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28 October 2014
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The Sultanganj Buddha
The Sultanganj Buddha

The Sultanganj Buddha

The Sultanganj Buddha is the largest metal figure of its kind in the world, and has been housed in Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery since 1867.


The Sultanganj Buddha
The Sultanganj Buddha

Gallery Three of Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery is devoted to celebrating the sculptural heritage of Buddhism, Jainism and Hinduism, three great religions that originated in India.

Complementing the Sultanganj Buddha are other objects from Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery's collections as well as from the internationally renowned collections of the Victoria and Albert Museum and the British Museum.

The magnificent copper statue of the Buddha which is the centrepiece of this gallery, is among the most significant objects in Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery. Dated between 500 to 700 AD it is the largest metal figure of its kind in the world.

How the Sultanganj Buddha came to Birmingham

The discovery of the Sultanganj Buddha in 1862
The discovery of the Buddha in 1862

The Sultanganj Buddha was discovered during railway construction in the North Indian town of Sultanganj in 1862. Needing ballast for their line, engineers noticed an immense brick mound. Excavation showed it to be a Buddhist monastery containing many valuable artefacts.

The Buddha, however, only narrowly avoided the melting pot, thanks to the interest of Birmingham metal manufacturer Mr Samuel Thornton who, on hearing of the discovery, paid £200 to have it transported to Birmingham. In 1867 the Sultanganj Buddha was put on exhibition in the Museum.

The Sultanganj Buddha in detail

The Sultanganj Buddha
The Sultanganj Buddha

The Sultanganj Buddha is 2.3m high and 1m at its widest point and weighs about 500kgs. It was cast by the technique known as the 'lost wax' process, in which a solid core of clay is overlaid with wax. The sculptor models the fine details in the wax coating.

The wax is covered with a liquid layering of clay and plaster which hardens to form a mould. When heat is applied the wax melts and molten metal is poured in. The finished statue is finally obtained by removing the outer casting when cool.

Gupta Style

The Sultanganj Buddha is a splendid example of the renowned Gupta sculptural style which itself had been shaped by European and Persian influences that came to India through the trade routes with Rome and West Asia.

The discovery of the Sultanganj Buddha in 1862
Sultanganj Buddha with hand raised in abhayamudra

The Sultanganj Buddha conveys an image of calm and tranquillity and a spiritual detachment from the material world.

The Buddha's sangathi (monastic robe) clings so closely to the body that it is almost invisible, but for a series of string-like folds, giving the figure a wet-looking appearance.

The right hand is raised in abhayamudra (a gesture of reassurance or protection) while the left hand, with palm outward and held downwards indicates the granting of a favour.

last updated: 10/05/06
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