On Buddha Purnima, let us understand the myth of the Birth of Lord Buddha.
King Suddhodana was the ruler of a Himalayan kingdom. One day his wife, Queen Maya, had a strange dream. As per her dream, some angels carried her high into the snow-capped mountains and draped her in flowers. Then a magnificent white elephant carrying a white lotus approached her and walked around her thrice. The elephant then struck her on her right side with its trunk and entered into her from her right side.
The Queen woke up very perplexed and when she related the dream to her husband, the King summoned Brahmins to interpret the dream. The Brahmins then told the King that the Queen would give birth to a son, who would grow up to be a great ‘conqueror’.
When the time for delivery came closer, she took leave of her husband to travel to her own town. On her way to her town, she came across the Lumbini grove which was in full bloom. The Queen decided to take some rest in the grove and with the help of her attendants went in the centre of the grove. When she reached the spot, she developed labour. She held the branches of a Sal tree and delivered the child in a standing position. Later the Queen returned to her kingdom, but died within seven days and Gautama was raised by her mother’s sister, who in due course of time got married to the King.
This is an interesting myth associated with a historical person. There is historical evidence of the birth of Gautama, but has mythical connotations to his birth. The white elephant is a symbol of fertility and the white lotus is a symbol of enlightenment in Buddhist art and mythology. In mythology, the birth of a hero always has magical circumstances or unnatural events preceding or succeeding the birth, needless to say at times the birth itself.
Scholars have found parallels of the birth with the birth of Vedic Indra, who too was considered to be a mortal hero, who got deified later. Indra too was born from the side of his mother and there were earthquakes during his birth. The association of a white elephant is also found in myths of Indra, as his vahana was the mighty Airavata, a powerful elephant. Many scholars feel that the birth of Gautama could have been drawn from the Vedic references of the birth of Indra, except that there have been no major battles associated with Buddha, as is found in the case of Indra. However, Buddha ‘fought’ a lot of personal battles like vices and temptation to achieve Nirvana. If we are to compare this aspect too, then Indra fought his battles outside himself, whereas Buddha fought his battles inside to achieve Enlightenment.