AGE: Between 10th – 12th Century
CONSTRUCTION: – Andagu Stone
DESCRIPTION: – Rare Burmese Buddhist Andagu Stone Stele
HEIGHT: – 18cm
WIDTH: – 12cm
DEPTH: – varying up to 4cm
WEIGHT: – 1 Kg.
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An intricate and Rare Burmese Buddhist Andagu Stone Stele dating from 10th-12th century is an amazing testimony to a master craftsmen of the Pagan period. To create these intricate scenes so perfectly by hand must have involved a lot of time, labour and love, in fact a labour of love for the Buddha. We never cease to wonder about the person who must have spent many months carving and chiselling the intricate figures into the stone in such detail.
The central figure of the Buddha image in this stele is seen here with a large pronounced nose, thick lips, mouth slightly upturned at the corners, eyebrows meeting in the centre with eyes gazing downwards with large ears. The facial expression and features of the Burmese Pagan Buddha are varied, unlike those of the Indian style where the facial features followed a more idealistic human like appearance.
Burmese Buddha statues and images are often seen with large earlobes, some touching the shoulders and others extending to above the shoulders, depending on the era in which it was made, the ears are sometimes seen hugging the side of the head or standing out, but all with long earlobes.
Burmese craftsmen from the Pyu period (2nd – 11th century) developed their own unique styles of Buddhist iconography incorporating aspects inherited from their historical relationship to ancient Hindu and Indian influences, and is reflected in Burmese paintings, carvings and Buddha statues from the past to the present.
Prior to the introduction of Buddhism into Myanmar, tantric and animistic spirit cults were the main form of belief systems and worship. Buddhism was introduced into Myanmar in the 1st or 2nd century through trade with India, Buddhist pilgrims and monks from northern India. In the mid-9th century when the first Burman ruler King Anawrahta embraced Buddhism, he declared Buddhism as main form of worship. Realizing the difficulty in changing the belief system among his people, King Anawrahta allowed for 37 of the most popular Nat spirits to be included and to coexist alongside Buddhism. Later during the 11th and 12th Century the Theravada school of Buddhism introduced by Sri Lankan monks became the most popular form of Buddhism practiced in Myanmar.
THE EIGHT MAIN EVENTS:
The eight scenes depicted in the Burmese andagu stone stele/tablets were defined by Pala artists in India. Burmese craftsmen then developed their own unique style in their presentation of the eight main events in the life of the Buddha.
There are many more scenes, around eighty in total which fall outside of the eight traditional scenes leading up to the Buddha’s enlightenment and are depicted in wooden carvings, wall paintings and wall panels in Pagan and many Pagodas throughout Myanmar.
The eight scenes on this stele are relevant to the most important events in the life of the Buddha and the eight sacred sites where the events took place.
The scenes, traditionally are shown in a clockwise order from the nativity scene, usually at the bottom and culminating in the Parinirvana scene at the top. Some andagu stone stele or tablets may only show a couple of scenes, others just the figure of the enlightened Buddha in the earth touching posture.
Rare Burmese Buddhist Andagu Stone Stele
INTERPRETATION OF THE EIGHT SCENES:
- The bottom figure to the right side of the Buddha represents Maya devi, the mother of Siddhartha Gautama (Buddha), holding onto the sal-tree branch with her attendant standing next to her whilst giving birth. When the child emerged from Maya’s right side fully formed, he immediately took his first steps, after each step a lotus flower appeared, on his seventh step he stood still and said:
- “Foremost am I in the world
- Eldest am I in the world
- This is the last birth
- I am chief of the world
- There is now no more coming to be.
- Above the nativity scene the Buddha is seated in meditation, with hand gesture in dharmacakra mudra, presumedly before his enlightenment.
- Top figure represents the taming of the Nalagiri elephant with the disciple Sariputta behind the elephant looking on.
- The Top right figure shows the Buddha’s descent from Trayastrimsa Heaven after teaching the dharma to the celestial beings and to his mother who was reborn in Trayastrimsa heaven.
- Below the top scene the Buddha is seen seated in preaching attitude with hand gesture in darmachakra mudra teaching the first sermon in the deer park in Sarnath.
- Bottom figure represents the Parileyyaka scene, here the Buddha seated in pralambanasana, with legs pendant (European fashion), with alms bowl in his lap, receiving the offering of what would appear to be a kneeling elephant on his left side. In other Burmese Buddhist iconography this can sometimes be a monkey.
- The dominant feature in most andagu stone stele is the central figure of the Buddha seated under the Bodhi tree at the moment of enlightenment with the fingers of the right hand touching earth, crying victory over Mara.
- Behind the head of the Buddha is a lotus bud shaped halo carved into the main body of the stele with two hamsa birds perched on either side. Two standing attendants, probably his main disciples Sariputta and Mahamoggallana are seen slightly behind the central figure of the Buddha on either side of the throne.
- Above the enlightened Buddha, he is seen lying on a couch in Parinirvana (dying/death) with three mourning disciples kneeling in prayer. Two disciples, one at each end of the couch probably represent his main disciples Sariputta and Moggallana, with two others above the dying Buddha.
- Flanking either side of the central Buddha are two standing Bodhisattva’s both with their right hand in Abhaya mudra, the gesture of reassurance. Above each Bodhisattva are two praying monks.
- The lotus pedestal is supported by two Naga kings, this is a feature rarely seen in Bengal carvings, but found in some of the Buddhist sculptures of Mahoba, Bundelkhand in Central India.
ACROSS THE BASE AND OUTER EDGES:
- Mythological creatures, monks, lions, elephants, horse, coiled naga and other creatures. These creatures all have significance in the life stories of the Buddha.
- The Burmese andagu stone carvings are intricately and finely hand carved, we have been asked on numerous occasions if this is resin, it is not resin, it is stone. Information regarding andagu stoneAccording to Claudine Picron’s study on these andagu stone carvings in her article “New Documents of Burmese Sculpture: Unpublished “Andagu” Images”, she mentions that the possible reason that many of them are still in a relatively good state of preservation was due to them being placed in niches or in relic chambers inside temples or stupas which offered protection.