Art as a “System of Action” : Buddha Images in the “Golden Age” of Lan Na, c. 1355-1525 CE (1898-2068 BE)

Angela Chiu




Most scholarship on Thai art has depicted the Buddha image as an iconographic representation, a way to make merit, or a political symbol. These one-dimensional meanings hardly explain why the Emerald Buddha and other famous images have come to be so highly revered by the Thai people. This paper considers the Emerald Buddha and four other statues which apparently become famous in the "golden age" of Lan Na from c. 1355-1525 CE (1893-2068 BE). Chronicles written during this time by monks detailing the histories of these statues may help us to understand how people regarded Buddha images and how certain images came to be seen as extraordinarily powerful or more worthy of veneration than other Buddha images.


This paper highlights how the structure and themes of these chronicles focus on the sphere of social interactions among the images, patrons and monks. The statues' embodiment of ideas of lineage and place is presented in the chronicles as the fuel which gives them their special power.


(Published in Rian Thai: International Journal of Thai Studies, Volume 2/2009, Page 1-26)


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