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Scenes from the life of the Buddha
Place of Origin: Thailand
Date: approx. 1800-1850
Materials: Paint and gold on cloth
Dimensions: H. 97 7/8 in x W. 46 1/2 in, H. 248.6 cm x W. 114.6 cm (image); H. 99 7/8 in x W. 45 1/8 in, H. 253.7 cm x W. 114.6 cm (overall)
Credit Line: Gift from Doris Duke Charitable Foundation's Southeast Asian Art Collection
Department: Southeast Asian Art
Collection: Painting
Object Number: 2006.27.122.15
On Display: No

Description

Label:

This large painting and (2006.27.122.11) must have been part of a set illustrating the life of the Buddha. They are the same size as one another and are very similar in style and organization. How many other paintings were in the set is uncertain, but this painting, from the position of its episodes in the life of the Buddha, would likely have been preceded by at least one other. Then at least one more, and probably several, would have intervened before 2006.27.122.11, which completes the story.

The episodes do not appear to be laid out in an obviously chronological way within the painting. In general, they seem to start at the bottom and move upward, but there are numerous exceptions.

The scenes shown here are as follows (roughly from the bottom of the painting):
1. The bodhisattva, or Buddha-to-be-that is, the Buddha before he achieved enlightenment-sits in meditation.
2. The bodhisattva is joined by five ascetics, shown wearing tigerskin garments, the conventional garb of hermits in Siamese art.
3. The bodhisattva is troubled about whether to give up his extreme practices of self-denial. The deity Indra, depicted as green, appears to him and plucks three strings of a sort of lute to reassure the bodhisattva of the correctness of the Middle Way. The undertightened string makes unsatisfactory noise, and the overtightened one snaps; the third string, well-tightened, produces a beautiful sound.
4. In an unidentified scene two hermits sit before the bodhisattva. Perhaps these are two of the five ascetics who joined the bodhisattva earlier and are now taking leave because they disapprove of his giving up extreme practices of self-denial.
5. A young village woman cooks rice to offer to the bodhisattva for him to break his fast. Indra flies down to add delicious flavorings to the rice.
6. The rice is offered to the bodhisattva. Behind him Indra seems to be spiriting away his alms bowl. This detail is probably explained by the statement in a Buddhist text known in Siam: "The earthenware vessel given [to him previously] disappeared at this moment."
7. The bodhisattva releases the golden rice dish onto the river with the wish that if he is to achieve buddhahood that very day the bowl should move upstream. A serpent king watches. (A moment later the dish does move upstream.)
8. On his way to the ultimate meditation during which he will achieve enlightenment and buddhahood, the bodhisattva is given a bundle of grass to sit on.
9. The bodhisattva is attacked by the demon Mara, the embodiment of evil and death, but gains a glorious victory and becomes a Buddha. As is usual in Thai paintings of the scene, Mara (on elephant back) and his horde attack from the viewer's right and are shown humbled in defeat on the viewer's left. The Earth Goddess, who is barely visible because of damage to the painting, has wrung her hair, creating a flood against which Mara's followers are shown struggling unsuccessfully.
10. The uppermost part of the painting has suffered severe paint loss and is difficult to read. At the right it is possible to make out the Buddha sitting in meditation on the coils of a serpent king and protected by the serpent's hoods arching over his head. This episode occurs in the sixth week after the Enlightenment. In this damaged upper portion the Buddha can be seen at least twice more, probably in other standard episodes of the seven weeks after the Enlightenment.


More Information

Exhibition History: "Emerald Cities: Arts of Siam and Burma" Asian Art Museum, October 23, 2009 - January 10, 2010
Label:

This large painting and (2006.27.122.11) must have been part of a set illustrating the life of the Buddha. They are the same size as one another and are very similar in style and organization. How many other paintings were in the set is uncertain, but this painting, from the position of its episodes in the life of the Buddha, would likely have been preceded by at least one other. Then at least one more, and probably several, would have intervened before 2006.27.122.11, which completes the story.

The episodes do not appear to be laid out in an obviously chronological way within the painting. In general, they seem to start at the bottom and move upward, but there are numerous exceptions.

The scenes shown here are as follows (roughly from the bottom of the painting):
1. The bodhisattva, or Buddha-to-be-that is, the Buddha before he achieved enlightenment-sits in meditation.
2. The bodhisattva is joined by five ascetics, shown wearing tigerskin garments, the conventional garb of hermits in Siamese art.
3. The bodhisattva is troubled about whether to give up his extreme practices of self-denial. The deity Indra, depicted as green, appears to him and plucks three strings of a sort of lute to reassure the bodhisattva of the correctness of the Middle Way. The undertightened string makes unsatisfactory noise, and the overtightened one snaps; the third string, well-tightened, produces a beautiful sound.
4. In an unidentified scene two hermits sit before the bodhisattva. Perhaps these are two of the five ascetics who joined the bodhisattva earlier and are now taking leave because they disapprove of his giving up extreme practices of self-denial.
5. A young village woman cooks rice to offer to the bodhisattva for him to break his fast. Indra flies down to add delicious flavorings to the rice.
6. The rice is offered to the bodhisattva. Behind him Indra seems to be spiriting away his alms bowl. This detail is probably explained by the statement in a Buddhist text known in Siam: "The earthenware vessel given [to him previously] disappeared at this moment."
7. The bodhisattva releases the golden rice dish onto the river with the wish that if he is to achieve buddhahood that very day the bowl should move upstream. A serpent king watches. (A moment later the dish does move upstream.)
8. On his way to the ultimate meditation during which he will achieve enlightenment and buddhahood, the bodhisattva is given a bundle of grass to sit on.
9. The bodhisattva is attacked by the demon Mara, the embodiment of evil and death, but gains a glorious victory and becomes a Buddha. As is usual in Thai paintings of the scene, Mara (on elephant back) and his horde attack from the viewer's right and are shown humbled in defeat on the viewer's left. The Earth Goddess, who is barely visible because of damage to the painting, has wrung her hair, creating a flood against which Mara's followers are shown struggling unsuccessfully.
10. The uppermost part of the painting has suffered severe paint loss and is difficult to read. At the right it is possible to make out the Buddha sitting in meditation on the coils of a serpent king and protected by the serpent's hoods arching over his head. This episode occurs in the sixth week after the Enlightenment. In this damaged upper portion the Buddha can be seen at least twice more, probably in other standard episodes of the seven weeks after the Enlightenment.


Exhibition History: "Emerald Cities: Arts of Siam and Burma" Asian Art Museum, October 23, 2009 - January 10, 2010