Buddha Seated on Naga (Snake deity)


Buddha Seated on Naga (Snake deity)

Sculpture / Other Asia


Angkor period, 12th century




Here we see the Buddha sitting atop the coils of the snake god Naga, depicted here with a cobra-like body and seven heads. The sculpture is based on a story from Buddhist tradition that describes a day the Buddha was meditating, and a heavy rain began. The story tells us that Naga placed its heads over top of the Buddha to act as an umbrella and protect him from the rain. The left-side of this sculpture has broken off, so only five of Naga’s heads can be seen.

This style of sculpture originating in southern India was extremely popular in the Angkor Empire, located in what is now modern Cambodia. Cambodia suffered greatly from water shortages during the dry season, and before the arrival of Buddhism and Hinduism in the region, people worshipped water spirits. This may be why they so faithfully worshipped Naga as a water god.

The Buddha’s connected eyebrows and thick lower lip are typical of Khmer sculpture during the Angkor Empire. Buddha wears a crown on his head, and he has a conical decoration on the top of his head known as an ushnisha. The body is smooth, and the scales on the snake’s skin – along with the other patterns – have been carved in with great precision.

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