June 21, 2021

The Use of Stone For Buddha Statues

Usiki Stone Buddhas, Japan

Usuki City Stone Buddhas in Oita county Japan were carved between 1300 – 1500. There are two different types of carved Buddhas, some chisseled into the rock face on the hillside, whilst others are sculpted from outlying free standing rocks. There are six groups of stone Buddhas in the area with more than 60 individual stone carvings in total. Just a short distance away in the adjacent Maeda district, there is a unique set of seven stone Buddhas.

These statues have been carved from soft stone that unfortunately weathers easily, they have been badly damaged with much fine stone work filigree detail disappearing over time. Restoration work was carried out from 1980 until 1994, and subsequently, 59 of these unique and beautiful Buddhas were given the coveted title in 1995 of National Treasures, being the first stone Buddhas ever to be receive this status in Japan.

Unlike most stone Buddhas these are thought to have been sculpted by some of the finest wood carvers of the era – hence the abundance of fine detail prevalent in many of the statues.

Furthermore the stone head of the iconic Dai-nichi Nyorai sculpture was detached from the body of the Buddha and lay on the ground for many years as the symbol for Usuki City.

During their restoration, it was decided to re-attach the head back onto the body, and so the stone head of the Dai-nichi Nyorai statue once more again adorns the body.

Chinese Stone Buddha Statues – a Long Series

In the 1,000 Buddha Statue Hall of Lingyan Temple in Changqing, Shandong Province, the 40 coloured clay statues of Buddhist artists are life-size, with various expressions according to their different ages, experiences and dispositions.

In the Mount Baoding Caves located in Dazu County, Sichuan, there are thousands of stone statues sculpted in the Southern Song Dynasty. The stone statues are grouped, instead of being placed in separate niches, and tell the story of the Buddha’s life and enlightenment.

The stone carvings in the mausoleum of Emperor Wang Jian of the Former Shu Dynasty are thought to be the best stone statues of this kind. In the main tomb, there is a stone coffin platform with reliefs of musical performers carved in the stone on all four sides. These stone sculptures are very lifelike, and provide important reference material for the study of ancient Chinese musical arts.

In the rear stone chamber is a nearly metre high seated statue of Emperor Wang Jian. This artefact is priceless since it is the only stone statue of a Chinese emperor made in his times that has ever been discovered.

Korean Stone Buddhas

The only temple cave in South Korea is located at the foot of Mt.Hamwol, Gulgulsa. This temple was built out of solid stone rock during the 6th century by Saint Gwang Yoo and his monks, and was designed according to Indian architectural styles.

On the top of the temple stands a stone sculpture of the Maya Tathagata Buddha and surrounding this stone statue are twelve rock caves which are used as a prayer sanctuary. Seven of the twelve rock cave sanctuaries are still standing today. Golgulsa’s main attraction is the stone sculpture of the Maya Tathagata Buddha and the Gwaneum Cave.

This huge piece has the characteristics of the Shilla Buddha, being over 4 metres high. The statue has his hair in a top knot,alongside a serene smile, narrow eyes, small lips, and a long narrow nose. To protect this treasured sculpture from the elements, a glass ceiling has been constructed in the main cave, and is the largest sanctuary of the seven extant caves.

The main stone Buddha of this cave is the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy, and the cave walls are inscribed with dedications to the 108 meditations of the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy. Inside the GwaneumCave, the entire interior from ceiling to walls is carved entirely from stone. Golgulsa is unlike any other stone temple of the period. The road to the temple is very steep as you ascend the stone cliffs. Safety ropes and railings surround Golgulsa. An even more perilous climb up a long set of stone stairs finally leads up to the caves, including GwaneumCave, JijangCave, and Yaksa Cave.

Thus the Maya Bathgate Stone Buddha can only be seen after climbing the rock walls.

The Destroyed Giant Buddhas of Afghanistan

The Buddhas of Bamyan were two 6th century monumental stone statues of standing Buddhas carved into the cliff side in the Bamyan valley in the Hazarajat region of centralAfghanistan. The stone Buddhas were built in 507, with the larger stone Buddha in 554. These stone statues represented the classic blended style of Gandhara art.

The main bodies of the stone Buddhas were carved directly from the sandstone cliffs, but some details were modelled in mud mixed with straw. This coating on the stone, wore away long ago and was painted to improve the expressions of the faces, hands and folds of the robes; the larger one was painted red whilst the smaller one was painted in multiple colours.

The lower parts of the Buddha statues’ arms were constructed from the same mud-straw mix while supported on wooden frames.

The stone Buddhas were deliberately dynamited and destroyed in 2001 by the Taliban, on orders from Mullah Mohammed Omar, after the Taliban government declared that they were “graven idols”. International opinion was strongly condemnatory of the destruction of the stone Buddhas, which was viewed as an example of the intolerance of the Taliban. Japanand Switzerland, along with other countries, have pledged support for the rebuilding of the stone Buddha statues.