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Sculpture from Burma (Myanmar)
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Crowned Buddha Seated in Meditation and Sheltered by Muchilinda
Thailand or Cambodia; 12th century
H. 42 1/2 in. (108 cm)
Gift of Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd
This sculpture depicts the seven-headed serpent king Muchilinda shielding the Buddha Shakyamuni from a fierce storm, an incident that took place during the Buddha's sixth week of meditation after his enlightenment. The Buddha's downcast eyes, seated posture (sattvaparyanka), and his gesture of meditation (dhyana mudra) all indicate a state of meditation. The serpent played a key role in the mythical origin of the Khmer kings, however, and it is likely that the configuration of a serpent-protected Buddha had a wider and more profound meaning in mainland Southeast Asia than simply indicating a scene from the Buddha's life. The meaning of the Buddha's crown and jewelry are also not well understood although the most widely accepted explanation is that they call attention to the preeminence of the Buddha. Thus, the Buddha wears the same insignia of royalty in the spiritual realm that monarchs do in the temporal. This explanation corresponds with the Buddhist Khmer kings' emphasis on their identification with the Buddha.
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