L. Seated Bosatsu. R. Buddha protected by Naga Raja.
L. 12th c R. 13th c L. Japanese R. Thai L. Heian (Late) R. Lop Buri Sculptu
L. c. 1180-1200 R. 1200-1300
L. 12th c R. 13th c
L. Heian (Late) R. Lop Buri
Washington D.C. National Gallery of Art.
The right hand of the Japanese Buddha on the left is raised to shoulder level, palm outward. As we have learned, this is the gesture of reassurance, blessing and protection known as the "abhaya" mudra, meaning "do not fear." The style of the drapery and of the rounded body are similar to the standing Japanese Buddha that we have just seen. This figure, however, sits upon a lotus, a symbol of purity. When used as a throne, the lotus symbolizes nirvana. He is surrounded by an aureole, a body halo or radiant light that symbolizes the spiritual energy and holiness of the figure. This aureole, or halo, combines a round form that surrounds the body, with a pointed form that frames the head. The bronze gilt halo is very finely worked.
The Buddha on the left sits with both hands in his lap. Do you remember the meaning of that gesture. Yes, it is the mudra of meditation. However, what seems to be an aureole is a multi-headed snake, a NAGA. The image depicts a legend that when the Buddha was seated under the bodi tree, lost in mediation attempting to achieve enlightenment, was attacked by Mara and his legions ,who attempted to distract him. Along with the beautiful women and demons, Mara also sent terrible storm and a flood. The Naga king crept out from his hole under the Buddha's tree, lifted him above the flood and spread the hoods of his multiple heads to protect the meditating Buddha from the rain.
In South East Asia nagas or serpents were associated with water and were considered to represent the cosmic source of life. Such an image also indicates the absorption of the older snake or naga cult into Buddhism, a process known as SYNCRETISM. The process of combining different forms of belief into a single system is commonly found as religions spread from one region to another.
L. LATE HEIAN R. LOP BURI| L. Seated Bosatsu. R. Buddha protected by Naga Raja. |c. 1180-1300 | L. Japanese R. Thai