This painting depicts the death of the buddha Shaka, the founder of Buddhism, and his entry into Nirvana. He lies on his right side with his head to the north, surrounded by bodhisattvas and disciples. Above the trees, Queen Maya, the buddha Shaka's birth mother, descends on a cloud. More than 50 living creatures are shown in the foreground mourning the buddha Shaka's passing. These include a number of humans alongside mammals, birds, and even insects.
Take a closer look at the faces of these figures. Their realistic human expressions are a typical feature of art from the Kamakura period (1192–1333), when this work was painted. The animals are likewise portrayed in an extremely realistic manner.
In addition to the death of the buddha Shaka, scenes of his life are depicted along the sides of the piece. The scene that begins at the center of the left-hand side as one faces the painting and extends down a short way, for instance, depicts the episode in which Queen Maya dreamed of a white elephant entering her womb and awoke to find herself pregnant with the buddha Shaka.
Depictions of the death of the buddha Shaka, such as this one, were painted for services held on February 15th, or Parinirvana Day, the day the buddha Shaka is believed to have attained complete nirvana upon the death of his physical body. They were hung in temples and other buildings as objects of worship.