Local tradition claims that Buddhism was introduced into Burma (Myanmar) during the third century B.C.E. by the Indian king Ashoka's missionaries, although archeological excavations to date reveal Buddhist presence only from about the second to third century C.E. Although a number of different types of Buddhism were practiced in Burma, Theravada Buddhism was established as the dominant religion in 1056 by King Anawrahta (reigned 1044 – 1077), who unified the country. However, the several streams of Buddhist traditions that reached Burma from India and Sri Lanka left indelible traces upon its material culture, as is evidenced by two Burmese images of Shakyamuni Buddha in the Asia Society's collection. The Theravada Buddhism of Sri Lanka greatly influenced the practice of Burmese Buddhism and to a lesser extent its art. The image of the Buddha in an Asia Society sculpture (Fig. 1) can be associated with Theravada Buddhism by the depiction of two of Shakyamuni's most important disciples shown kneeling before him. Much Burmese attention was also focused on Bodh Gaya in northeastern India, the site of the Buddha's enlightenment. In fact, circa 1098 King Kyanzittha paid for the renovation of the famed Mahabodhi Temple at Bodh Gaya. An eleventh to twelfth-century Burmese Buddha (Fig. 2) can be linked to Mahayana Buddhism and the influence of art from Buddhist centers in northeastern India by the presence of the two slender bodhisattvas flanking Shakyamuni as well as by the iconography, which was developed during the Pala dynasty of northeastern India (ca. 8th – 12th century) (Fig. 3).

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