This image of the historical Buddha, Shakyamuni, is in the U-Thong style of fourteenth-century Thailand. The style was apparently named after Prince U Thong, the first king of the Thai kingdom of Ayutthaya. U Thong reigned as Ramathibodi I from 1351 to 1369, and actively propagated Theravada Buddhism as the state religion. This sculpture represents a move away from the Khmer-influenced Mahayana traditions of the Lopburi period towards a focus on the teachings of the earthly Buddha, Shakyamuni or Gautama.
The Buddha wears an unadorned monk’s robe, folded across the left shoulder. His right hand extends to the ground in the earth-touching gesture (bhumisparsha mudra), signifying the Buddha calling on the earth to witness his attainment of enlightenment. His legs are crossed, with only the sole of the right foot visible. With a serene facial expression, the Buddha is shown with the pronounced cranial bump, capped with a flame-like jewel, characteristic of Thai Buddhist art. For Theravada Buddhists, this type of image serves as a focus for contemplation of the dharma, or Buddha’s teachings.
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
From: Ron Radford (ed), Collection highlights: National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2008