This sculpture is a masterful realization of Buddhist dharma. It must have graced one of the major monasteries of Angkor Borei, a leading urban center of Funan. The Buddha is seated in yogic meditation, one leg resting on the other. The highly developed musculature follows Indian Kusana and early Gupta traditions in which the Buddha is celebrated as hero (vira) or great man (mahapurusha). It is arguably the earliest demonstration of this Buddha figure type in mainland Southeast Asia. The imposing scale and robust physique point to an early date.
The Buddha sits on a lotus throne, his hands resting in a meditation gesture. The open robe, with the right shoulder exposed, points to southern Indian or Sri Lankan influences. It was found at the mouth of the Mekong Delta, downstream from the Funan political center Oc Eo. Sanskrit letters are incised on three petals, spelling, in part, Suryadatta—possibly the name of the donor; other syllables may be honorifics associated with the name or may be protective spells (dharani), charms generating mystical power.
The Buddha makes the gesture of granting favors and blessings to devotees and stands on a lotus pedestal to evoke his transcendent nature. The sculpture’s findspot is connected by the Tonle Sap lake and river system to Angkor Borei and the Mekong River, so it could have been produced anywhere in southern Cambodia and transported to Kampong Speu Province. Stylistically, several factors indicate close connections with the workshops of Angkor Borei and an awareness of Buddha imagery produced in the seventh-century Mon territories of central Thailand.
This Buddha preaching the dharma is one of the most imposing from early Cambodia. He has a muscular build and stands on a low octagonal pedestal, right hand raised in exposition. The sculpture’s importance is enhanced by a contemporary Prakrit inscription on the reverse proclaiming the Ye dhamma “stanza of causation” in a version of the text from northern India. It is among the earliest known uses of the Ye dhamma stanza in early Cambodia, foreshadowing its widespread appearance across Southeast Asia from the eighth century onward. The style, like its counterparts in Dvaravati Thailand, looks to the Saranth school of north India.
This sophisticated rendering of the enthroned Buddha seated in bhadrasana (with pendant legs) is the only known example from the Mekong region of this Buddha type popularized in the Mon territories of seventh- and eighth-century Thailand. Its appearance in the Mekong Delta must reflect an influence absorbed from the Mon regions of Thailand to the west. Stylistically, this sculpture fits well into a group of early Buddhist images from the Mekong Delta. The open mode of wearing the robe, one shoulder exposed, also points to an early date.
This elegant head fits well into a small group of works from southern Cambodia. The proportions and the restrained modeling point to Buddhist art of the late Amaravati school of Andhra Pradesh as their genesis. The treatment of the hair curls, low wisdom topknot (usnisa), and forehead mark (urna) are in keeping with the Amaravati practice of depicting the auspicious marks of Buddhahood (laksana).
This head of the Buddha signals the processes of reception and acculturation of Indian styles of religious imagery into Southeast Asia. It may be assigned to the earliest known period of Buddhist art production in the Funan territories. The styling follows southern India models, specifically the Amaravati-style of Andhra Pradesh. The pronounced hair curls and the subtle modulation of the upper eyelid follow Indian conventions, evoking introspection and detachment, as does the sweet countenance.
This over-life-size head of the Buddha is a testament to the grandeur of the monumental sculptural tradition in the Zhenla kingdom. It was carved from a sandstone characteristic of southern Cambodia, which is consistent with its stylistic assignment to Angkor Borei or a related site. The Buddha has a strong, broad face; lightly modeled eyelids and pupils; and full lips that turn up at the corners in a hint of a smile. The hair curls, like those of other Buddhas of this period and region, are large and flat—a memory of the southern Indian style favored in the early period of contact.
The simplicity and beauty of this standing Buddha attest to the skill of seventh-century bronze casters in ancient Cambodia. The Buddha wears simple monastic robes unadorned with the rhythmic folds or pleats seen in the so-called export bronzes from Sri Lanka. This bronze was recovered near Angkor Borei and Phnom Da, major centers of mid-first-millennium Khmer culture. While it has some affinities with Mon Buddha imagery of neighboring Thailand, it is more closely related aesthetically to Angkor Borei stone sculpture.
Early in the seventh century a new Buddha type appeared in Southeast Asia, inspired by innovations that were taking place in northern India. The wellspring was the important monastic school at Sarnath. Its workshops undoubtedly supplied Buddha images to a great variety of clients, including pilgrim-monks who would have purchased small images—often, one may surmise, made of wood—easily transportable to their homelands. This Buddha, slender and ethereal, is a superb example of the early acceptance of the northern Indian model of ideal Buddhahood, seen in the increasingly detached and otherworldly expression and the use of body-defining drapery.