Bodhisattva Maitreya or Avalokiteshvara

Historical period(s)
Dvaravati period, 7th century
Copper alloy with high tin content and silver inlay
H x W x D: 35 × 9.8 × 7 cm (13 3/4 × 3 7/8 × 2 3/4 in)
Thailand, Buriram province, Lahansai district
Credit Line
Gift of Ann and Gilbert Kinney
Arthur M. Sackler Gallery
Accession Number
On View Location
Currently not on view
Metalwork, Sculpture

Buddhist sculpture

Avalokitesvara, Buddhism, Dvaravati period (ca. 500 - 900), Maitreya Buddha, Thailand
Provenance research underway.

Bodhisattvas are spiritually advanced beings who postpone ultimate enlightenment in order to alleviate suffering on earth. This one's matted locks, which signify asceticism in both India and Southeast Asia, are piled high and wonderfully draped like an elaborate crown. In his left hand he holds a water vessel, while his right hand probably held a separately cast lotus bud. He stands in a gently swayed posture, his weight on the right leg, with his left knee bent. His humble sampot (Cambodian waistcloth) is tied with a simple cord, and he wears no other adornments.

The bronze represents either Maitreya or Avalokiteshvara. The two bodhisattvas were almost identically depicted during the pre-Angkor period. They usually were represented standing, with either two or four arms and holding a kundika (water vessel) in one of their left hands. The only way to distinguish them is by the attribute in their headdress: Maitreya's emblem is the stupa, Avalokiteshvara's is the Buddha Amitabha. Due to the erosion of the bronze surface, it has proved impossible to securely identify the symbol in the headdress in this particular bronze.

In the ninth century, during a period of religious instability in northeastern Thailand, this sculpture was carefully buried along with other Buddhist bronzes at sites across the Khorat plateau. Discovered in 1964, the hoard has since become dispersed across museum collections. Interestingly, all bodhisattvas from this group are depicted as renunciants. This differs from early Indian bodhisattvas, which always have a regal appearance, as well as bodhisattvas from elsewhere in Southeast Asia, which have either regal or ascetic appearances. The bodhisattvas belonging to the Prasat Hin Khao Plai Bat hoard therefore may reveal the existence of a previously unknown regional style, and possibly an important temple-complex with a unique bodhisattva cult, between the seventh and ninth centuries on Thailand's Khorat plateau.


Published References
  • Paths to Perfection, Buddhist Art at the Freer/Sackler. Washington. pp. 76-77.
Collection Area(s)
Southeast Asian Art
Web Resources
F|S Southeast Asia
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