A study of Buddhist sculptures Found in Rakhine Old Dhanyawaddy City Compared with in Indian Old Buddhist Arts Skip to main content

A study of Buddhist sculptures Found in Rakhine Old Dhanyawaddy City Compared with in Indian Old Buddhist Arts

Ministry of Education
Myanmar Academy of Arts and Science
The 7th Research Conference

A study of Buddhist sculptures Found in Rakhine Old Dhanyawaddy City Compared with in Indian Old Buddhist Arts


Tun Shwe Khine (M.A) [1]
27th October 2008


Ancient Rakhine Capital's geographical unique position on the Bay of Bengal with both land and sea routes to the India resulted early in the development at political and cultural traits which later emerged in other centre s in Southeast Asia. There are stone inscriptions, coins; Buddha images and cultural handicrafts, which are earliest ones in Southeast Asia. In particular, city walls, moats, palace sites, etc, which all remain until now any one can be traced to the development of ancient Rakhine cities.
[1] U Tun Shwe,Head of Academic Affairs, Yangon University of Foreign Languages 


Rakhine region is situated at the junction of all three strategic regions, South Asia, East Asia and Southeast Asia. In addition to its strategic location especially India, source at ancient culture, is to its north and west, and Bay of Bengal, where the early sea route trade was originated, is to its south, and these connections gave its to the ancient urbanized settlement in the region. Such a geographical unique position led to the evolution and development at states in the Rakhine region.

In addition, such geographical aspects as falling in the direction at monsoon and being surround by the Rakhine mountain range result in sufficient rainfall, abundant river and creeks, rich soil and enough for continuous throughout the years.

Being surrounded by the Rahine mountain range to the east causes sufficient rainfall on the one hand, and freed the ancient Rakhine cities at the invasion at contemporary Pyu cities, thus leading to their peaceful and stable development.

Finally, the unique situation at the ancient Rahhine cities can be found to have conditioned their development.

Selagiri Tradition

On the right bank of Gacehabbanaddy (Kaladam river), opposite Kyauktaw town, is the famous Selagiri hill in the Rakhine history. It is highly venerated by the Rakhine nations. According to the tradition, Gautama Buddha Journeyed to Rakhine with his five hundred disciples and rested on the summit of this hill. At this site Buddha held a prophetic discourse or the previous existences during which He dwelled in Rakhine. On the top at the hill, Buddha pointed out to his disciples the various sites in which his former lives had been passed. This hill commanded a view of the rice plains towards Dhanyawaddy ancient city which is situated about 5 miles east of the hill.

This pose symbolizes the first preaching at the law by the Gautame Buddha at
Sarnath. Buddha preached his first sermon at the bounds of Benares city in a park then known as the Deer Park (Migadarwontaw). There he met his five former companions. These five companions were his former disciples who had left him when he gave up the austerities. To these five former disciples he preached his first sermon thus setting in motion the wheel of the law.[2]
[2]San Tha Aung, The Buddhist Art of Ancient Rakhine. PI -71 

We have found one relief sculpture in Dhanmacakra mudra from the base of Selagiri hill in 1923. A.D. and found a two line Sanskrit inscription, later identified as the Buddhist creed, in a script closely related to Bengal epigraphs of the 5th - 6th centuries AD.

The first relief was recorded by the French archaeologist Deroiselle in 1 924 AD. It may be a part of old pagoda. The sculpture was made of the red sandstone and it measures 0.6 m, high, 0.4 m across and is 0.14 m in depth.[3] Buddha sits, hands in the gesture of turning the wheel of the law Dhanmacakra mudra. His right knee ' slightly raised an asana unique in Buddhist art.
[3] Report of the Sup, Archaeological Survey of Burma (ASB) 1924, plvand, PP.44-45, Arch, Neg.2694 

The Buddha sits on an underrated hexagonal raised seat. The sculpture had masterfully done the carving of this piece of art. The landscape background and positioning of the human figures give us an admirable three dimensional effect.

The Buddha Image has an elliptical underrated holo (prabhavali) behind his head. It is obvious different between Rakhine and Gupta Buddhist Art. In Gupta style, prabhavali is always decorated with various fine ornaments. The spiral knots of the curly hair, which appear from a distance as small circles are in rows. The rows are curved slightly down-wards above the forehead. These spiral knots of hair one in the type of Mathura Buddhas. But the curving at the rows slightly down-wards above the forehead one similar to Sarnath Buddhas.

The facial features are not Indian, The nose is prominent and the lips are full, perhaps reflecting local physiognomy.

The eyes are downcast. The ear lobes are large but do not touch the shoulder.
The neck has the three graceful folds (Trivali). The right shoulder is bare. The upper garment uttrasanga can be seen over the left shoulder, very similar to its depiction in many Kurkihar bronges and at Dvarawaddy. The lower garment (antaravasaka) is apparent from the waist. The robe itself, depicted as thin and clinging to the body, reflects the idealizing nature of the classical Indian Gupta and post-Gupta styles. [4] 
[4] P.Gutman, Ancient Arakan, Australian National University, 1996, Vol (1), PP. 80-81, Vol (1 1). P-105 

The figure at the Buddha's feet in seated in a natural manner, legs 'Tossely crossed with the knees raised, his left hand reaching to the right upper arm. It is royal figure sitting at ease on the ground listening to what Buddha's says. The headdress of this figure consists of a lower diadem and three receding tiers. The headdress is decorated all around with a floral motif.

His smile indicates that he is pleased with what he hears.

Some curls of hair can be seen protruding under the headdress in the Gupta manners. He also has prominent features. These eyes are also downcast. The ear lobes are extended because of his heavy earrings which fall below the shoulders. His ornaments are those usually associated with royalty; jeweled necklace, upper armbands and belt.

In the Rakhine tradition, Buddha came to Rakhine and stopped at the Selagiri hill King Cauda Surira of Dhanyawaddy whose city was only five mile east of the hill, came to Selagiri hill to meet the Buddha. Buddha preached the dhanmacakra sermon to the king and became Buddhist.[5]
[5] Tun Shwe Khine. A Guide to Mrauk-U, Rakhine

The Enlightenment

In 1986, a further five similar reliefs were discovered on the southern side of
Selagiri hill close to Duroiselle's earlier discovery, the reliefs, which are identical in materials, style and size, each 2" high, 1.6" in width. Now, they are kept at the museum at the Mahamuni shrine. These reliefs are depicted with detail fine sculpture and made of red sand stone.

The first relief depicting the Enlightenment have the Buddha seated in padmasana (ပဒုမၼသန) right leg over left and soles facing upwards in the old North Indian style.[6] Buddha image seated under the mahabodi tree. (မဟာေဗာဓိေညာင္ပင္) The Buddha image has an elliptical halo behind his head. The left hand rests on the lap with palm upward and right palm down resting on the right knee and touching, the seat or ground below. This mudra illustrate the Buddha's attitude of calling the earth goddess to withness his victory over Mara. This mudra is called Bhumisparsa mudra. The Enlightenment relief in depicted in the centre of the eight scenes of the life of Buddha which became popular later in Myanmar, following the Pala precedent.[7]
[6] Debala Mitra Buddhist Monuments, (Calcutta) 1971, P. 88
[7] Gutman, A series of Buddhist Reliefs from Selagiri, 4, p-105 


Buddha in Preaching Style

The sculpture is a scene in which Buddha seems to be preaching to one of his converts, possible a hermit accompanied by a Buddhist monk.

This Buddha image has an elliptical halo (prabhavali) behind his head but not obvious. The Buddha seated on a undecorated rectangular seat with the feet placed on a lotus pedestal flanked by two deer indicating that the scene represents the first semon. The Buddha's legs rest down below.

The hair style has rows of wavy knots of the curly hair. It is an old style at
Sarnath and Mathura. The rows above the forehead are curved slightly down wards and only a small cranial protuberance (unisa) is noticed.

The slight downward curving of the rows above the forehead are similar to those of Sarnath style.[8] But the facial features are not like Indians. The facial expressions, such as finely-etched eye brows almost meeting at the centre, down cast eyes or meditative eyes, prominent nose, and full lips might be the characteristics of a Rakhine national of Myanmar.
[8]San Tha Aung, U. op.cit, P.78

Perfect happiness or compassionate smile appears on the face of the Buddha image for having a chance of preaching to some of his fresh converts.

The ear lobes are outstanding and touching the shoulders. The monastic meats typical style of the Sarnath school cling simply over the body. In this figure, the right shoulder is bare. The upper garment (uttrasanga) falls gracefully forward over the left shoulder and left arm and an antarnavasaka is apparent at the waist exposing the knee. But the garments are not expressed elsewhere over the body as in the Sarnath style.

On both sides of the pedestal below the Buddha image are two human figures kneeling in prayers and listening to what Buddha says. The figures on the right is possibly an adoring monk and the other figure an the left may be a hermit probably on account of his long beard and long hair.

This posture at Buddha image and some other attendant figures such as a monk, a hermit and two deer cause me to recall the Yedhamma verse (ေယဓမၼာဂါထာ) and its background tradition.

After having attained the Enlightenment at Bodhagaya, Gautama, now a
Buddha, went to the Deer Park မိဂဒါဝုဏ္ (Mrigadava) at Samath, near Benares
(eoepoDoS) and preached His First Sermon, Dhamacakra, to the five ascetics who were His former companions. These five ascetics became His first disciples. [9]
[9] W. zwalt, Buddhism, Art and Faith, 1985, P.37,

Buddha then proceeded to Rajagriha were King Bimbisara ဗိမိၺသာရ gave him park know as the Bamboo grove (Wailuwun Vithaya). Buddha converted may other ascetics. While Buddha and His disciples were sojourning there, a remarkable incident occurred, Assaji, the youngest of the five disciples, went into the city of Rajagriha (ရာဇၿဂိဳဟ္) with his alms-bowl, where he met an ascetic. His name was Upatisya who later became Shin Sariputtra (သွ်င္သာရိပုတၱရာ) one of the chief disciples of Buddha. Upatisya (ဥပတိႆ), a hermit, was greatly impressed by Assaji's dignity and composure and followed him to ask who his teacher was and what his teachings were. Assaji replied that his teacher was Gotama Buddha, but he could not explain the Buddha’s teachings very well because of his being newly ordained. The eager Upatisya, however, insisted Assaji to tell him a little of what he knew. At last Assaji complied by reciting the Yedhamma verse. On hearing the verse Upatisya became a Buddhist monk and later became one of the chief disciples with the name of Sariputtra.

This stone slab is a representation of a scene of Buddha's preaching to one of his converts and of fine artistic workmanship. Above the unornamented prabhavali is a tree, identical to those of the Enlightenment reliefs. We can find a parallel in the sixth century art of Ajanta, India, By looking at the sitting posture, the garment and head headdress, it should be dated between 4 th and 8 th century A.D.

The Artistic Workmanship of Buddha's Death Scene

Now I am going to present another stone slab. This is the mahaparinirvana showing Buddha's dying posture which is the last one of the four (4) principal
incidents of the Master's life. In the upper portion, Buddha reclines underneath the Ingjin trees (sal trees) before His death. But there is no sign of grief on His face for dying, and He uttered His last Dharma and dying wishes to His disciples.

Buddha and His disciples had traveled far and wide and converted many people to Buddhism on their way. He had many disciples and most of the inhabitants at various countries and city-states such as Varanasi, Kapilavastu, Stravasti, and Rajagriha became Buddha and His Sanghas. For about forty five years, Buddha and tanghas traveled from place to place preaching to people from all walks of life and He reached His eightieth year. Then He was at Pava near Vaisali during the rainy season. Buddha had a meal at a goldsmith's house where He ate rice and a well prepared dish containing pork. After the His illness He walked on to Kusinagara (modem Kasia) and laid down between two sal trees. When Buddha was suffering from the effects of the pork meal, He became very thirsty and asked Nyidaw Ananda three times for water. Buddha asked Nyidaw Ananda not to weep. As a matter of fact, all the disciples grieved over their Blessed One's dying. They tried their best to save Buddha's life and they called in the most well known physician loco (Ziwaka) of the time and asked him to cure the Buddha's illness.

Then Buddha asked if anyone had any more questions; when there were none.
Buddha passed through trance and died (parinirvana) (ပရိနိဗၺာန္).

In the bas-relief sculpture, there are three human figures under reclining
Buddha the central figure should be Nyidaw Ananda who seems to be grieving. On the left seems to be a physician (Ziwaka) who is preparing medicine. The figure on the lower right could be Subhadha, the Buddha's last convert.

This is perhaps the first surviving rendition of the parinirvana in Myanmar. The scene appears only rarely in the art of Sriksetra, as a formal rendition at the apex of votive plagues illustrating the eight scenes of the Buddha's life.

The Bodhisattva

The last relief sculpture is also enigmatic and has masterfully done the carving of the piece of art. He also has prominent feature. A crowned male standing on an undecorated round base. Both arms are broken above the elbows. The headdress is decorated all around with a floral motif. Some earls of hair can be seem protruding under the headdress. His eyes are also documents. The ear lobes are extended because of his heavy earring which fall below the shoulders. He wears a Jewlled necklace and the headdress style may be used to determine the date of these relies. The crown and the ornaments are very similar to previous relief of Selagiri, Kyauktaw. The plain prabhavali behind the head indicates divinity, and this together with the royal ornaments suggests that the figure may be a Bodhisattva.

The facial expression, contemplative and with a serene expression, recalls the well-known Srivizayan Buddhisttva found at ehaiya in the National Museum in

A comparison study with a bronze image of Vajrapani in the Nalana Musecum, date to the late eighth century AD, reveals remarkable iconographic similarities.


Finally, as we have studies, the Selagiri sculptures appear to ultimately drive from the classical Gupta tradition, and similarities with the art of Ajanta especially, bear this out. While the Buddha figures continue this tradition, iconographicatly and stylistically there are strong links with the later Buddhist ant of Nartheast India. Geographically, the Enlightenment scenes, with the Buddha seated in padmasana rather than the virasana preferred in the south, show an East Indian connection. The iconohically, the Enlightenment scenes, with the Buddha seated in padmasana than the virasana preferred in the south, show an East Indian connection. The Radition of the robe, especially the lappet over the left shoulder, shows a connection Buddhist practice east the schools at Kurkihar and Natanda, as well as Dvarawaddy to the east. The Boddhisttva image has been shown to have an icooographic connection with Nalanda.

Although the Buddhist sculptures of Salagiri are closely influenced by the
Buddhist Arts of India, they are based and developed appropriately with local Rakhine tradition and local Buddhist arts. Our Rakhine generation, Laymyo and Myauk- I dynasty are developed with own style of Buddhist Art.


Tun Shwe Khine (M.A)
Ph. D (candidate)


1. Boisselier, J, (New Youk.) 1975-The Heritage, of Thai Sculpture P1.44, P. 78, D.L.
2. Duroiselle : 1 924-Report of the Superintendent, Archaeological Survey of Burma (ASB)   pi. Vandpp.44-45, Arch, Neg. 2694 (1925-6)
3. Forchhammer, E. (Rangoon), 1891 -Papers on subjects relating to the Archaeology of Burma; Arakan I Mahamuni Pagoda, rev. 1895, pp.7 to 10
4. Gutman, P. 1916-Ancient Arakan, with Special Reference to its Cultural History Between the 5' and li' Centuries, Ph. D, thesis, Australian National University, Vol, I, pp.80-81,Vo. II, P- 105 , 1988-Buddhist Reliefs from Selagiri, P-104.
5. Luce; G.H : 1969-Old Burma, Early Pagan, (New York) Vol. 1 11, PI. 70 a, b, c, d.
6. Johnston, E.H : 1944- "Some Sanskrit Inscriptions of Arakan", Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, Vol. XI, pp. 357-385
7. Smellgrove, David. L (Paris) 1 978- The Image of the Buddha Plate. 81 , p . 1 1 1, opxit., PI . 72.
8. Smellgrove: D. (Pairs, London) Ajanta cave 10, The Image of the Buddha, P-119, PL. 81
9. San Tha Aung, U. 1979-The Buddhist Art of Ancient Arakan-Pl-7 1
10. Tun Shwe Khine M.A; 1993-A guide to Mrauk-t/; Published By Reg No 450/92
11. Tun Shwe Khine M.A ;1996-A guide to Mahammuni; Published By Tun Hla Sein Sarpay, Oeth
12. ၁၉၉၀-ရခိုင္ေဝသာလီေခတ္ ဗုဒၶအႏုပညာလက္ရာ၊ ဦးသန္းေဆြ စစ္သည္ေတာ္စာေပ (၅၄၆-၈၉)
13. ၁၉၉၁-ရခိုင္မဟာျမတ္မုနိဘုရားသမိုင္း၊ ခြင့္ျပဳ-(၈၈/၉၀) (၁၀) ကင္း (၁၇)
18 W; Zwalf, 1985- "Buddhism ' Art and Faith British Museum, Publications Limited PI -31, 125, 131

To Download:
1. A Study of Buddhist Sculptures Found in Rakhine Old Dhanyawaddy City Compared with in Indian Old Buddhist Art  (archive.org)
2. A Study of Buddhist Sculptures Found in Rakhine Old Dhanyawaddy City Compared with in Indian Old Buddhist Art (Mediafire)


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