Wednesday, 6th July 2016
Buddhas of Burma (part one)
Burma is full of statues of Buddha, whether they be in temples and pagodas or sat atop hills. When you’ve seen one you’ve seen them all, right?! Well, not quite. Representations of Buddha come in many shapes and sizes, as well as being crafted out of all manner of materials. Add to this the fact that each era in Burma’s history has had a different style of Buddha and there’s myriad variations on the theme.
The oldest Buddha statues in Burma, those from the Pyu era, tend to be sat cross-legged and feature an outer robe. Their faces are often stark and are usually made from cast bronze with a high silver and tin content.
Images from the Bagan period tend to feature a round face and a serious expression atop a muscular body. They can be standing or seated and are most often created out of bronze, iron, sandstone or wood.
A Buddha image with a meditative expression and a slightly plumper body may well come from the Toungoo era. Look for a lotus petal halo and layers of petals at the base, as well as the right hand pointing down in what is known as the ground touching mudra.
Oval shaped faces and large foreheads characterise the Ava period, with curved eyebrows and eyes looking down in meditation. Buddhas from this time are likely to be made from wood, bronze and marble, while being decorated with lacquer or gold.
With round faces that are turned down, Amarapura Buddhas are most easily recognisable from the circular pattern on their robes, knees and shins. Rare examples were made from metal, papier mache or lacquerware, but more commonly made from wood and then decorated.
Mandalay Buddhas are particularly popular, as they represent the sage as being young and with a sweet face and soft features. The robe tends to have elaborate drapes, be beautifully edged and decorated with mirror glass inlaid into the material.
Dating as far back as the 17th century, Shan Buddha images have triangular faces, broad foreheads and narrowly opened eyes. They tend to wear tall crowns on their heads while being seated on lotus flower thrones.
Mon Buddhas, which are often made of alabaster, stone or bronze, tend to be seated with their hands in the touching earth mudra. Look closely and you will see that the fingers are shorter than those on Buddha images of other periods.
With face angled downwards, Arakan era Buddha statues are recognisable from their short crowns with rope details on their heads. They are usually seated taking on the touching earth mudra with their hands.
Read the second part of the guide to Burma’s Buddha statues when it is published next week.