Images of cats from the British Museum collection, £9.99
Height: 20.000 inches
Gift of Cyril Newman
Asia OA 1965.12-17.1
Glazed ceramic tile
From Burma (Myanmar), 15th century AD
Demons from the army of Mara defeated by the Buddha
This glazed ceramic plaque depicts two ass-headed demons from the army of the god of death, Mara. While the Buddha was meditating under the bodhi tree at Bodh Gaya, Mara sought to prevent him from attaining enlightenment. He sent armies of demons to dislodge the Buddha by force, and his beautiful daughters to try and tempt the Buddha from this meditation. Finally, the Buddha called upon the Earth-goddess to witness his claim to enlightenment. The Earth shook and Mara fled. Seated Buddha images touching the earth (bhumisparshamudra) refer to this event, and are very popular in Burmese and Thai art from the eleventh century.
Glazed pottery tiles were used on temples at the Burmese capital at Pagan (about 1044-1287). They depicted scenes from both the jatakas (the stories of the previous lives of the Buddha) and the Buddha's life. This tile is of the type placed in niches at the Shwegugyi pagoda at Pegu, built in the later fifteenth century in lower Burma. Other tiles depict pairs of women who came to seduce the Buddha, illustrating the events described above. Pegu was the capital of the Mon kingdom of lower Burma between 1369 and 1539. The Shwegugyi temple and its shrines was built to replicate the topography of the Mahabodhi temple at Bodhgaya, the site of the Buddha's enlightenment. It was one a number of copies of the Mahabodhi temple built in Burma and Thailand between the thirteenth and fifteenth centuries.
W. Zwalf (ed.), Buddhism: art and faith (London, The British Museum Press, 1985)