With his right hand pointing downwards, the historical Buddha is here shown in the gesture of ‘calling the Earth to witness’ [bhumisparsha mudra]. The gesture alludes to the moment in Buddhist narrative when, on the eve of his enlightenment, Prince Gautama (the future Buddha Shakyamuni) was tempted in various ways by Mara, the god of desire and death. In response, the prince extended his hand to touch the Earth, from which the earth goddess rose up and, wringing water from her long hair, washed away Mara and his threatening armies. After renouncing the princely life and becoming an ascetic, the Buddha shared his philosophies with a growing number of followers.
Burmese Buddhist sculpture of the 18th and 19th centuries was splendidly ornate, with gilded red or black lacquered surfaces studded with slivers of coloured glass.
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2011
From: Asian gallery extended display label