Illuminating the Life of the Buddha

An Illustrated Chanting Book from Eighteenth-Century Siam

Naomi Appleton, Sarah Shaw, and Toshiya Unebe

Illuminating the Life of the Buddha

Naomi Appleton, Sarah Shaw, and Toshiya Unebe

Distributed for the Bodleian Library, University of Oxford

160 pages | 86 color plates | 7 1/2 x 10 1/2
Cloth $65.00 ISBN: 9781851242832 Published August 2013 For sale in North America only
Illuminating the Life of the Buddha investigates an outstanding eighteenth-century samut khoi, a type of beautifully illustrated, folded book found in Southeast Asia and popular as a repository for the Buddha’s teachings. Written in Pali and produced in Siam, the samut khoi features finely executed paintings on khoi paper portraying key stories from the Buddha’s past lives. These stories, known as the Jatakas, were the principal means by which Buddhist teachings were communicated and were thus a favored theme for samut khoi. However, this samut khoi stands out for its extensive series of paintings from the last life of the Buddha, including his final awakening and teaching, which are distinctive to the region.

Affording readers immense insight into a spectacular eighteenth-century manuscript, and Thai Buddhist manuscripts and temple culture as a whole, this book will be of great interest to art historians and scholars of Buddhism and Southeast Asia.

List of Illustrations

Illustrated folios of the manuscript

Map of the manuscript


1 Introduction – Sarah Shaw

2 The past lives of the Buddha – Naomi Appleton












3 The final life of the Buddha – Toshiya Unebe

      The birth of the Bodhisatta

      The four signs

      Leaving his family

      The great departure

      Cutting off the hair

      The lesson of the three strings

      The offering of milk-rice

      The victory over Mara

      The first sermon

      The return to Kapilavatthu

      The offering from elephant and monkey

      Taming the elephant

      The offering of a mango

      The miracles at Savatthi

      Teaching his mother in Tavati?sa Heaven

      The descent from Tavati?sa Heaven

      The cremation

      The division of the relics

4 The lifestory of a manuscript – Sarah Shaw



Glossary of key terms and figures


Review Quotes
Nagoya Studies in Indian Culture and Buddhism
"Illuminating the Life of the Buddha is not only a descriptive book on a Siamese manuscript of the Eighteenth-century, but also a genuine homage to the culture, art, and the religious afflatus that created it. This work is undoubtedly one of the most important recent contributions to the study of Southeast Asian Buddhism and Thai narrative art.’
Journal of Contemporary Religion
“Throughout this interesting and beautifully illustrated volume, we are given a strong sense of the way in which this exceptionally beautiful eighteenth-century manuscript fits into not only the history but also the lived reality of contemporary Buddhist life.”
Buddhist Studies Review
“An absolute essential resource. . . . The best resource for the study of pre-modern Siamese Buddhist art and lit­erature to come out in over a decade, and one of the most significant publica­tions in the history of Thai Buddhism.”
Buddhist Art News
"Richly illustrated, . . . [Illuminating the Life of the Buddha] gives a good idea of what stories and themes have been considered important in popular tradition. . . . A suitable introduction to the illustrative traditions of late eighteenth century Thailand, and by extension. much of southern Buddhism."
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