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Buddha Amitabha

This large sculpture of Buddha Amithaba is seated in the vajrasana posture, deep in meditation. The high quality of its carving produces great volumes, endowing the Buddha with a majestic presence. A fine monastic robe covers his body, which appears radiant from underneath. His well delineated features express a sincere benevolence. The head is covered in plump spiral curls. The half-closed eyelids are shaped in a curve recalling a lotus petal and the downcast eyes suggest inner contemplation. A straight nose comes down in a strong line. The harmony of his perfect proportions and the graciousness of his physical form represent one of the many qualities or powers of a Buddha. This poised appearance describes the ideal picture of a Heavenly Body that is not subject to change or decay.

The Buddha can be recognised by thirty-two special features called lakshana, that identify him as a Great Person (mahapurusha). The ushnisha or "Enlightenment Elevation" is a - usually flame-topped - elevation above the fontanel at the top of the head. It symbolizes his attainment of reliance in the spiritual guide. The urna is a spiral or circular dot in the centre of the forehead, called the Eye of Wisdom. This symbolizes a third eye or vision into the divine world. It is an expression of the Buddha's ability to see past our mundane universe of suffering. The elongated earlobes show that as a former royal prince he used to wear heavy earrings.

Buddha Amithaba is the oldest of the five cosmic Buddhas and symbolizes the stream of life. As he rules over the western paradise (a state of consciousness called Sukhavati), his image is placed on the west side of temples in Central Java. Similar representations once graced the Great Stupa at Borobudur in Central Java and several other Buddhist temples of the period.

Borobudur is arguably the world's major Buddhist monument. It was constructed around the year 800 A.D. and remained the spiritual centre of Buddhism in Java for about a century and a half. The monument, as other religious monuments in that area, was abandoned in about 919 A.D. due to the political unrest in Central Java. The temple precinct is vertically divided into base, body, and superstructure in accordance with the conception of the Universe in Buddhist cosmology. Laid out in the form of a lotus, the temple compounds blend the indigenous tradition of ancestor worship with the Buddhist concept of attaining Nirvana, revealed in the composition of the terraced mountain.

A stone head of Buddha from the ninth century in Central Java, was sold in Christie's sale of 'The Collection of Robert Hatfield Ellsworth - Part 1', in March 2015.


- SIMON R. (ed.), Pusaka : Art of Indonesia, Singapore 1992.

- SRI HARDIATI E. & TER KEURS P. (eds.), Indonesia : The Discovery of the Past, Amsterdam 2005.

- SOEDIMAN, 'Borobudur, Indonesian Cultural Heritage', Studies in Conservation, Vol. 18, No. 3, Special Issue on the Conservation of Borobudur Temple, Indonesia (August 1973), pp. 102-112.

Object information

Date and place:
Central Java (Indonesia), 9th century
Height: 109 cm
Private collection T.L., Belgium, 2011; Private collection, The Netherlands, legally exported from Indonesia in 2009.
A Passage to Asia, 25 centuries of Exchange between Asia and Europe, BOZAR, Brussels, 25.06 - 10.10.2010.

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