6 1/2 in. (16.5 cm)
Gift of Cynthia Hazen Polsky, 1987 (1987.424.19ab)
This sculpture depicts the serpent king Muchilinda protecting the Buddha Shakyamuni from heavy rains. There are numerous extant Cambodian images of this configuration because it was the focus of a cult during the reign of the Cambodian king Jayavarman VII, who ruled the Khmer empire from about 1181 to 1218. Although this scene had been depicted earlier in South and Southeast Asian art, it was the Khmer who popularized it. The reasons that Jayavarman chose to stress the Muchilinda Buddha remain speculative. Snakes were associated with healing, and perhaps because Jayavarman may have been lame, he emphasized healing, as indicated by his construction of hospitals throughout the kingdom.