Ten Famous Buddhas: Where They Came From; What They Represent

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1. The Giant Faces of Bayon

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The stone faces of Angkor Thom are known for their smiling serenity. © Mike Harrington / Getty Images

Strictly speaking, this isn't just one Buddha; it is 200 or so faces decorating the towers of the Bayon, a temple in Cambodia very near the famous Angkor Wat. The Bayon probably was constructed at the end of the 12th century.

Although the faces are often assumed to be of the Buddha, they may have been intended to represent Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva. Scholars believe they were all made in the likeness of King Jayavarman VII (1181-1219), the Khmer monarch who built the Angkor Thom temple complex that contains the Bayon temple and the many faces. 

Read More: Buddhism in Cambodia

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2. The Standing Buddha of Gandhara

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Standing Buddha of Gandhara, Tokyo National Museum. Public Domain, via Wikipedia Commons

This exquisite Buddha was found near modern-day Peshawar, Pakistan. In ancient times, much of what is now Afghanistan and Pakistan was a Buddhist kingdom called Gandhara. Gandhara is remembered today for its art, particularly while being ruled by the Kushan Dynasty, from the 1st century BCE to the 3rd century CE. The first depictions of the Buddha in human form were made by the artists of Kushan Gandhara.

Read More: The Lost World of Buddhist Gandhara

This Buddha was sculpted in the 2nd or 3rd century CE and today is in the Tokyo National Museum. The style of the sculpture is sometimes described as Greek, but the Tokyo National Museum insists it is Roman. 

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3. A Head of Buddha from Afghanistan

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Head of Buddha from Afghanistan, 300-400 CE. Michel Wal / Wikipedia / GNU Free Documentation License

This head, believed to represent Shakyamuni Buddha, was excavated from an archaeological site in Hadda, Afghanistan, which is ten kilometers south of present-day Jalalabad. It probably was made in the 4th or 5th century CE, although the style is similar to Graeco-Roman art of earlier times. 

The head now is in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Museum curators say the head is made of stucco and was once painted. It's believed the original statue was attached to a wall and was part of a narrative panel. 

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4. The Fasting Buddha of Pakistan

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The "Fasting Buddha," a sculpture of ancient Gandhara, was found in Pakistan. © Patrik Germann / Wikipedia Commons, Creative Commons License

The "Fasting Buddha" is another masterpiece from ancient Gandhara that was excavated in Sikri, Pakistan, in the 19th century. It probably dates to the 2nd century CE. The sculpture was donated to the Lahore Museum of Pakistan in 1894, where it is still displayed.

Strictly speaking, the statue should be called the "Fasting Bodhisattva" or the "Fasting Siddhartha," since it portrays an event that took place before the Buddha's enlightenment. On his spiritual quest, Siddhartha Gautama tried many aesthetic practices, including starving himself until he resembled a living skeleton. Eventually he realized that mental cultivation and insight, not bodily deprivation, would lead to enlightenment. 

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5. The Tree Root Buddha of Ayuthaya

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© Prachanart Viriyaraks / Contributor / Getty Images

This quirky Buddha appears to be growing from tree roots. This stone head is near a 14th-century temple called Wat Mahathat in Ayutthaya, which was once the capital of Siam, and is now in Thailand. In 1767 a Burmese army attacked Ayutthaya and reduced much of it to ruins, including the temple. Burmese soldier vandalized the temple by cutting off the heads of the Buddhas. 

The temple was abandoned until the 1950s, when the government of Thailand began to restore it. This head was discovered outside the temple grounds, tree roots growing around it. 

Read More: Buddhism in Thailand

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Another View of the Tree Root Buddha

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A closer look at the Ayutthaya Buddha. © GUIZIOU Franck / hemis.fr/ Getty Images

The tree root Buddha, sometimes called the Ayuthaya Buddha, is a popular subject of Thai postcards and travel guide books. It is such a popular tourist attraction it must be watched by a guard, to prevent visitors from touching it.

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6. The Longmen Grottoes Vairocana

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Vairocana and Other Figures at Longmen Grottoes. © Feifei Cui-Paoluzzo / Getty Images

The Longmen Grottoes of Henan Province, China, are a formation of limestone rock carved into tens of thousands of statues over a period of many centuries, beginning about 493 CE. The large (17.14 meters) Vairocana Buddha that dominates the Fengxian Cave was carved in the 7th century. It is regarded to this day as one of the most beautiful representations of Chinese Buddhist art. To get an idea of the size of the figures, find the man in the blue jacket beneath them.

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Face of the Longmen Grottoes Vairocana Buddha

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This face of Vairocana may have been modeled after the Empress Wu Zetian. © Luis Castaneda Inc. / The Image Bank

Here is a closer look at the face of the Longmen Grottoes Vairocana Buddha. This section of the grottoes was carved during the life of the Empress Wu Zetian (625-705 CE). An inscription at the base of the Vairocana honors the Empress, and it is said that the face of the Empress served as the model for the face of Vairocana. 

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7. The Giant Leshan Buddha

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Tourists flock around the giant Buddha of Leshan, China. © Marius Hepp / EyeEm / Getty Images

He's not the most beautiful Buddha, but the giant Maitreya Buddha of Leshan, China, does make an impression. He's held the record for world's largest seated stone Buddha for more than 13 centuries. He is 233 feet (about 71 meters) tall. His shoulders are about 92 feet (28 meters) wide. His fingers are 11 feet (3 meters) long.

The giant buddha sits at the confluence of three rivers -- the Dadu, Qingyi and Minjiang. According to legend, a monk named Hai Tong decided to erect a buddha to placate water spirits that were causing boat accidents. Hai Tong begged for 20 years to raise the money to carve the Buddha. Work began in 713 CE and was completed in 803.

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8. The Seated Buddha of Gal Vihara

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The Buddhas of Gal Vihara remain popular with pilgrims and tourists alike. © Peter Barritt / Getty Images

Gal Vihara is a rock temple in north-central Sri Lanka that was built in the 12th century. Although it has fallen into ruin, Gal Vihara today is a popular destination for tourists and pilgrims. The dominant feature is a giant granite block, from which four images of the Buddha were carved. Archaeologists say the four figures were originally covered in gold. The seated Buddha in the photograph is over 15 feet tall.

Read More: Buddhism in Sri Lanka 

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9. The Kamakura Daibutsu, or Great Buddha of Kamakura

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The Great Buddha (Daibutsu) of Kamakura, Honshu, Kanagawa Japan. © Peter Wilson / Getty Images

He isn't the biggest Buddha in Japan, or the oldest, but the Daibutsu -- Great Buddha -- of Kamakura has long been the most iconic Buddha in Japan. Japanese artists and poets have celebrated this Buddha for centuries; Rudyard Kipling also made the Kamakura Daibutsu the subject of a poem, and the American artist John La Farge painted a popular watercolor of the Daibutsu in 1887 that introduced him to the West.

The bronze statue, believed to have been made in 1252, depicts Amitabha Buddha, called Amida Butsu in Japan. 

Read More: Buddhism in Japan

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10. The Tian Tan Buddha

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The Tian Tan Buddha is the world's tallest outdoor seated bronze Buddha. It is located at Ngong Ping, Lantau Island, in Hong Kong. Oye-sensei, Flickr.com, Creative Commons License

The tenth Buddha in our list is the only modern one. The Tian Tan Buddha of Hong Kong was completed in 1993. But he's quickly turning into one of the most photographed Buddhas in the world. The Tian Tan Buddha is 110 feet (34 meters) tall and weighs 250 metric tons (280 short tons). It is located at Ngong Ping, Lantau Island, in Hong Kong. The statue is called the "Tian Tan" because its base is a replica of Tian Tan, the Temple of Heaven in Beijing.

The Tian Tan Buddha's right hand is raised to remove affliction. His left hand rests on his knee, representing happiness. It is said that on a clear day the Tian Tan Buddha can be seen as far away as Macau, which is 40 miles west of Hong Kong.

He's no rival in size to the stone Leshan Buddha, but the Tian Tan Buddha is the largest outdoor seated bronze Buddha in the world. The massive statue took ten years to cast.

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O'Brien, Barbara. "Ten Famous Buddhas: Where They Came From; What They Represent." ThoughtCo, Feb. 28, 2017, thoughtco.com/famous-buddhas-where-they-came-from-what-they-represent-449986. O'Brien, Barbara. (2017, February 28). Ten Famous Buddhas: Where They Came From; What They Represent. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/famous-buddhas-where-they-came-from-what-they-represent-449986 O'Brien, Barbara. "Ten Famous Buddhas: Where They Came From; What They Represent." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/famous-buddhas-where-they-came-from-what-they-represent-449986 (accessed November 22, 2017).