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Date of Award

Spring 1989


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Document Type

Thesis: EWU Only

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA) in College Instruction




Conceived by the Sukhothai school of art, the Walking Buddha is a highly successful interpretation of a spiritual theme. It depicts a fully three dimensional, free standing sculptural figure in an anatomically realistic walking stance. This study is an investigation of the origins, distinguishing characteristics, and historical sequence which created and shaped the development of this uniquely Thai image. The Buddha portrayed as a walking figure is foreign to Indian art. Walking would have emphasized the Buddha's human qualities at the expense of his supernatural and royal character. Since Indian art is the primary source of religious models for Southeast Asia, the conception of such an image must be examined in light of the prevailing politico-religious climate at Sukhothai near the close of the thirteenth century. Architectural and sculptural remains buttressed by inscriptional evidence provide the historical framework for interpretation of contemporary events. The Thai, recent converts to Buddhism, had established their capital at Sukhothai in the fertile central plains of Southeast Asia. Exposure to the classical empires of Angkor and Pagan, combined with the religious traditions of Theravada Buddhism and the rise of the monarchy, created the needed stimulus for artistic growth. Religious motifs and themes popularized during this classical phase supplied the spiritual link to Sukhothai's numerous vassal states, which were primarily Buddhist. Later schools emulated the Sukhothai aesthetic, which continued to dominate Thai art, in the centuries following the transfer of political power to the neighboring Thai kingdom of Ayudhya. The Walking Buddha was the most prominent example from the Sukhothai school, embodied its most enduring characteristics, and visually represented the powerful political state with which it was so closely identified. Seen divorced from any but artistic considerations, it is a fluid, graceful and mobile figure that successfully combined Thai and Singhalese elements. The expressive qualities project the essence of Buddhahood, spiritual fulfillment resulting from enlightenment. It is this achievement more than the realism of the figure, or its political ramifications, that so captured the imagination of later artists.