Buddhism originated with the travels and teaching of Siddhartha Gautama in the 5th Century B.C. At first it was contained to the Indian subcontinent, but it quickly spread through the entirety of Asia. Following the spread of Buddhism was the proliferation of Buddhist art. In Thailand and Burma, the tradition of Hindu and Buddhist inspired art generated the creation of monumental icons of the Gupta tradition, heavily gilded art, and depictions of the Buddha.

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Among the most iconic examples of the Buddhist tradition in Thailand are the massive statues created depicting various figures including the Buddha (depictions of the Buddha will be specifically discussed later in the paper). In the Buddhist tradition, equality was valued, yet importance was attached to guiding individuals in the path to enlightenment and the following of the Buddha. These large statues followed this tradition, and showed excellent examples of ancient Southeast Asian art. (Bovornkitti 2005)

The most heavily mythicized aspect of Southeast Asian sculpture is the massive gilding of many statues. While the massive statues of the Gupta period were not included in this style, the Ayutthaya period (1300-1700) produced many statues and figures of important men and the Buddha. (BuddhaNet 2013) Here, these sculptures became much more stylized and often were gilded and set with rich inlays. The high value placed on the Buddha and other important characters inspired reverence and honor, generating the desire to produce extravagant reproductions of these personalities. (New York Times 2013)

Finally, the Buddha was frequently depicted, and nearly every period in every region had a unique manner of showing the Buddha, creating a rich and interesting progression of artwork that reflects the opinions and feelings of the time.

In conclusion, Buddhism impacted Thai and Burmese society for centuries and represented the main subject of artwork in this region for much of their ancient history.

  • Bovornkitti, Lertsiri. “The Influence of Buddhism in Historical Thai Art.” The Journal of the Royal Thai Institute 30.2 (2005): n. pag. The Journal of the Royal Thai Institute. Web. 16 Oct. 2013.
  • “Buddhist Art: The Thai Buddha Image – The Development of Buddha Images in Thailand..” BuddhaNet – Worldwide Buddhist Information and Education Network. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 Oct. 2013. .
  • “Opening a Door to the Burmese Past, and the Present, Too – NYTimes.com.” The New York Times – Breaking News, World News & Multimedia. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 Oct. 2013. .