The finest Cambodian temple hangings (pidan), placed above and behind images of the Buddha, exemplify the technique and palette of Southeast Asian silk textiles. Here the intricate ikat design, tie-dyed into the weft threads before weaving, graphically depicts the narrative of Prince Siddhartha’s quest for enlightenment and his transformation into the historical Buddha, Shakyamuni.
On the viewer’s left, the Prince abandons his magnificent palace and sleeping wife and child. Surrounded by gods, including Indra who holds a parasol above the Prince, he departs on his white horse, the sound of its hooves muffled by the four guardians of the world. In the centre of the upper register, Siddharta embraces the life of the wandering ascetic by cutting off his hair and assuming simple robes. Further right, the moment of enlightenment under a splendid bodhi tree unfolds, as the Buddha-to-be is unsuccessfully assailed by the formidable army of Mara, god of death and desire. As Shakyamuni calls the Earth to witness, the earth goddess rises from the river below and washes away Mara’s forces with water wrung from her hair. In the far top right, the Buddha Shakyamuni and his disciples receive alms.
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2014
From: Collection highlights: National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2014