India, probably Bihar, late 6th century
Bronze (copper alloy)
H. 27 in.
Buddhism is one of the world's oldest and most widespread religions. According
to tradition, the Buddha was born in the region that is now Nepal in the
year 563 B.C.E. He was born a prince named Siddhartha Gautama. Siddhartha
left his palace, renouncing his princely life, and set out to find the
cause of human suffering. He became a wandering monk. After years of searching,
he found his answer-or awakening-and proceeded to teach others. When he
died, he attained nirvana-the final release from earthly suffering. The
name "Buddha" means "the Awakened One" or "the Enlightened One."
of the Buddha, monks and nuns who lived in monasteries located around
the modern Indian state of Bihar, codified his teachings and spread them
through northern India. The earliest known Buddhist monuments were produced
during the Maurya period (322-185 B.C.E.). When the emperor Asoka (reigned
about 273-232 B.C.E.) was converted to Buddhism, he propagated the faith
throughout the Indian sub-continent.
the early phases of Buddhism, the Buddha was represented in art by symbols;
by the beginning of the Common Era actual images of the Buddha began to
appear. These images became a focal point of worship and ritual.
statue was produced in northern India during the 6th century C.E. and
shows the influence of the Gupta art style. The Gupta period (319-500
C.E.) in north and north-central India was a period of enormous prosperity
and artistic fluorescence. The Gupta style spread throughout India and
also influenced the arts in other areas of Asia.
to look at this work
Since no one knows what the Buddha looked like, his image was created
to express ideas about his life and teachings through visible signs. An
examination of this Buddha image reveals the following identifying characteristics:
Robe The Buddha wears the garment of a Buddhist monk. This consists
of two unsewn pieces of cloth. One piece is wrapped around the waist,
the other is draped around the shoulders.
The cranial bump (ushnisha) symbolizes the "expanded wisdom" the Buddha
attained at the time of his enlightenment.
The mark in the center of the Buddha's forehead (urna) refers to his
The Buddha's hair is usually depicted in the form of "snail-shell" curls.
Monks have shaven heads, but according to legend, when the Buddha cut
his hair, the uncut portions snapped into these curls and he never had
to cut his hair again.
The face is quiet and serene. The eyelids are lowered as if in meditation.
The ears are large and the earlobes elongated, extended by the large
and heavy earrings the Buddha once wore when he was a prince. They remind
us that to secure enlightenment, we must surrender attachment to worldly
Gestures The Buddha's hand gestures are called mudras and have symbolic
meanings. In this image, the right hand is raised to chest level with
the palm facing the viewer. This is the gesture of reassurance. It tells
us to have no fear.
these various ways this sculpture reflects ideas about the Buddha. Function
We cannot be absolutely certain about the function of this particular
image, but we know that in Buddhist worship today, as is earlier times,
images like this are the focal point of personal worship and religious
ritual. The worshipper may offer gifts like candles, incense, food, and
water to the Buddha and in this way honor the deity and acquire either
personal or family merit.
this object was made
This image is made from bronze, an alloy of copper and tin. It was cast
in the "lost-wax" method. In this technique, the sculpture is first formed
in wax, which is then covered in clay and fired. As the clay bakes, the
wax melts and runs out through funnels, leaving an empty mold, which is
then filled with melted bronze. After the metal cools the clay mold is
broken open, producing a unique object.