Buddhism was founded by Gautama Buddha, also known as Siddhartha Gautama. He was born in Lumbini, currently Nepal, in 563 BCE and died in Kushinagar, Uttar Perdesh, India in 483 at the age of 80 years. Events about his life, his discourses, and the monastic rules laid down by him were spread by oral tradition, and it was only 400 years after his death that they were written.
Buddha’s physical features were attractive, but he desired his followers to know him through Buddhism and not by his physical features alone. Yet the devout Buddhists can not think of him in isolation; therefore, throughout the Buddhist regions he is depicted in the form of statues. Some of them are huge in size; others are made of precious metals; while yet some others are carved in wood or sculpted in stone. A few of his statues in stone, like the fasting Buddha of Gandhara, are iconic to Buddhism and are excellent examples of sculpture.
1. Guan Yin, China
The ‘Guan Yin’ statue is a famous tourist attraction located at Mount Xiqiao, Guandong in the city of Foshan in the southeastern district of China. The statue is 62 meters tall and is fixed on a pedestal that is 15 meters high, making the total height equal to 77 meters. ‘Guan Yin’ is considered the ‘Goddess of Mercy.’ The statue at the summit of Mount Xiqiao is located at an elevation of 346 m (1,135 ft.). Mount Xiqiao is a dormant volcano, and it is considered one of the eight sights of Guangzhou during the Qing Dynasty. The mountain is famous for its 42 natural caves, 232 springs, 28 waterfalls and, above all, the ‘Guan Yin’ statue on its summit. In 1996 Mount Emei along with Leshan Buddha was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
2. Fasting Buddha
‘Fasting Buddha’ is a masterpiece of sculpture from the second century A.D. It was excavated from Sikri, near Jamal Garhi, District Mardan of the Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan. The statue is on display in the Peshawer Museum. It was excavated in 1894 by the British Army Excavation Mission, and its left arm was found cracked at the time of excavation. The statue is sculpted from very fine textured Schist stone that is bluish in color. The statue measures 84 cm x 53 cm. The statue may or may not be in conformance to Grey’s Anatomy, but it does reflect the effects of fasting on a human being.
3. Standing Buddha, Tokyo National Museum
The ‘Standing Buddha’ on display in the Tokyo National Museum is dated to the second century A.D. and is similar to a few other statues displayed in the museum Garmet in France and other museums of Pakistan and India. The standing Buddha has been sculpted in contrapposto stance; in which the body weight is on one foot, and the body shows curves and inclined shoulders as in the ‘David’ by Michelangelo and in ‘Venus de Milo’ by Alexandros of Antioch. A wavy robe covers the broad shoulders, and the curly hair is tied with the top knot. The statue is a superb example of realism. Prior to the creation of the standing Buddha in second century, Buddha was not shown as a human figure and was represented only symbolically in the form of the banyan tree, stupa, Buddha’s footprint, his empty seat, or a wheel. ‘Standing Buddha’ statues are, therefore, the very first sculptures to show Buddha as a human figure. In fact, the standing Buddha opened a new venue to represent Buddha in different human forms and moods to the great delight and satisfaction of his followers.
4. Leshan Buddha
Located at the juncture of the Mijing, Dadu and Qingyi rivers in the Sichuan province of China, the ‘Leshan Buddha’ statue was carved out of a cliff during the Tang Dynasty between 618 and 907 AD. It is the biggest statue of Buddha in the world. Its construction was started by a Chinese monk Haitong in 713 and was completed by his disciples in 803 after his death. The statue faces towards Mount Emei while the rivers flow under its feet. The statue is so big that a man can sit on its one toe. The statue is 71 m. tall and depicts Buddha seated with his hands on his knees. The ‘Leshan Buddha’ has shoulders that are 29 meters wide. According to a local saying ‘The Mountain is a Buddha and Buddha is a mountain.’
5. Seated Buddha, Tokyo National Museum
‘Seated Buddha’ was made in Gandhara in present-day Pakistan in the second century A.D and is currently on display in room #33 of the British Museum. Prior to the creation of the Buddha statues, he was represented only symbolically and mostly by his footprints. The statue is reflective of the ancient Greek art because Gandhara had been part of the reign of Alexander the Great as a Greco-Bactrian kingdom. The statue is made from Schist stone and has been carved very minutely showing even the details of the nails. This Buddha statue shows him seated on a raised platform or throne, and in front of the throne there are many other enlightened people. A couple in kneeling postures, with the male wearing a turban, is considered to be the couple who sponsored the creation of this statue.
6. Bamiyan Buddha
‘Bamiyan Buddhas’ are known the world over more for their destruction at the hands of the Taliban than for their creation some 1500 years ago. The tallest ‘Bamiyan Buddha’ was a 55-meter standing statue carved out of a cliff in the Bamiyan Valley of central Afghanistan, located about 230 km from its capital Kabul. The Taliban dynamited the site in 2001 on account of religious intolerance giving a great shock to the whole world. The original statues were carved out of the sandstone rock, and details were added by a mixture of straw mud plaster followed by its painting. Destruction of the site uncovered a few caves having paintings from the 8th century.
7. Boudh Town Buddha
Boudh, located on the bank of the biggest river Mahanadi of Orissa, is a town and district of the State of Orissa in India. The town enjoyed the status as the cultural center in the time of Buddha.The district of Orissa has other ‘Buddha’ statues too, but the one present in the town of Boudh is of special importance on account of the remains of the original monastery which can be still seen there. The statue is 6 feet 9 inches high seated on a 1 foot by 2 inches high lotus throne. The lotus itself rests on an 11-inch high pedestal with a breadth of 4 feet 6 inches. Two flying attendant figures with garlands on their heads and in their hands are in its company.
8. Wan Kannon, Tokyo
‘Wan Kannon,’ Tokyo is a Buddhist ‘Goddess of Mercy.’ It is a 56-meters-tall statue and was built in 1961 by Masae Usami. It was built as an icon for world peace. It is located in Futtsu, Chiba. A narrow, circular staircase is provided to access the top. The staircase comprises 327 steps and, while ascending, one comes across many deities including the seven gods of Happiness. On reaching the top of the structure, an eye-catching panorama attracts the attention of visitors. It may not be so picturesque on a hazy day, but on the clear days, Mount Fuji and Tokyo Bay are also seen. The sunset over Miura Peninsula is just an unforgettable treat for the sight.
9. Wat Tham Sua Buddha, Thailand
Wat Tham Sua, or the Tiger Temple, is situated on top of a mountain at a distance of 8 km from the town of Karbi in the Kanchanaburi province of Southern Thailand. A stairway with 1,237 footsteps leads to the top. Platforms at suitable intervals are provided to facilitate hiking. The ‘Buddha’ statue is seated in a blessing posture. The statue is covered with gold mosaic and a shell-like structure. There are some caves at the top of the mountain, but they have been closed to visitors. The environment is scenic with a warning against monkeys.
10. Ling Shan Buddha, China
The Ling Shan ‘Buddha’ statue is located to the south of Longshan Mountain near the town of Mashan in Wuxi, in the Jiangsu province of China. It is about 88 meters high and is one of the biggest statues of Buddha in the world. It is made of bronze and weighs over 700 tons. In its vicinity is a 1,000-year-old historic, Buddhist temple, Xiangfu. The word ‘Wish’ is inscribed on both the hands of the statue wishing happiness for all.
Religious intolerance, as practiced by the Taliban by destroying the ‘Bamiyan Buddha’ statues, not only strengthens the suppressed but also prompts the others around them to support their cause. The destroyed site has prompted many countries to create many greater statues of Buddha to be displayed in numerous, prominent places in different parts of the world. The statues are not always meant for being worshipped. Most of the time they symbolize a philosophy. For example, the ‘Laughing Buddha’ is sometimes confused as being the figure of Buddha but is actually based on the figure of a monk that lived 1,000 years ago and symbolizes contentment.