

In Literature

Rabindranath Tagore in his poem 'Abhisar' collected in 'Katha' relates a story of Upagupta. In the story, in the month of Sraban, the monk was at sleep in Mathura, when Vasavdatta - the city's diva or courtesan trips over and notices the monk. Enchanted by the handsome appearance of the monk, Vasavdatta invites him to go with her to her house. But Upagupta tells her that he cannot go with her at this point; when time comes, he will go. After a passage of seven months, when the month of Chaitra came, the city folks went to a festival out in the forest. In the lone city, Upagupta goes beyond the precincts and finds Vasavdatta severely deformed by a disease with pustules covering her body. The city people had cast her out of the city's wall. The monk nurses the woman with care - telling her that the time for their togetherness has come.

Rabindranath adopted the story with some changes from the Vodhisattwavadanakalpalata by Kshemendra, the 10th-11th century Kashmiri poet.

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