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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."

Followers 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.

In 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.

This 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.

How 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:

  1. 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.
  2. Ushnisha The cranial bump (ushnisha) symbolizes the "expanded wisdom" the Buddha attained at the time of his enlightenment.
  3. Urna The mark in the center of the Buddha's forehead (urna) refers to his supernatural wisdom.
  4. Hair 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.
  5. Face 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 goods.
  6. Hand 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.

In 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.

How 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.

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