Shan Style Burmese Buddha Statues
Shan Style Burmese Buddha Statues are among the most diverse in dress and facial expressions which is not surprising, especially as the Shan state covers a large portion of Myanmar, and shares a border with China to the north, Thailand to the south, and Laos to the east with many groups of people of different ethnicity as well as the influence of the two former kingdoms of Lanna and Lan Xang, which were both under Burmese patronage between 1550 and 1772 CE.
Although the Shan-style Buddha statues are diverse in their appearance, they are easily recognizable, they are more frequently presented in padmasana posture (full lotus with the soles of both feet visible), and hand mudra in bhumisparsa with the right hand touching the earth or dhyana mudra, with one hand resting over the other, palm facing upwards resting in the lap.
The face of the Shan Buddha statues is rounder with a pointed chin and a small but distinctive mouth. The nose is straight with flaring nostrils and the torso is heavier than in the Tai Yai Style.
Burmese Shan Tai Yai Style Buddha Statue
The Thai influence on the Shan Buddha statue also added another dimension, those in the traditional Burmese style are usually relatively plain, wearing a simple monks robe to those that were influenced by the Thais, this style is frequently referred to as a Tai Yai style, they are seen with or without a crown or side flanges, highly decorative, wearing jewellery draped around the neck, arms and waist, usually gilded with glass mosaics decorating the body,
The Tai Yai Buddha statue is a style that was introduced during the Ava period (1364-1555). Possibly this style became popular after King Bayinnaung conquered Chiang Mai in 1558. They are the most ornate of all Buddha statues from Burma, they have an elongated torso, and a narrow waistline, and are seated on a pedestal which varies in height, with lotus petals decorating the front of the pedestal and sometimes the back.
Tai Yai images of the Buddha are also made using the hollow lacquer technique as well as teak wood which is highly decorative with Thayo Lacquer decorating the robe in a fish scale-like pattern, with coloured glass mosaics inserted between each of the scales, these Buddha statues are mostly gilded with gold leaf. The Shan Jambhupati style (King Buddha) is frequently seen with side flanges, long pronged crowns, and seated on a high-tiered waisted throne. They are frequently shown with a long finial on top of a rounded or fancy carved usnisha, the eyebrows are highly arched, with the ears often reaching or touching the shoulders.
Other Shan Buddha Types
- Jambhupati style (King Buddha) depicts the Buddha in royal attire with a crown, side flanges, jewellery and a high-tiered throne. This style was influenced by the Lanna and Lan Xang kingdoms of Thailand and Laos, which were also under Burmese patronage between 1550 and 1772 CE. The first appearance of the crowned image was during the 10th to 13th century in Rakhine state, Bagan, Northern Thailand and Cambodia. It regained popularity in the 15th century during the early Konbaung period. In contrast to the Tai Yai style some Shan Buddha statues are extremely plain, with no other ornamentation but still with a large finial. The following is an excerpt from an excellent publication about the Shan peoples of Burma written by Leslie Milne regarding the origins of the Tai and their timeline.
- The Inthein style depicts the Buddha in a simple monk’s robe with an incised lapel, traces of gilding and pink fingernails. This style originates from the Inthein area near Inle Lake, which is a popular tourist destination and a sacred site for Buddhists.
- The Pindaya style depicts the Buddha in various postures and mudras inside a limestone cave that contains over 8,000 images of Buddha. Some of these images are unique to the Bhisakkaguru tradition of Mahayana Buddhism, which holds a seed in the upturned right palm as a symbol of healing. The Pindaya cave is also a pilgrimage site and a tourist attraction that has been proposed for UNESCO World Heritage status.
Tai People of Burma
The Tai people of Burma are an ethnic group that also lives in mainland Southeast Asia. Shan Tai people also migrated to areas of China, they are referred to as Dai people. The Burmese Tai people are an ethnic designation of people who are related to the Tai-Kadai ethnic group.
The following is a list of Tai ethnic groups within the political borders of Burma:
- Dai (including the Lu people)
- Lao Tai, Khun Tai, Yong Tai Nuea (including the Tai Mao people)
- Tai Laeng,
- Tai Phake
- Tai Piw
- Tenasserim Thai
- Thai people
- Thai Yuan
The Ancient Kingdoms
The Shan of Burma was ruled by Kings since BC 2000 up to the 16th Century AD when the last Shan kingdom was overthrown by Burman King Anawrata. There were nine Shan kingdoms recorded in early history.
1. Tsu Kingdom (BC 2000 – BC 222)
2. Ai Lao Kingdom (AD 47 – AD 225)
3. Nan Chao Kingdom ) (AD 649 – AD 1252)
4. Muong Mao Lone Kingdom (AD 764 – AD 1252)
5. Yonok Kingdom (AD 773 – AD 1080)
6. SipSongPanNa (AD 1180 – AD 1292)
7. Waisali Kingdom (AD 1227 – AD 1838)
8. Sukhothai (AD 1238 – AD 1350)
9. Muong Mao Kingdom (AD 1311 – AD 1604) Muong Mao Kingdom was the last kingdom of Shan.
The Shan people are probably the most numerous and widely diffused Indo-Chinese race, they occupy the valleys and plateau of the broad belt of the mountainous country that leave the Himalayas, and trends South easterly between Burma proper on the west, and China and Cambodia in the east and down to the Gulf of Siam.
Shan ethnic groups are found in several countries throughout southeast Asia including India. The Shan State occupies the largest area in Myanmar, with several minority groups. Buddhism and Buddhist art in the Shan State is concentrated more in the lowland areas. The hill tribes in the highland areas of the Shan State consist of several ethnic minority groups, many of whom are Christians.
Some Burmese Shan people refer to themselves as Tai, their language is similar to the Thai language although written Shan is similar in style to the Burmese script. The Shan alphabet is characterized by the circular letter forms of the Mon-Burmese script. It is an abugida, all letters having an inherent vowel /a/. Vowels are represented in the form of diacritics placed around the consonants and are written left to right.