An Overview of the Great Buddha

Measurements

Height (including platform) 13.35m (18.03m)
Statue height 11.312m (14.98m)
Face length 2.35m (5.33m)
Eye width 1.00m (1.02m)
Mouth width 0.82m (1.33m)
Ear length 1.90m (2.54m)
Diameter of the byakugo 0.18m (0.30m)
Height of hair coils (rahotsu) 0.18m (0.21m)
Diameter of hair coils 0.24m (0.22m)
Number of hair coils 656 (966)
Weight 121 t (250 t)

※ Note: The numbers in parentheses are the measurements for the Great Buddha of Todai-ji Temple at Nara.

Style

Though it is unknown who built the Great Buddha, its style was clearly influenced by the Buddhist sculpture of the Kei School (Unkei [?–1224] and associated sculptors of Buddhist images), as well as one of the Song Dynasty (960–1279) of China. The Great Buddha is considered a typical example of the style of Kamakura period (1192–1333) Buddhist sculpture.

Description of the Parts

Byakugo

○Byakugo

Buddhas are said to have 32 physical signs that distinguish them from ordinary people. One of them is the byakugo, a round protuberance of clockwise-curled silver hair located between the eyebrows. The Buddhas are said to shine light on the people of the world from the byakugo.

Deep Blue Eyes

○Deep Blue Eyes

Another of the 32 signs of a Buddha is a sapphire-blue eye color. The eyes of the Great Buddha, a glimpse of which can be seen from below the eyelids, are carved essentially perpendicular to the face to give them a peaceful downward gaze.

○Cheeks

At the time it was constructed, the Great Buddha was covered in gold, traces of which remain on both cheeks today.

Mouth

○Mouth

The gentle smile of the Great Buddha evokes the compassion of all of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. Lafcadio Hearn (1850–1904) expressed his admiration for the Buddha’s countenance, calling it the “enchanting smile of the East.” The mouth is also adorned with a small moustache reminiscent of Greek sculpture.

Nose

○Nose

In addition to the 32 major signs of a Buddha, which are obvious on sight, there are said to be an additional 80 minor signs. One of these is “a high, straight nose with inconspicuous nostrils.” Accordingly, the bridge of the Great Buddha’s nose falls straight from his forehead, and the nostrils are visible only from directly under the statue.

耳

○Ears

The Great Buddha’s long pierced earlobes, which fall to the shoulders, are another of the 80 minor signs of a Buddha.

Hands

○Hands

Each Buddha has its own characteristic mudras (hand positions). The Amitabha Buddha’s mudra is two circles formed by his two hands: the index, middle and ring fingers touch while the thumbs and little fingers do not. The Great Buddha’s mudra is slightly unusual in the sense that its thumbs do not rest on top of its index fingers. Amongst the nine different mudras of Amitabha Buddha, this mudra, called the “Jobon-josho-in (uppermost grade of the highest rank)” is considered the highest. Further, in another of the 32 signs of a Buddha, there is a web-like membrane between the Great Buddha’s fingers, known as mammoso.

Interior of the Statue

○Interior of the Statue

Standing inside the Great Buddha, one gets a renewed sense of the sophisticated technologies used to cast it. It is clear from the lattice pattern on the interior walls that the Great Buddha was made in a series of 40 separate castings. Furthermore, one can also see that three different variations of the ikarakuri welding technique were used to attach the image’s separately cast parts on different areas of the statue (see “Casting Process”).

Casting Process

Click on the illustration to the left to watch a video of the casting process employed to make the Great Buddha.