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Shan Buddha from Burma, 18th C

Burmese hollow lacquer statue of seated Buddha from Shan state, 105 cm high, 18th century (Ref 1). The statue is covered with gold foil, and has been regilded within the last century. This image has typical iconographic features of many Buddha statues, including the cranial bump (ushnisha) said to indicate wisdom and superior spiritual attainment (Ref 2), and the long earlobes that were stretched due to the heavy ear jewelry that aristocratic men wore in ancient India. The Buddha sits cross-legged (dhyanasana) with his right hand touching the ground near his right knee, calling the earth to witness when challenged by evil forces after awakening from his meditation (the "bhumisparsa mudra" posture). Shan state, in the central eastern part of Burma, is home of the Shan ethnic group who are closely related to the Thai ethnic group. Both these ethnic groups came from southern China, and the word Shan is derived from the same root as Syam or Siam, the former name of Thailand. Shan Buddhas usually have a youthful, sweet smiling face.

Ref 1 See Myanmar Buddha; the Image and its History, by Somkiart Lopetcharat, Bangkok, 2007, p. 314 for an example.

Ref 2 But the more likely and mundane explanation is that the Buddha let his hair grow and coiled his long hair on top of his head, as was the custom among men in ancient India, and is still the custom among the Sikhs in India today. Old photos and prints of men in rural parts of Burma and Thailand show it was also the custom there in the 19th C.

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