The Buddha at Birmingham

The Buddha at Birmingham

Britain's crown jewels, which include the fabled Kohinoor diamond, are the chief attraction at the Tower of London this summer. The exhibition, which opened on March 29, 2012 is sponsored by De Beers and focuses on the coronation. We bring you another lesser told story of The Sultanganj Buddha - the largest metal figure of its kind in the world, which has been housed in Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery since 1867. Text and images by Tisha Srivastav.

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

The magnificent copper statue of the Buddha is the centrepiece of this gallery. Dated between 500 to 700 AD it is the largest metal figure of its kind in the world.
Next slide: A railway man discovered it in Bihar.

The Sultanganj Buddha was discovered during railway construction in Bihar’s 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 artifacts.

Today 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.

It was visited by 30,000 local people in the first week in Bihar. Its excavation was reported around the world and Samuel Thornton, a Birmingham MP lobbied for it to come to the city. Funding its removal and transport, the Buddha arrived safely in Birmingham only allegedly - after a narrow escape from ambush near London docks by curators of the British Museum. It became the first object to enter the city's collections.