Part 6 of Joy and Tranquillity digital guide

Laurie Britton Newell describes the ‘Buddha Resisting Demons of Mara’

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This colourful print from Sri Lanka shows a scene from the story of Buddha’s enlightenment. The title of the print is ‘Māra’s Battle’ and it is shown in both Sinhalese and English. 

In the centre of the image, the about-to-be Buddha, Prince Siddhartha, sits in a lotus position with both his hands folded in his lap, facing us in meditation. Above him appears the bodhi tree under which Buddhists believe that he achieved enlightenment.

Buddha’s stillness and calm are in direct opposition to the explosion of colour and movement to his right and left, where animal-faced creatures are attacking him with arrows, swords, axes and fire.

Their open mouths with bared teeth suggest jeering and shouting. The assault is followed by defeat, as their weapons are lying at Buddha’s feet.

At the bottom-left corner of the print, the blue figure of the demon Māra is upside down, as if he has just fallen off the elephant beside him.

According to Buddhist theology, the character of Māra acts as a representation of the passions and inner temptations of self-interest.

The story of Māra’s battle represents the daily struggle we face to see things for what they really are. To not be confined by fear, distraction or our own ego, and instead make meaningful connections to the world around us.

About the speaker

Photograph of Laurie Britton Newell

Laurie Britton Newell

Laurie Britton Newell is a senior curator at Wellcome Collection and co-curator of the ‘Joy’ and ‘Tranquillity’ exhibitions, part of the season ‘On Happiness’ (2021), and she curated the exhibition ‘Somewhere in Between’ (2018). She previously ran a rural curatorial platform in the USA and taught at the University of Colorado. Prior to that she worked as a curator at the Victoria and Albert Museum, where she curated critically acclaimed exhibitions such as ‘Memory Palace’ (2013), ‘Make Lab’ (2011), ‘1:1: Architects Build Small Spaces’ (2010) and ‘Out of the Ordinary: Spectacular Craft’ (2008). She writes about contemporary creative practice for books, magazines and newspapers.