Rediscovering the Buddhist Art Ateliers of Ancient Magadha

The Buddhist Channel, 14 August, 2023

Patna, India -- India's rich art history has been graced by the masterpieces of anonymous artists and this legacy shines brilliantly in the ancient Buddhist art of Bihar. The story of these artists and their contributions comes to life as we delve into the past of the Buddhist ateliers that once thrived in the heart of ancient Magadha.

A Sculpture Buddha Descending from Heaven, circa 10th century, Kurkihar Style

Deep within the Bihar Museum in Patna, a hidden gallery houses a collection of mesmerizing bronze sculptures depicting Buddha and Bodhisattvas. Ranging from tiny few-centimeter statues to towering 5-foot creations, each sculpture is a testament to the artistic mastery of its creator. The play of light on the aged bronze sculptures, crafted through the lost-wax process, creates an almost ethereal effect, making them glow with life.

A unique feature of the Kurkihar bronzes is their ability to retain their original vibrant hues, even after a millennium. A ninth-century CE statue of a standing Buddha adorned with the varada mudra stands as a brilliant example, its robe adorned with a rich array of colors achieved through masterful metal blending techniques.

Scholars now believe that during the reign of the Buddhist Pala emperors of Bengal and Bihar (750-1170 CE), artisans within ateliers attached to Buddhist establishments played a pivotal role in meeting the iconographic needs of a resurgent and international Buddhism. These ateliers, often linked to large monasteries, developed distinctive styles that influenced each other and spread their influence across South Asia and beyond.

Among these ateliers, Kurkihar emerges as a unique site with its distinct style. Art historian Susan L. Huntington's 1984 book, "The 'Pala-Sena' Schools Of Sculpture," highlighted Kurkihar as an atelier separate from its neighbors at Nalanda or Bodh Gaya. The Kurkihar artists' use of wax and inlay techniques to achieve intricate details set them apart.

Over the centuries, the Kurkihar style evolved and matured, culminating in breathtaking statues of crowned Bodhisattvas and Buddhas from the 11th and 12th centuries. The exquisite details in the jewelry and the expressive eyes, achieved through drilled irises and silver inlays, showcase the peak of artistic finesse. These mature Kurkihar images embody a softness and fluidity, capturing both artistic brilliance and religious devotion.

The journey to Kurkihar takes us through the vast landscape of ancient Magadha, a heartland of Buddhist faith. Positioned between Bodh Gaya and Rajgir, Kurkihar's historical significance comes to life as one stands amidst the remnants of its past glory. This once-major Buddhist center saw its prominence revived in the early 20th century when villagers stumbled upon a hoard of ancient metal sculptures, now displayed at the Bihar Museum.

The historic Ramji Temple in Kurkihar offers a glimpse into the village's rich heritage. Among the fragments and relics, the ancient monastic site comes alive. Another temple, the Devistan temple, stands as a humble repository of locally excavated sculptures from the Pala period. These ancient treasures, often worshipped in a Hindu context, reflect the coexistence of diverse religious traditions.

Nalanda, another beacon of ancient learning, boasts a heritage rich in tantric art. With its progressive iconography, the site presents sculptures that delve into the depths of psychological states, conveying the essence of Tantric Buddhism. These artworks depict the union of samsara and nirvana, unraveling profound spiritual insights.

The legacy of these Buddhist ateliers resonates across time and space. Their masterpieces, found in Bihar's nooks and crannies, continue to evoke wonder and admiration. While the artists remain anonymous, their contributions shine as a testament to the human spirit's boundless creativity and devotion.

As we reflect on these hidden gems, the urge to gaze once more upon the enigmatic smiles of bronze Buddhas remains irresistible. The legacy of the unknown artists endures, inviting us to explore the treasures of ancient Magadha's artistic legacy and uncover the mystique of bygone eras.
We Need Your Help to Train the
Buddhist AI Chat Bot
(Neural Operator for Responsible Buddhist Understanding)

For Malaysians and Singaporeans, please make your donation to the following account:

Account Name: Bodhi Vision
Account No:. 2122 00000 44661
Bank: RHB

The SWIFT/BIC code for RHB Bank Berhad is: RHBBMYKLXXX
Address: 11-15, Jalan SS 24/11, Taman Megah, 47301 Petaling Jaya, Selangor
Phone: 603-9206 8118

Note: Please indicate your name in the payment slip. Thank you.

Dear Friends in the Dharma,

We seek your generous support to help us train NORBU, the word's first Buddhist AI Chat Bot.

Here are some ways you can contribute to this noble cause:

One-time Donation or Loan: A single contribution, regardless of its size, will go a long way in helping us reach our goal and make the Buddhist LLM a beacon of wisdom for all.

How will your donation / loan be used? Download the NORBU White Paper for details.

For Malaysians and Singaporeans, please make your donation to the following account:

Account Name: Bodhi Vision
Account No:. 2122 00000 44661
Bank: RHB

The SWIFT/BIC code for RHB Bank Berhad is: RHBBMYKLXXX
Address: 11-15, Jalan SS 24/11, Taman Megah, 47301 Petaling Jaya, Selangor
Phone: 603-9206 8118

Note: Please indicate your purpose of payment (loan or donation) in the payment slip. Thank you.

Once payment is banked in, please send the payment slip via email to: Your donation/loan will be published and publicly acknowledged on the Buddhist Channel.

Spread the Word: Share this initiative with your friends, family and fellow Dharma enthusiasts. Join "Friends of Norbu" at: Together, we can build a stronger community and create a positive impact on a global scale.

Volunteer: If you possess expertise in AI, natural language processing, Dharma knowledge in terms of Buddhist sutras in various languages or related fields, and wish to lend your skills, please contact us. Your knowledge and passion could be invaluable to our project's success.

Your support is part of a collective effort to preserve and disseminate the profound teachings of Buddhism. By contributing to the NORBU, you become a "virtual Bodhisattva" to make Buddhist wisdom more accessible to seekers worldwide.

Thank you for helping to make NORBU a wise and compassionate Buddhist Chatbot!

May you be blessed with inner peace and wisdom,

With deepest gratitude,

Kooi F. Lim
On behalf of The Buddhist Channel Team

Note: To date, we have received the following contributions for NORBU:
US$ 75 from Gary Gach (Loan)
US$ 50 from Chong Sim Keong
MYR 300 from Wilson Tee
MYR 500 from Lim Yan Pok
MYR 50 from Oon Yeoh
MYR 200 from Ooi Poh Tin
MYR 300 from Lai Swee Pin
MYR 100 from Ong Hooi Sian
MYR 1,000 from Fam Sin Nin
MYR 500 from Oh teik Bin
MYR 300 from Yeoh Ai Guat
MYR 300 from Yong Lily
MYR 50 from Bandar Utama Buddhist Society
MYR 1,000 from Chiam Swee Ann
MYR 1,000 from Lye Veei Chiew
MYR 1,000 from Por Yong Tong
MYR 80 from Lee Wai Yee
MYR 500 from Pek Chee Hen
MYR 300 from Hor Tuck Loon
MYR 1,000 from Wise Payments Malaysia Sdn Bhd
MYR 200 from Teo Yen Hua
MYR 500 from Ng Wee Keat
MYR 10,000 from Chang Quai Hung, Jackie (Loan)
MYR 10,000 from K. C. Lim & Agnes (Loan)
MYR 10,000 from Juin & Jooky Tan (Loan)
MYR 100 from Poh Boon Fong (on behalf of SXI Buddhist Students Society)
MYR 10,000 from Fam Shan-Shan (Loan)
MYR 10,000 from John Fam (Loan)
MYR 500 from Phang Cheng Kar
MYR 100 from Lee Suat Yee
MYR 500 from Teo Chwee Hoon (on behalf of Lai Siow Kee)
MYR 200 from Mak Yuen Chau

We express our deep gratitude for the support and generosity.

If you have any enquiries, please write to: