Interpretation Burmese Buddhist Andagu Stone Stele
Interpretation Burmese Andagu Stone Stele depicting the eight great events in the life of the Buddha with intricately carved scenes in minute detail dating to the Pagan Dynasty 11th-12th century are an amazing testimony to the master craftsmanship of the Pagan period.
Creating these intricate scenes so perfectly by hand must has involved a lot of time, labour, and love and devotion to the Buddha. We never cease to wonder about the person who must have spent many months carving and chiseling these intricate figures into the stone in such detail.
The central figure of the Buddha image in this stele is seen here with a large, pronounced nose, thick lips, mouth slightly upturned at the corners, eyebrows meeting in the centre with eyes gazing downwards with large, elongated ears touching the shoulders.
The facial expression and features of the Burmese Pagan Buddha statue vary, unlike those of the Gupta and some Indian Buddha styles where the facial features followed a more idealistic human-like appearance.
Burmese Buddha statues and images are often seen with large earlobes, some touching the shoulders and others extending to above the shoulders, depending on the era in which it was made, the ears are sometimes seen hugging the side of the head or standing out like those made during the Ava period, but all with long earlobes.
Burmese craftsmen from the Pyu period (2nd – 11th century) developed their own unique styles in Buddhist iconography, incorporating features inherited from their historical relationship to ancient Hindu and Indian influences, and is reflected in Burmese paintings, carvings, and Buddha statues from the past to the present.
Buddhism, according to some scholars was introduced into Myanmar through trade with India by Buddhist pilgrims and monks around the 1st or 2nd century, other scholars believe around the 3rd to 5th century. Prior to the introduction of Buddhism into Myanmar, tantric and animistic spirit cults were the main form of belief systems and worship.
During the mid-9th century, the first ruling king was King Anawrahta of Pagan, he embraced Buddhism and declared Buddhism as the main form of worship. Realizing the difficulty in changing the belief system among his people, and their animistic beliefs, he allowed 37 of the most popular Nat spirits to coexist alongside Buddhism.
THE EIGHT MAIN EVENTS IN THE LIFE OF THE BUDDHA
The Interpretation of Burmese Buddhist Andagu Stone Stele was defined by Pala artists in India. However, Burmese craftsmen during Pagan times developed their own unique style in their presentation of the eight main events in the life of the Buddha, also following the Buddhist scriptures.
Some andagu stone stele show between just one event or up to sixteen, there are many other scenes, around eighty in total (Jataka’s), which fall outside of the eight traditional scenes leading up to the Buddha’s enlightenment and are depicted in wooden carvings, wall paintings and wall panels in Pagan and many Pagodas throughout Myanmar.
The eight scenes on this stele are relevant to the most important events in the life of the Buddha and the eight sacred sites where the events took place. Some stele also includes the seven stations after the enlightenment of the Buddha.
The scenes traditionally are shown in clockwise order from the nativity scene, usually at the bottom, and culminating in the Pari-nirvana scene at the top, where the Buddha is lying down with his attendants/devotees kneeling beside him. Some andagu stone steles or tablets may only show a couple of scenes, whilst others show the figure of the enlightened Buddha in the earth-touching posture.
Interpretation Burmese Andagu Stone Stele:
Proper right side
- The nativity scene on the bottom represents the Buddha’s birth when Maya Devi, the mother of Siddhartha Gautama (Buddha), with her arm extended up holds onto the sal-tree branch whilst giving birth with her attendant standing next to her. When the child emerged from Maya’s right side fully formed, he immediately took his first steps, after each step a lotus flower appeared, on his seventh step he stood still and said:
- “Foremost am I in the world
Eldest am I in the world
This is the last birth
I am chief of the world
There is now no more coming to be”.
- Above the Nativity scene, the Buddha is shown seated in the preaching attitude with his hand gesture in dharmachakra mudra teaching the first sermon in the deer park at Sarnath.
- Above this (top figure) shows a standing Buddha with either the disciple Sariputta or Maudgalyayana standing behind an elephant on the right side and the other standing on his left side. Another figure kneeling above the Buddha’s right shoulder is possibly a devotee. This scene likely represents the time when the Buddha went into retreat in Parileyyaka forest after he told the Sangha to sort out their differences. Whilst in Parileyyaka forest the Buddha received offerings from the Lord of the monkeys and Lord of the elephants after which his chief monks (Sariputta and Maudgalyayana) came to take him back to the monastery.
Proper left side
- The Top left figure shows the Buddha’s descent from Trayastrimsa Heaven (the realm of the Devas) after teaching the dharma to his mother who was reborn in Trayastrimsa Heaven. He is accompanied by Brahma on the right (with three faces) and Indra on his left.
- The Scene underneath likely represents the Twin Miracles at Sravasti where he performed two miracles. These miracles preceded the visit of the Buddha to the Trayastrimsa Heaven to teach the dharma to his mother.
- The scene underneath this represents the Parileyyaka scene, where the Buddha is seated in pralambanasana, with legs pendant (European fashion), with an alms bowl in his lap, receiving offerings. The Nalagiri elephant is seen kneeling by his left side. In other Burmese Buddhist iconography showing this scene, the elephant is inter-changeable where a monkey is shown instead of the elephant and can be shown on either side of the Buddha.
THE CENTRAL SCENE ON ALL ANDAGU STONE STELE:
The dominant feature in most andagu stone steles is the central figure of the Buddha seated under the Bodhi tree at the moment of enlightenment, with the fingers of his right hand touching the earth, crying victory over the demon Mara, other andagu stone steles may show him standing.
Central Scenes the Enlightened Buddha and Parinirvana
- Behind the head of the Enlightened Buddha is a lotus bud-shaped halo carved into the main body of the stele with two hamsa birds perched on either side. Two standing attendants, probably his main disciples Sariputta and Mahamoggallana are seen slightly behind the central figure of the Buddha on either side of the throne.
- Above the central scene of the enlightened Buddha, he is seen lying on a couch in Parinirvana (dying/death) with three mourning disciples kneeling in prayer. Two disciples, one at each end of the couch probably represent his main disciples Sariputta and Moggallana, with two other devotees above.
- Flanking either side of the central Buddha are two standing Bodhisattvas both with their right hand in Abhaya mudra, the gesture of reassurance. Above each Bodhisattva are two praying devotees.
- The lotus pedestal is supported by two Naga kings, this is a feature rarely seen in Bengal carvings but found in some of the Buddhist sculptures of Mahoba, Bundelkhand in Central India.
Across the Base
Two rows of Mythological creatures decorate the base on which the running Nagas are kneeling with devotees, lions, elephants, horse, and other creatures that were significant in the life stories of the Buddha.