Giant Ancient Buddhas

Colossal sculpture has always fascinated me, especially those of ancient times. There is something to be said for the existence of man-made objects that were created by tools from centuries, or perhaps millenia ago. Since learning more about art history during my time at Marywood, I’ve found myself increasingly interested in the effort expended by people who created magnificently gigantic religious sculpture. In the case of giant Buddhas, the sheer scale of the figure and the way they are blended into the landscape or space in which they are presented make them unique among colossal sculptures.

Located on the side of cliff in the Bamyan valley of central Afghanistan, the Buddhas of Bamiyan were among some of the most interesting sculptures of Buddha we have found thus far. There were two Buddha statues that made up the Buddhas of Bamiyan, the Eastern Buddha standing 38m tall and the Western Buddha standing 55m tall, both built around 600 AD. Although they had been worn away, initially the statues were coated in a stucco-like material to sculpt the details and then painted. Caves with various paintings surrounded each one. In March of 2001, the Taliban would execute orders to blow up each statue, an action that would bring international and local condemnation.

Eastern Buddha
Western Buddha

Another colossal Buddha that stands today as an iconic example of ancient sculpture would be the Leshan Giant Buddha. The Leshan Buddha stands at 71m, and like the Buddhas of Baminyan, is built into a niche as though it is sitting as a part of the natural landscape. It was completed in 803 AD is located at Qifeng Peak in Sichuan China where the Minjiang, Qingyi and Dadu River meet. Chinese Monk Hai Tong led construction which began in 723, intending fo the statue to help settle rough waters that would hinder and destroy shipping vessels travelling by river. Supposedly, when the funding for the project was threatened, he was remembered to have gouged out his eyes as a sign of devotion and piety regarding the statue. However, it would lack the funding necessary to complete it and remain headless for nearly 70 years.

Leshan Giant Buddha, 803, Photo COurtesy of UNESCO

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