, Buddha sheltered by the naga Muchalinda Enlarge 1 /1
Bagan period (1044-1368) Myanmar (Burma)
Buddha sheltered by the naga Muchalinda mid 13th-mid 14th century Place made: Burma (Myanmar)
Materials & Technique: sculptures, wood, lacquer, gold leaf; carving, gilding
Dimensions: 115.0 h x 47.0 w x 25.0 d cm
Acknowledgement: Purchased 1978-79
Accession No: NGA 79.81
  • The supplied chain of ownership for this object is currently being reviewed and further research is underway. The provenance information listed has been substantiated by documentation. Details may be refined and updated as research progresses.
  • with antique dealership Peng Seng, Bangkok, 1978 or before
  • which sold it to the Australian National Gallery, Canberra, 1979 for USD 7,500

This rare wooden image represents a narrative associated with Buddha’s enlightenment, popular in Burmese art. Shakyamuni is shown on a lotus throne, framed by nine serpent hoods. His hand is in the earth-touching gesture (bhumisparsha mudra), signifying Buddha calling on the earth to witness his enlightenment and conquest of evil. There are several stories of Buddha and Muchalinda, the serpent king. According to one, a violent storm arrived after the Buddha achieved enlightenment and Muchalinda emerged from a lake to protect the meditating Buddha. Another tale recounts Muchalinda protecting the Buddha-to-be from the demon Mara and his armies. A small figure of the earth maiden, who wrung water from her hair to wash away Mara’s armies, appears here behind the twined body of Muchalinda.

This Buddha has the short neck and smooth cap of hair typical of late Bagan-period sculpture. Flanking the Buddha are small figures of Balikka and Tapussa, the merchants who offered Shakyamuni his first alms after attaining Buddhahood. The face below the lotus throne is the protective ogre kirtimukka, often found above the entrances to temples. The animal forms above the ogre may be deer, symbolising the Buddha’s first sermon.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
From: Ron Radford (ed), Collection highlights: National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2008

Narratives from the life of the historical Buddha, Shakyamuni, are popular in Burmese art. Here the Buddha is shown framed by nine serpent hoods and seated on a lotus base with his right hand in the Earth-touching gesture, bhumisparsha mudra. According to one story, when a violent storm arrived soon after the Buddha achieved enlightenment, Muchalinda the serpent king emerged from a river and spread out his hoods to protect the meditating Buddha.

A pre-enlightenment tale recounts the appearance of Muchalinda when the evil Mara and his armies were trying to distract the Buddha-to-be. Muchalinda sheltered Shakyamuni and, hissing violently, frightened the armies away. The figures on either side of the Buddha may represent the merchants Balikka and Tapussa who were the first to offer alms after Buddha’s enlightenment.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2011
From: Asian gallery extended display label