SOAS University of London

Department of the History of Art and Archaeology, School of Arts

Dead kings and drowned Buddha images: the discourse of patronage in Tai chronicles of Chiang Tung

Angela Chiu (SOAS)

Date: 27 January 2010Time: 5:00 PM

Finishes: 27 January 2009Time: 7:00 PM

Venue: Brunei Gallery Room: B104

Type of Event: Seminar

Literature written by Buddhist monks in southeast Asia over the past five centuries has provided a rich source of information for modern scholars on the history of states, peoples and religion. Typically the information in monastic chronicles has been divided into the ‘factual’ and the ‘mythical’, with most scholars focused on the factual information, such as the names of monasteries and kings. Yet stories of apparently magical and miraculous happenings in the chronicles should not be ignored. This paper arises from a study of several versions of Tai chronicles about the town of Chiang Tung, a trading center currently in Shan State, Myanmar, which has had long historical ties with the old kingdoms of nearby northern Thailand. The focus of study is on stories of images of the Buddha, which occupy a distinctive place within these chronicles. These stories highlight the complex and varied relationships between lay patrons and monks in Chiang Tung, suggesting the ways in which these collaborations could be occasions of tension and conflict. The stories also reflect views of the proper role of Buddha images for devotees and the relationship between the image and the Buddha himself. Moreover, certain themes of destruction, death and rescue, particularly from the threat of fire and water, feature in stories of the historical Buddha, of Buddha images, and of Chiang Tung. This thematic sharing may suggest the importance of Buddha images in facilitating the integration of Buddhism into local culture and the sustenance of that tradition in social memory. Indeed Buddha images could uniquely negotiate royal, monastic and lay roles due to their corporeality and ability to embody multiple agencies and unseen concepts, a fact well-recognized in the Chiang Tung chronicles.

Organiser: Crispin Branfoot

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