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14. Buddha Sakyamuni seated on an Elephant Pedestal (Gajasana)
Myanmar, Ava Kingdom 16th century
Bronze, cast in the lost wax method, traces of gilding, inlaid eyes, inscription at the back
Height 93 cm
Buddha Sakyamuni seated on an Elephant Pedestal (Gajasana)

This impressive temple image of Sakyamuni represents a seminal episode in the Buddha’s life, the moment of his enlightenment. With his right hand he touches the earth, indicating his subjugation of Mara, the god of desire, who strove to distract him from his meditation with a succession of temptations. Sakyamuni is clad in a simple monastic robe that leaves his right shoulder and arm uncovered. Fine curls cover his head and ushnisa that symbolises his wisdom. He bears an urna (third eye) on his forehead, and elongated earlobes reflect his royal origins. Sakyamuni’s magnificent throne is supported by eleven elephants (gajasana) with a kinnara (mythical creatures, half-human, half-bird) at each corner. Sakyamuni appeared as a white elephant in his last incarnation before reaching Buddhahood.

The powerful Ava Kingdom ruled Upper Burma (Myanmar) from 1364 to 1555. Founded in 1364, it was the successor state to the small kingdoms of Myinsaing, Pinya and Sagaing that had dominated central Burma since the collapse of the Pagan Kingdom in the late thirteenth century. Ava was ruled by the Shan kings who claimed descent from the kings of Pagan. According to the royal chronicles of Myanmar, the Shan king was envious of the Thai king’s white elephants and demanded a pair. When the Thai king refused, the Shan king retaliated by invading Thailand.

The Burmese people during the Ava period were inspired by Pagan as a golden age of peace and prosperity, as reflected in its magnificent architecture. A typical Ava Buddha image can be recognized by the concentrated, rather square face on a relatively short, narrow neck and the monumental body. The sculpture is not hampered by the strict stylistic rules of later periods, nor by its abstract modelling, indeed the Buddha image appears alive as a radiant serene image. His personal character is enhanced by impressive pure shapes, by powerful posture and gestures, and by the lively rhythm in the arrangement of the elephants and kinnaras supporting the throne.

Collection Mr and Mrs W. Missorten, Belgium, since 1999 and by descent.

Indian, Himalayan and Southeast Asian Art, Marcel Nies Oriental Art, Antwerp, 1999, pp. 22-23.

S. Fraser-Lu & D.M. Stadtner, Buddhist Art of Myanmar, New York, 2015, figs. 35, 37.

all text, images © Marcel Nies
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