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Pair of Kneeling Monks
Item No. 3172

20th Century, Buddhist, Burma
Lacquer over Wood with Gilt
28.5" x 9" x 11"
( 72.39 x 22.86 x 27.94 cm)
(H x W x D)

This pair of contemporary gilt and lacquered wood kneeling monks probably represents Mogallana and Sariputra, two of the Buddha’s disciples. Statues of Mogallana and Sariputra are often placed on either side of a South East Asian representation of the Buddha in the Theravada faith. They are seated in namaskara-mudra (also known as anjali-mudra), an attitude of adoration or prayer to a divinity, the hands are brought close to the chest with the palms and the fingers touching which symbolically represents the worshippers joining the ten Dharma realms, the Ten Perfections and the Ten Worlds of Essence and make them one. This gesture of adoration, “may derive from Hindu etiquette, in which it is a gesture of offering, of adoration, and of salutation.” (1) This mudra very early became the prototype gesture of greeting and respect in India and Nepal and is “universally prevalent in countries of Buddhist obedience. The hands are joined…in order to give homage to the Words emitted…hence the gesture honors the Buddha and the Law.” (2)

According to Buddhist teachings, both monks were wealthy but gave up their lives to find the Truth. After consulting many teachers both felt that they had greater wisdom than their instructors and thus no one could qualify to teach them. One day Sariputra met Venerable Assaji, one of Buddha's first five disciples who directed him Sakyamuni Buddha who taught that ' all things arise and fall according to causes and conditions', and he that ' all things are impermanent and will finally extinguish'." (3)
Sariputra told Mogallana about his encounter and the next day, together with two hundred students, they went to Venuvana (Bamboo-grove), were ordained by Buddha and became his chief disciples. Sariputra attained liberation from rebirth in two weeks while Mogallana did so in seven. The Buddha trusted Sariputra the most of all his disciples and asked him to teach his son, Rahula. Mogallana was known for his supernatural powers including his ability to hear all sounds and to see through obstructions. Both were known for their wisdom and were entrusted by the Buddha to keep the doctrine pure.
1. Saunders, page 77.
2. Ibid.

Silvia Frasier-Lu, Burmese Crafts, Past and Present, Oxford University Press, Kuala Lumpur, 1994.
Haskia Hasson, Ancient Buddhist Art from Burma, Image Printers Pte. Ltd., Singapore, 1993.
E. Dale Saunders, Mudra: A Study of Symbolic Gestures in Japanese Buddhist Sculpture, Princeton University Press, Princeton, 1985.

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