The emphasis placed on this new type of Buddhist image, that of a crowned Buddha seated on the cobra Muchilinda, is one of the many changes in Buddhistart as well as thought fostered by Jayavarman VII. Images of a Buddha without a crown and protected by the hood of Muchilinda have a long history in Buddhist art. They illustrate a moment in the life of Buddha Shakyamuni when he was sheltered froma storm by the serpent. This event, which is believed to have occurred within the first six weeks after Shakyamuni attained buddhahood, is often represented in the visual arts.
The crown and jewelry worn in this example add several layers of meaning to the iconography, representing both the omnipresence of the Buddha and the legitimacy of the ruler. The serpent, who helps to identify the iconography and represents the powers of water, is also a longstanding emblem of royalty throughout South and Southeast Asia. As it is associated withhealing, the serpent may also have had a personal meaning for Jayavarman VII, who is noted for the many hospitals that were built during his reign. The jewelry also links this sculpture of Shakyamuni with the tradition of Esoteric Buddhism, in which deities wear jewelry.Jayavarman VII's preference for this particularly complicated branch of Buddhist thought may have had political implications as well: it has been suggested that the shift to Buddhism during the 12th century was a result of the search for a more potent religion after a disastrous Cham attack on the Khmers in 1117.