The dharmachakra, or Wheel of Law, is “the single most important symbol of Buddhism, denoting the Buddha’s First Sermon in the deer forest at Sarnath, where he set Buddhist Law in motion for the first time,” writes Metropolitan Museum of Art curator John Guy.
This wheel is one of about 160 sculptures lent by several countries that are displayed at the Lost Kingdoms: Hindu-Buddhist Sculpture of Early Southeast Asia, 5th to 8th Century exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
The wheel evokes the enlightened universal ruler and so may be categorized as “state” as well as religious art. Buddhism influenced statecraft in the Dvāravatī kingdom of central Thailand, where this circa 7th- to 8th-century sandstone sculpture was found. Dharmachakras appear frequently at Dvāravatī sites, unlike in other parts of Southeast Asia.
The sculptures were often monumental, supported upon pillars for public display. This dharmachakra measures 124.5 by 30 centimeters and was found in Phra Pathom Chedi, Nakhon Pathom.