Buddha statue

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A Buddha statue is the mostly fully plastic, idealized image of the historical Buddha ( Siddhartha Gautama ), the founder of Buddhism, carved out of one stone . Aniconical representations of the Buddha probably existed very early (4th or 3rd century BC); However, portraits of the person themselves are only documented from the 1st or 2nd century AD. Since then, a great variety of art and forms has developed.

Buddha statue, Borobudur , Java


When the Buddha knew that death would soon overtake him, he informed his disciples that they would now have to take the initiative and continue his work without him. His disciple Ananda quickly realized that the teaching would be forgotten in time unless some way of preserving the memory of Master was found. If the disciples could not perform a regular act of worship, he asked Master sadly. Couldn't they have some kind of substitute, some kind of "think-mark" for both his person and teaching? In order to satisfy needs of this kind, the Buddha replied, the believer could, for example, go on a pilgrimage to the places of his ministry. In these places he could then remember the associated events, the victory over evil and ignorance, in order to be inspired to imitate. If this is not enough, after his cremation they could take his physical relics (Sanskrit: sariradhatu , Pali: dhatucetiya ) and build stupas (Pali: paribhogacetiya , Thai: Chedis ) over them . These would remind people of the teaching and make their hearts happy.

Aniconic phase (up to 1st century AD)

Footprint of Buddha ( Wat Phra Phutthabat , Saraburi, Thailand)

In the first Buddhist works of art, such as B. on the reliefs of the stupa of Sanchi , the Buddha himself cannot be seen. He is represented solely by symbols that stand for certain scenes from the life of the master:

  • Lotus bud: symbol of his birth or his purity and wisdom
  • Bodhi tree : symbol of his enlightenment
  • Empty seat under the Bodhi tree, which is shielded by the Naga king Muchalinda , is a reminder of enlightenment.
  • Wheel ( dharmachakra ) to commemorate the first sermon in which "the wheel of teaching was set in motion".
  • Footprints ( phuttabat ).
  • Aureole: "Fiery Energy"
  • The stupa (Thai: chedi ; Tibet: chörten ; China and Japan: pagoda ) commemorates his entrance into nirvana (in the Pali language: parinibbana ).

Some of these symbols were already worshiped in ancient pre-Buddhist cultures in India: the sun disk (sun wheel), the snake, and tree and stone spirits.

Iconic phase

(For more on the history, see: Buddhist Art ) The first images depicting the Buddha in his human form appeared around the same time in Gandhara (today Afghanistan) and Mathura (North India) in the 1st or 2nd century AD (see Bimaran Reliquary or Kanischka Reliquary ). Ceylonese chronicles, however, suggest that the first iconic images of the Buddha were made as early as the third century BC; Archaeological evidence for this assumption has so far not been found. The already known symbols were still used in the representation. It has not yet been clarified where the production of such portraits began, but the majority of the early portraits found come from the area of ​​the Gandhara culture.

Immediately after their creation, the initially only few representations of the Buddha spread, also with mutual influence, in rapidly growing numbers and regional diversity. Associated art and teaching traditions and traditions also developed that portray certain forms of representation or individual sculptures as particularly true. A frequent topos is that an artist, commissioned by a king, looked directly at the Buddha and then created the image, thus interlinking secular and religious legitimation .


There are standing, sitting ( lotus position or 'European seat' ( pralambapadasana )) and lying, i.e. H. Buddha figures that have already died but have been freed from the cycle of rebirths ( samsara ). Certain physical features mentioned in the Pali Canon have become typical of Buddha images over time; they differ in many ways from other religious images of the time (e.g. the Jainist Tirthankaras ):

Buddha figure on the bimaran reliquary (around 80 AD)
Buddha, Sarnath (around 450)
  • Robe: The Buddha is always clothed - initially with a toga , later with an almost transparent robe.
  • Gender: The genitals are always hidden under the robe.
  • Eyes: The Buddha's eyes are usually only half-open as a sign of his seclusion.
  • Hand posture: Several characteristic hand postures ( mudras ) are known.
  • Fingers: The fingers of the enlightened one are slender and somewhat elongated.
  • Ushnisha : cranial bulge or topknot on the back of the head (sign of enlightenment)
  • Neck: Buddha's neck usually consists of three rings.
  • Ear: The Buddha's ear lobes are regularly pierced and drooping - a sign of jewelry, i.e. H. his royal descent.
  • Physique: The balance of body proportions is important ( examples of ascetic Buddhas are only found in early Gandhara art ; depictions of obese Budais are also known in China and Japan .)


A Buddha statue is not created as a decorative work of art or just to please the eye. Rather, the intention is to remind, teach, or perhaps even enlighten the viewer. The creation of a Buddha statue is seen as a “good deed”, which one hopes will have a positive impact on the next rebirth. Similar to the stupas , they were initially used to store relics, but in the course of time they themselves became memorial relics.

Buddha statues today

Today representations of the Buddha are firmly integrated not only in the religious life of almost all Buddhist schools and forms of popular religiosity. They are also very popular as fashion items for living rooms or gardens for wealthy people around the world who want to get a bit of spiritual chic and show their cosmopolitanism. Aniconical symbols , however, have lost their meaning, even if B. the Dharma wheel was included in the national flag of India . As in Christianity, it is mostly forgotten in Buddhism today that depictions of the founder of the religion , especially for worship purposes, were initially unusual.

Destruction of Buddha statues

Even in areas where Buddhism finally had to give way to other religions , Buddha images were and remain respected for centuries; In India, even at the time of the increasingly dominant Hinduism under the Gupta rulers (4th / 5th century AD), no destruction of Buddha images is known. Such a thing only happened in the course of the conquest of northern and central India by the image-hostile Islam . The destruction of the giant Buddha statues in Bamiyan ( Afghanistan ) by the Islamist Taliban in 1998 and 2001 sparked global outrage and had to be enforced against the resistance of the local Hazara population. In the Swat Valley in northern Pakistan, some smaller rock reliefs with Buddha images were damaged by the Taliban, who were de facto in power at the time.

Buddha head in Ayutthaya Historical Park

Buddha heads

Recently, heads of Buddha statues have become more and more popular in trendy furniture stores or in shipping. This may lead the gullible observer to believe that Buddha heads are a form of representation in their own right. However, the heads were not originally made as such, but are always part of a complete statue. They either fell off the hull over the centuries due to the influence of wind and weather, or they were deliberately removed, as happened, for example, when the Siamese capital Ayutthaya was conquered by the Burmese in April 1767. Today heads are manufactured industrially in order to meet the worldwide growing demand for easily transportable decorative objects.

Stylistics sorted by country (selection)

The iconography of the Buddha statues is defined differently in different countries:


  • Silpa Bhirasri : An appreciation of Sukhthai art . The Fine Arts Department , Bangkok 1962. (Thai culture; 17).
  • Alexander B. Griswold: What is a Buddha Image? The Fine Arts Department, Bangkok 1962. (Thai culture; 19).
  • Monika Zin: The change of the Buddha image in the Buddha image. At the beginning of the Buddha image. In: Schmidt-Leukel et al. (Ed.): Who is Buddha? A figure and its meaning. Diederichs, Munich 1998, ISBN 3-424-01418-4 .
  • Volker Zotz : Buddha . Reinbek near Hamburg Rowohlt. 6 A. 2001. ISBN 3499504774 .

Web links

Commons : Buddha Statue  - Collection of Images, Videos and Audio Files

Individual evidence

  1. Lal Mani Joshi: Buddhist Art and Architecture . In: Heinz Bechert, Richard Gombrich (ed.): The Buddhism. History and present. CH Beck, Munich, 2002, p. 102.