This Buddha is depicted walking with his right hand in the gesture of reassurance (abhayamudra). Most Buddha images throughout Asia are in one of three postures: standing, sitting or lying down. The creation of a walking Buddha image is a distinctive feature of Thai art in the thirteenth century. Walking images of the Buddha continue to be made in Thailand to this day.
Walking among the people
After renouncing his early life as a prince, the Buddha spent the remainder of his life as a mendicant, teaching throughout northern India. Earlier Buddhist art had stressed the god-like and king-like aspects of the Buddha, and neither gods nor kings were imagined as a walking monk. Thai images presented a new image of the Buddha walking among the people emphasizing his earthly aspects. Sukhothai walking images are also connected with the conception of Thai kings as being closer to the people than their Indian or Khmer counterparts.
The Sukhothai kingdom was the first Theravada Buddhist kingdom of Thailand. The ethnic Thai people entered modern Thailand from the north, modern south-west China. The Sukhothai style of sculpture is very distinctive, with smooth long limbs, an oval face and smooth modelling of clothing. The influence of Sri Lanka is clear in the flame-like ushnisha which is seen on the head of images of the Buddha.
R.E. Fisher, Buddhist art and architecture (London, Thames & Hudson, 1993).
W. Zwalf (ed.), Buddhism: art and faith (London, The British Museum Press, 1985).
© Trustees of the British Museum
Want to join the conversation?
- In the description of the British museum it says: "Sukothai period, 14th century" But in the text it says: "The creation of a walking Buddha image is a distinctive feature of Thai art in the thirteenth century". Which century was it really made in, 13th or 14th?(5 votes)
- Comparing Bhuddism in China and in Thailand, is Bhuddism observed differently throughout differing regions? For example like the many branches of Christianity?(2 votes)
- Exactly. Buddhist practices differ with the context in which they are worked out. Buddhist beliefs are shaped by the cultures in which they take root and grow. Though Buddhists from these varying contexts recognize each other as Buddhists, they may practice their faith with differing emphases.(2 votes)
- There are many replicas of similar buddha statues, of various sizes, a walking buddha with the same mudra, but many (most) of them have the left hand making the mudra, and the right hand down, unlike this one (e.g. when you google "walking buddha"). Is there any reason and/or meaning of the right vs. left versions of this same Buddha ? Thank you.(1 vote)
- Is there any particular reason why Thailand portrayed Buddhist statuary as earthly compared to other points in history? Why did this shift occur?(1 vote)