Buddhist Sects in Lān Nā from the Reign of King Tilōk to that of Phayā Käo (1441-1525): Studies of Dated Bronze Buddha Images in Chiang Mai*

Surasawasdi Sooksawasdi


Southeast Asia has long been known for vital cultural forms that are both resilient and able to blend well with those from outside the region, especially those that fit well with local social conditions, customs, and beliefs. This syncretism occurred in the case of Buddhism in Lān Nā during its period of prosperity from the reign of King Tilōk to that of Phayā Käo (1441-1525). Although traditionally these beliefs were thought to have derived from the Theravāda sect of Buddhism of Wat Suan Dòk and Wat Pā Däng (along wit¬¬h various local beliefs), in reality the Lankan Theravāda Buddhism¬ of Lān Nā assimilated and blended Mahāyāna and Vajrayāna beliefs to such an extent that the two traditions became one. Further, the influence of Northern Buddhist art traditions can be detected in some features of Lān Nā Buddha images as well as in relevant rituals and customs. Actually, Lankan Buddhist art itself was derived party from Mahāyāna beliefs in earlier times.
The research consisted of a multi-disciplinary study incorporating Buddhist history and a comparison of Lān Nā Buddha image features and bronze casting techniques with those of their counterparts in Sri Lanka, Nepal, and Tibet. The study also compares the characteristics of the Mahā Puruṣa Lakṣaṇa, the “Great Man,” as found in Mahāyāna and Theravāda texts, religious philosophies, and beliefs. Also included in the study are relevant customs and rituals such as consecrating Buddha images and placing Buddhist relics inside them. The study found that in the prosperous period of Theravāda Buddhism in Lān Nā, some Mahāyāna and Vajrayāna beliefs and rituals were so well assimilated that their history and origin cannot be traced.

Key Words: Buddha image, Phra Singh, Golden Age of Lān Nā, Theravāda, Mahāyāna, Vajrayāna, syncretism * Edited from the same title research grant by Chiang Mai University (The project of support and development research for new established faculty and the Faculty of the Social Sciences and Humanities, 2552-55)

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