Theravada Buddhist Sculpture at Srikshetra -Pyu  

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Theravada Buddhist Sculpture at Srikshetra

Most images of the Buddha are carved in high relief with a considerable stele backing. Several sets of these monumental images have been found arranged so that two triads face one another. This practice occurs only during the Pyu Period and may hearken back to the megaliths of a much earlier time.

A number of Buddha images were found within or outside the ancient city. A great number of clay votive tablets have come to light as well as several bronze molds that were used to stamp them out. These tablets were placed in the foundation and deposit boxes of stupas and temples during construction as a means to increase their sanctity as well as the spiritual merit of the donor. An example of this practice is the placement by King Anawratha of votive tablets within the Bawbawgyi stupa; each displays fifty small images of the Buddha.

Individual images at Srikshetra represent a number of events in Gautama Buddha’s life: The Birth, The Prince contemplating the Mysteries of Life, Meditation, one of the most elaborate presentations of the First Sermon to be found in Burma, Teaching with both hands in vitarka mudra, the Enlightenment using both right and left hands for earth touching, the earliest representation of the earth goddess in Burma in which she is shown with two long tresses of hair, the Miracle of Double Appearances, Overcoming the Nalagiri Elephant and Holding the alms bowl. In later presentations these events are often assigned much less importance and appear, if at all, within a small frame in a wall painting or as a background embellishment to the Buddha’s enlightenment.

Several bronze images believed to depict Maitreya have come to light, although they may be the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara without his usual identifying marks. However, one of these curious images has the name Maitreya (incorrectly?) written on its base. The interest in Maitreya, the Buddha as well as the Bodhisattva of the Future (like Gautama Buddha, he is both a Theravada and Mahayanna deity), arises from a belief that he will return to save the world. This concern with Maiteya as a savior figure continues during the Pagan Period where it is an inspiration for creating votive plaques and for the creation of one of the world’s rare building types: pentagonal temples that have a shrine for each of the four Buddhas of the Past as well as one for Maitreya.

Most sculptures at Srikshetra are typically in high relief with a heavy stele backing, although some large single sculptures in the round have been discovered. One such sculpture from the Kan-wet-khaung-gon mound is made of stone and depicts the Buddha in a seated meditation posture with two hands placed on his lap. This is a particularly important image, not only because it is free standing but because it can be dated to the late 7th century by the bilingual inscription on its base. The inscription is fortunately not only in Pyu but Sanskrit as well, the script of which can be dated. This image is then one of the few dated benchmarks that can be used to establish a developmental chronology for Pyu sculpture.

Of particular interest is a cylindrical gilded silver casket found in the relic chamber of the Khin Ba mound. In a style derived from the North Indian Gupta style, it is embossed with the last four Buddhas of the present world cycle seated in the earth-touching posture with a standing disciple between each of them. The casket has a flat lid. A banyan tree rises from its center that was once adorned with metal twigs and leaves. Inscribed around the rim of the lid is a Pyu-Pali inscription in South Indian characters. The inscription identifies each Buddha by name as well as their disciples; it also records two names, probably of donors. A smaller reliquary casket shaped like a cube is without a lid or base and has a meditating Buddha seated on each face. Both reliquaries are executed in a precise and beautiful repousse technique.

It is not possible to give a detailed description of the Pyu style of image because so many different styles co-existed. Indeed, images that turn up and don’t fit any of the known Burmese styles, are frequently, and often inaccurately, dubbed “Pyu”.

This entry was posted on Jan 5, 2009 at Monday, January 05, 2009 and is filed under . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .



Great article !
Read also this article about Pyu Buddha statues:

February 21, 2015 at 7:02 PM

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