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Iconography and Statues

Images of Buddha

Very often, art historians have classified statues of the Laotian Buddha according to artistic styles determined in Thailand. Neighbouring Khmer and Thai arts have had a certain influence on Laotian sculpture, but Lao artists have managed to absorb these influences and create images that are definitely Laotian.

Images of the Laotian Buddha, like all those of S.E. Asia, are dressed with an “antaravasaka”, twined round the hips, and an “uttarasanga” draped like a monastic coat. The “sanghati“ a long fold of cloth, pleated on the left shoulder, is also shown in certain representations. Buddha’s eyes are lowered, the whites of the eyes are made from a sliver of mother of pearl or silver, so that the pupil can be drawn in easily, and gives the impression of contemplation. Hair is represented as small pointed curls. Arms are long, with all the fingers of both hands of an equal length; the size of the ears is extended by huge lobes, which don’t fall vertically. The the most common postures are those in a sitting position representing the earth and those with both hands parallel to the body.

Most Buddha statues are in a sitting position. The position the most frequently observed is the one where Buddha points towards the earth, calling on nature to help him in his conflict with Mâra (death, demon, god of desires). There are also a few statues whose posture in meditation in a ‘samadhi’ attitude (Buddhas from Vat Nong, Vat May, Vat Phone Xay, Vat Vixun and Vat Aphay). There are also many famous Buddha statues that exist in this position.

Statues of Buddha standing, with both arms hanging alongside his body are especially numerous in Louang Prabang. You can also come across representations of Buddha begging, also known as "Oum Bat", which means Buddha carrying his alms bowl with both hands.

The 3 characteristics

According to Bounthieng Siripaphanh, author of a doctoral thesis on Lao art, the Buddha from Luang Prabag, like all Lao Buddha statues, has three characteristics which make him his originality in comparison with Siamese, Khmer and Burmese Buddha statues :

  • The Usnisa or cranial protuberance, was often presented as a sort of coil of hair on the top;
  • Buddha doesn’t have an Urna (third eye) or any divine sign on the forehead;
  • The earlobes, excessively long and curved outwards due to a special auricle in the form of a snail’s shell.

You can find more information in the article on Buddhism, and especially the captions on the life of Siddârta, who became the Supreme Buddha.

According to local artists, pictures of Buddha must represent him as the embodiment of perfection. The Lao Buddha possesses the grace and suppleness molded from his chest and his thighs, the narrowness of his haunches, the elegance of his gestures, the slenderness of his hands.