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Ratanakosin period (1782- ) Thailand

Buddhas of the past and future
banner painting [phra bot]

1820-50 Place made: Thailand
Materials & Technique: paintings, gouache and gold on cotton
Dimensions: 316.0 h x 117.0 w cm
Acknowledgement: Purchased 2009
Accession No: NGA 2009.57

More detail

Buddhas of the past and future is a rare cloth banner painted in Thailand. The paintings were used in Buddhist monasteries, where they were unrolled and displayed on special occasions and for festivals in the Buddhist calendar, to teach and inspire the monks and devotees. Largely due to environmental factors, banners seldom survive from the 19th century or earlier. Of those known, few are as elaborate as this work.

The painting features the most recent 28 of a potentially infinite number of Buddhas of the past. Each Buddha, flanked by a pair of attendants, wears simple monastic robes and is seated in meditation atop a lotus throne.

In the centre of the lower register, surrounded by celestial musicians and dancers, is a golden stupa constructed by Indra, the green-skinned god. The stupa houses the relics of Shakyamuni, the historical and best known Buddha, including the long hair he cut when renouncing his princely existence.

Against a vivid red disc, Maitreya, the Buddha of the future, appears encircled by a host of heavenly beings. Still attached to the material world, Maitreya is bejewelled and elaborately attired. Pointing to the arrival of Maitreya and his retinue is Phra Malai,
a monk with supernatural powers, shown here in conversation
with Indra.

Dividing the two parts of the painting is a line of text giving the names of its donors, Mae Thai and Pho Kon, whose generosity attracted spiritual merit. The price of the painting is also recorded: eight tamlueng (a weight of silver currency used in Thailand in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries).

Melanie Eastburn Curator, Asian Art
in artonview, issue 64,  summer 2010

in artonview, issue 64, summer 2010

This temple banner depicts past and future incarnations of the Buddha. While the precise number of Buddhas of the past varies according to different traditions, 28 are often recognised in Southeast Asia. Here the Buddhas are represented by identical figures arranged in rows. Flanked by disciples, each Buddha wears simple monk’s robes and is seated on a double lotus within a golden throne. The flame crowning the head protuberance (ushnisha) of each Buddha has been a characteristic of Thai art since the Sukhothai period (1238–1438).

The Buddha of the future, Maitreya, is a particularly important figure in Theravada Buddhism. In the banner’s lower register, angels escort Maitreya to heaven while celestial beings dance and play music. The scene is witnessed by Phra Malai, a legendary monk able to travel through cosmic realms.

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