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In the years after Gautama Buddha’s passing, the story of his life was handed down for generations through the oral tradition. The first written biography emerged in India during the 2nd century, under the patronage of the famous Buddhist emperor, Kanishka.
The Buddhacharita-kavya-sutra was composed in Sanskrit by the accomplished poet Asvaghosa. In the 5th century A.D. Dharmaraksha, a monk-poet, translated the Buddhacharita into Chinese. In the 7th or 8th century A.D., it was translated into Tibetan.
The biography consists of 28 chapters detailing Gautama Buddha’s life from birth to the period after his death, when his sacred relics were dispersed. Drawing from the Pali Tipitaka for information, Asvaghosa’s writing is a fine example of Buddhist literature. While remarkable for its superbly descriptive style and obvious reverence, the biography is also relatively realistic, taking care to avoid too much of mythological embellishment.
Only 14 cantos of the original Buddhacharita manuscript were discovered, the remaining having been lost during various invasions of India.