By Pamela Gutman
Along the Bay of Bengal, in the northwest corner of
While current research does not tell us when the centre of power moved from Dhanyawadi to Vesali, from the style of its sculpture and the palaeography of its inscriptions we can assume that this happened around the beginning of the sixth century.
The Mahamuni shrine at Dhanyawadi retained its importance as a sacred centre, as remains of later structures in the vicinity bear out. Vesali was even more open to Indian influence than was Dhanyawadi. More easily reached by the overland route, it also took advantage of increased trade in the
THE CANDRA KINGS
From this time we can reconstruct the history from contemporary written accounts. The inscription of Anandacanda , written around 728 AD , gives the names and reign periods of eighteen of his predecessors , the earlier of whom may have ruled at Dhanyawadi. The kings of earliest Candra dynasty, who ruled from end of the 4th to the beginning of the 7th centuries , are said to have descended from the lineage of the Hindu god Siva , and the lineage is mentioned again in connection with Anandacandra's grandfather , Vajrasakti. The inscription describes Anandacanda's grandfather, Vajrasakti. The inscription describes Anandacandra and his immediate predecessors as Mahayana Buddhists. This would not, however, have predecessors as Mahayana Buddhists. This would not, however, have precluded the existence of a Hindu royal cult as was the case in both
The nature of Arakanese kingship suring this period is illustrated by an interesting plaque discovered together with a round-based bronze vessel during the construction of the road from Vesali to Mrauk-U. The plaque aptly illustrates the symbolism behind the abbiaeka or lustration ceremonies performed to consecrate Buddhist kings, but wjhich is derived from Hinduritual and practice. The significance behind the symbolism is that the king during the royal consecration became a future Buddha as well as a dhamaraja, a ruler of the law, responsible for the spiritual and temporal well being of his people. The country was seen as a microcosm of the universe whose maintenance was ensured by the dharma of Indra, the king of the gods who as one of the chief assistants to the Buddha controlled the cycle of the seasons and consequently the fertility and prosperity of the county.
The square plaque has a round indentation in the centre into which the bronze vessel fits. Around the indentation is a ring of lotus petals, then twelve auspicious signs connected with the function of kingship. These are a srivatsa diagram representing the goddess of fertility and prosperity Sri, who was believed to enter the king during the royal consecration; the winged conch, double fish and vase of abundance , symbols also associated with prosperity; an umbrella , piar of fly whisks , elephant goad and a bull , the auspicious royal symbols; a pillar, which also symbolised link between the heaven and earth , and a peacock and a deer representing the sun and the moon , the heavenly bodies which rule the universe. The corners of the plaque are filled with lotus buds and leaves, the whole being surrounded by a beaded border.
The plaque is a representation of the universe, within which is a mandala which establishes the king as its centre in his country, seen as the microcosm of the universe. In Hindu - Buddhist cosmology, the circular universe was thought to be surrounded by an enormous rock wall, represented on the plaque by the square border. This encloses an ocean with four island continents, here represented by the lotuses set in each of the four corners. In the centre of the universe is
The Shit-thaung inscription describes Anandacadra's most important activities as the building of Buddhist foundations and commissioning objects of worship and records his building many monasteries and providing them with slaves, fields and buffaloes. His religious donations also included gold and silver caityas containing relics of the Buddha, Bodhisattvas, the goddess Cunda and others, and Buddha images made of brass bell metal and copper, as well as ivory, wood , terracotta and stone. The inscription relates that he had innumerable clay models of stupas made, and commissioned the writing, or copying, of holy scriptures. He made donations to monks who came to his city from many parts of the Buddhists world, and indeed sent gifts including an elephant and rodes to the congregation of monks in
ARCHITECTURE AND SCULPTURE
Mounds strewn with broken sculptures, dressed stone and bricks, suggesting that these were the sites of ancient shrines dot the site of the old city of
The excavations undertaken at Vesali in the 1980s have begun to uncover some of its formers splendour. The four sites between Tharlawaddy and Vesali villages within the city walls have revealed a Buddhist ordination hall, a monastery, and a building which may have been connected with a royal cult, as a damaged stone image of a bull on a brick throne was recovered there. We have seen that the royal cult of the Candras may have been Shaivite as was the case at Sambor Prei Kuk in
Two lintels found at Mrauk-U appear to belong to the Vesali period. Both bear a strong resemblance to the 7th century lintels found in
Another lintel fragment was found during the 1996 excavations of the Nibuza pagoda at Maruk-U. The Ni-buza surmounts a hill even today regarded as sacred and the fragment might have belonged today regarded as sacred and the fragment might have belonged to an earlier structure there. It is decorated with a caitya arch flanked by two bulbous serrated pillar capitals. Within the circular niche of the arch is typically post-Gupta in style and the capitals resemble those found in the western Indian rock-cut caves at Ellora dated in the 8th century.
Also found at Mrauk-U, and now the excellent Museum there is a column sculpted on there sides which once was engaged against a well at the entrance to a shrine. The base had addorsed, realistic elephant forequarters at the corners, and in the centre of each is an orge's face with bulging eyes, teeth horribly bared and a long curling mane. Above the base, framed in an archway, the river goddess
On the other two faces indentical half arches each frame a lithe male figure which appears to step from behind. Probably door guardians, they wear clothes and ornaments similar to those found in the Calukya sculpture of southern
The from of the shrine from which the column ultimately derived is southern Indian of the late 7th or early 8th centuries AD, although there are similarities with the contemporary architecture of
In addition, some sculptures discovered at other sites have come from religious structures. A number of these are kept in a shed at Vesali village. All are in the red sandstone typical of sculptures of this period. They include a massive image of Visnu, some two metres tall, as monumental in conception as pre-Angkorian Visnu images of the same period. The god's head and upper arms are missing, and his lower hands rest on the heads of Cakradeva and Gadadevi, his personified attributes. Others include the goddess
While most of the Buddha images found at Vesali are damaged or fragmentary, some show connections with the northern Buddhist centres of
The reliefs, now at the
Two sculptures representing the Englightenment are identical .The Buddha sits in padmasana, right leg crossed over left in the Northern Indian manner, with the right hand touching the ground in the attitude of calling the earth to witness his victory over the demon Mara, the personification of desire and death. The figure is surrounded with a scalloped reredos , similar to some found is Bengali bronzes, illustrating the light which emanated from the body of the Buddha after he attained Enlightenmented. He sits under a stylized Bodhi tree on an attempt to indicate perspective.
The next image shows the Buddha delivering the First Sermon. He is seated in the so-called “European position” on a rectangular throne with his feet placed on a lotus pedestal, his hands in dharmacakramudra, the attitude representing the turning of the wheel of the Law. To his right kneels a bearded ascetic and to his left a monk, both with hands clasped in adoration. The first of these may represent the forest monks noted for their ascetic practices, while the other may represent the monks living in cities or major monasteries. Below deer sit on either side, indicating that the First Sermon took place in the tury art of Ajanta and later at Nalanda, and further west at Dvaravati in modern Thailand.
In the rendition of the final episode of the Buddha's life, his death or Parinirvana, the dying Master lies on his side, hand under head, under three sala trees signifying the grove in which this event took place. Below are three remarkably life-like mourners, seated in attitudes of extreme grief. Perspective is attempted through portraying the mourners in the foreground larger than the Buddha, who is shown reclining on a ledge sloped to emphasize depth through the play of light, and by the sala trees in the background, illustrated in an appropriately smaller scale.
Plate 38 depicts a crowned figure of a male standing in an hieratical, frontal pose on a round base. Both arms are broken so any identifying attributes have been losts. The ornaments and garments are similar to those found both at Vesali and Nalanda. The plain aureole behind the head indicates divinity, and this together with the royal ornaments and the masterfully achieved serenity of the face suggests that the figure may be a Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara. In the later Mahayanist Buddhist art of eastern
Stylistically the Selagiri images ultimately derive from the classical Gupta tradition, and this group shows similarities with the art of Ajant, especially. Which the Buddha figures continue this tradition, there are strong links with the later Buddhist art of
The Selagiri reliefs illustrate the spread , in the sixth or the seventh century, of Mahayanist influence from the schools of northeast India to Arakan, as indeed is well documented in the neighbouring polities of Pyu Sriksetra and Mon Dvaravati. The paucity of Buddhist remains from this period in
Two bronze Buddhas found in a ruined stupa near Vesali and now kept at the Let-kauk-zay monastery at Mrauk-U typify the style of the period. Both are stylistically related to the Selagiri reliefs but appear to be slightly later in date. Both were originally covered with a protective substance giving the surface a glazed appearance. One sits, legs crossed in padmasana, the left arm broken at the elbow and the right raised in vitarkamudra, the gesture of elucidation of folds around the neck, the waist and over the legs, and he sits on a low waisted throne decorated on the upper portion merely with a row of rather crudely drawn circles. The treatment of the hair, the rounded face and the supple smooth modeling of the body again show a connection with the late Gupta, Pyu and Dvaravati Mon styles.
The second image, whose protective surface was removed by the monks, stands erect, the right hand in the gesture of reassurance, abhayamudra, and the left holding the hem of his robe. The figure is placed on a plain, drum-shaped pedested which has been broken at the base but a few characters indicate a Sanskrit dedication of around the 7th century. Which the face, body and garments compare with those of the previous image, the stance is interesting in that it is clearly linked with a series of images found throughout Southeast Asia and in Sri Lanka dating from the around the same time. Sometimes called “missionary” images as they were previously thought to be among the earliest Buddhist relics in the region, those from Sri Lanka and Java are copied from South Indian models, but this and some Mon examples from both Thailand and Burma have more in common with the late Gupta art of north India. All ultimately derive from a famous image at Kosambi in north-west
Some imges were obviously made at well-known workshops in
A seated Bodhisattva image, now rather damaged, was found in the ruined Mrunchaungwa stupa at the northeast corner of the outer wall of Dhanyawadi and is now at the
A later tablet found during the Nyi-daw excavations has the Buddha sitting in dhyana or meditation mudra on a lotus base. There are indications of drapery in the robes falling over his chest. The figure is paced within an arched reredos with rampant lions standing on elephants on either side and makaras at head level. Three medallions above the head contain sacred syllables in proto-Bengali script. The reverse of the tablet is rounded, widening towards the base, which has a small hole in which a relic would have been placed. The influence of the Pala-Sena art of Bodhgaya is apparent here.
We have seen that the worship of Visnu as Vasudeva, Practiced by the Gupta emperors, gained ready acceptance by the Candras of Arakan, anxious to emulate their imperial tradition.
As in eastern
A headless standing image of Visnu was found at Wuntitaung, a site locally known as the dwelling place of a spirit which protected the country. The figure is worn and the two upper arms are broken above the elbows. Visnu stands erect in the posture known as samapadasthanaka, his lower hands on the heads of two chubby personified weapons.The figure at his left gazes at the god, his right arm passing over his body and holding a camara, the flywhisk, symbol of royalty, which appears behind him. Behind his head is a weathered cakra, identifying him as Cakradeva. The figure at the right offers a cylindrical object, the gala or mace of Gadadevi. Visnu wears a broad necklace, armbands and the Brahmanical cord, waistband and a scraf knotted at his hips, the folds falling gracefully.
The body is well proportioned and smoothly modeled, while the decoration, although ornate, is restrained and the drapery is treated in a naturalistic manner. An attempt to relieve the static posture of the main figure is achieved by the flexed posture of the ayudhapurusas and the contraposto of their arms and attributes.The inspiration for
One of the most beautiful sculptures remaining from this period is a damaged Visnu head, its contours gently rounded in the manner of the best tradition of Gupta sculpture. The calm and benign expression, partly closed eyes and slightly smiling lips, illustrate what the historian Harle described as the definition of the Gupta style, “a turning inward, an ability to communicate higher spiritual states.” While the headdress is not found in
A better-preserved sandstone Visnu, now in the
The facial features of the image are sharply defined, arched eyebrows meeting in the middle, a sharp pointed nose and thin lips curved in a smile. The graceful proportions of the earlier images have been forgotten. The head is a fifth of the total height, the arms are legs short.
While the image is basically dependent on earlier forms, a new wave of influence from northern
Towards the end of this period the local chronicles record the establishment of a
By the middle of the 9th and 10th century Arakan was invaded by the Tibeto-Burmas who still dominate. Their cousins, at the same time, were conquering the Pyu and Mon of central and lower