Image: David Schroeter
Bigger, better, heavier – that seems to be the motto of Asia’s amazing Buddha statues. Our list features actual statues as well as destroyed and planned ones but all have to be taller than 50 m (165 ft). Where does that leave the most famous and sadly destroyed ones, the Buddhas of Bamyan? At 180 ft, they are some of the shortest! Read on to discover which one tops the list. A hint: it’s a good 500 ft!
Have you ever wondered why some Buddhas are depicted standing, some seated and some even lying down? And why they all pose their hands in unique gestures? Not to forget the sheer number of gigantic statues. Well, according to tradition, Buddha images must be high enough so that their feet are above people’s eye level to avoid any accidental soiling.
The elevation is also meant as a reminder for devotees to refrain from pride and ego. While attaining enlightenment, Buddha was in a seated position, therefore this is a favourite position. The hand postures are called mudras and have different meanings, for example fearlessness, instruction, meditation, wish granting and others. Regardless of which giant Buddha you may visit, they are all great tourist attractions that easily take a whole day to explore. Following is the countdown.
17. Buddha Dordenma, Thimphu, Bhutan 51.5 m (169 ft) – under construction
The 12 m clay model of the Buddha statue.
The Buddha Dordenma project is dedicated to erecting a 169-ft Shakyamuni Buddha statue on a hill slope 100 m above the Wangchu River, overlooking Thimphu, Bhutan’s capital. According to the Dordenma website, the Buddha statue is supposed to “radiate auspicious energy over the country and to all parts of the world, fulfilling the prophecy of bestowing blessings, universal peace and happiness to the whole world.”
An eye of the Buddha, already resting in Bhutan.
The statue will be made of bronze and then gilded and house 100,000 similar, yet much smaller Buddha statues. Planning started in 2004 and a 12-m-tall clay model was finished the same year. In 2008, the first parts of the actual statue reached Bhutan where they are waiting to be assembled. Once completed, the site is expected to draw pilgrims from all over the world.
Image: Tracy Hunter
16. Buddhas of Bamyan, Afghanistan – 55 m (180 ft) and 37 m (121 ft) – destroyed
An absence that has clearly marked the landscape.
The Buddhas of Bamyan demonstrate how the absence or loss of a piece of art can be almost greater than its presence. Standing tall for almost 1,500 years, the destruction of the Buddhas as a deliberate act of intolerance by the Taliban in 2001 shook the whole world.
All were Standing Buddhas carved into a cliff in central Afghanistan’s Bamyan valley, about 230 km (143 miles) northwest of Kabul. The two tallest statues were 55 m (180 ft) and 37 m (121 ft), respectively, and built during the sixth century at an altitude of 2,500 m (8,202 ft).
Image: Marco Bonavoglia
One of the Buddhas of Bamyan in 1976.
The statues were originally painted and their details modeled and pasted on with a mixture of mud and water coated with stucco that was lost over the centuries. Their destruction took several weeks and lots of dynamite. Unexpectedly, it uncovered about 50 caves, some of them with wall paintings probably stemming from the sixth to eighth century.
Image: Carl Montgomery
… a gaping hole where once a Buddha statue stood.
The destruction of the Buddha statues inspired the construction of smaller ones or parks elsewhere as a tribute, and even numerous films and other artworks. Plans to rebuild at least the two tallest statues are underway, with Japan, Switzerland and a host of other countries having pledged support.
15. Tokyo Wan Kannon of Futtsu, Chiba, Japan – 56 m (184 ft)
The top of the standing Tokyo Wan Kannon.
Futtsu in Japan’s south western Chiba Prefecture houses the Tokyo Wan Kannon, a 56-m-tall Buddha statue. Kannon in Japanese or Guan Yin in Chinese is the term for a bodhisattva associated with compassion as worshipped by East Asian Buddhists, usually as a female form. We’ll see other representations below. The one in Futtsu was built in 1961.
14. Jibo Dai Kannon of Aizuwakamatsu, Fukushima, Japan – 57 m (187 ft)
Visitors can go inside the 57 m-tall statue or enjoy the enormous Japanese garden with a 14-m Reclining Buddha.
Jibo literally means “loving mother” and therefore the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy is depicted with a child in her arms. In Japan, the Kannon’s three female forms are meant to depict child giving, mothering in general and being a loving mother. She is the patron saint of motherhood, easy delivery and child-rearing.
13. Guan Yin at Mount Xiqiao, Guangdong, China – 62 m (203 ft)
The statue of Guan Yin is a popular tourist attraction.
The 62-m statue is located in the city of Foshan, in China’s south eastern Nanhai district. It stands on a 15 m pedestal, bringing the total height up to 77 m (252 ft).
It is generally believed that the concept of Guan Yin, known in the west as the Goddess of Mercy, originated as the Sanskrit Avalokitesvara, her male form.
Image: Tim Vickerman
12. Jibo Kannon at Naritasan Temple, Kurume, Fukuoka, Japan – 62 m (203 ft)
Not Mother Mary and the infant Jesus.
Another Jibo Kannon with child in her arms that bears a striking resemblance to the Virgin Mary. These Japanese images of the Kannon nursing a baby are not considered of Buddhist origin but influenced by Christianity, most likely during the Edo Era, when Christianity was banned and converts were persecuted.
Image: David Schroeter
11. Leshan Giant Buddha, Leshan, China – 71 m (233 ft)
Taking it all in stride for centuries – the Leshan Buddha with tourists.
The Leshan Giant Buddha was carved out of the cliff face overlooking the confluence of the Minjiang, Dadu and Qingyi rivers in China’s Sichuan province. The statue depicts a sitting Matreyia Buddha, hands resting on his knees, who is so tall that a person can sit comfortably even on his smallest toenail. The statue took 90 years to finish – a testament to ancient building techniques and skill.
Construction was started by a Chinese monk named Haithong in 713 CE who hoped that the Buddha would guide shipping vessels along the rivers’ currents. After Haithong’s death, the project came to a halt for almost 70 years due to a lack of funds, then was restarted and finally completed in 803 CE. The area today is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Image: Wm Jas
10. Great Standing Maitreya Buddha, Taiwan – 72 m (236 ft)
Long earlobes and the world in his right hand – the Laughing Buddha.
The Maitreya or Buddha of the Future is also called the Laughing Buddha because of the large smile that seems to shake even his protruding belly. Maitreya worship is not particularly widespread in China or Taiwan and was even forbidden during the Qing period from 1644-1911.
Only four Maitreya Buddhas can be found in Taiwan of which the Great Standing Maitreya Buddha near Beipu at Emei Lake in Xinzhu County is the tallest at 72 m.
Image: Takaaki Nishioka
9. Awaji Kannon, Awaji Island, Hyago, Japan – 80 m (262 ft)
Stern-looking in front of a grey sky.
The Awaji statue might not win a prize for being the most beautiful one portrayed here but it is located on Awaji Island, one of Japan’s oldest settlements. The statue stands on a 20 m (66 ft) pedestal, bringing the total height up to 100 m (328 ft).
8. Ling Shan Great Buddha, Mashan, China – 88 m (289 ft)
Visitors need to do a bit of climbing.
Exactly 99 steps lead to the Grand Buddha, an impressive, 88 m bronze statue in Ling Shan, south of China’s Longshan Mountains. The statue weighs over 700 tons and was completed in 1996.
Image: Holger Naether
Here’s a frontal view of the Ling Shan Buddha.
Since 2008, visitors can also wander around the new Five Signet or Brahma Palace that were built close by.
7. Dai Kannon at Kita no Miyako Park, Hokkaido, Japan – 88 m (289 ft)
Gracefully looking down upon the world.
This particular Kannon is another depiction of Avalokitesvara, literally “the Lord who looks down”. Like a Goddess of Mercy, the female form means to embody the compassion of all Buddhas. This Kannon in Ashibetsu, located in the Kita no Miyako Park in Hokkaido, was completed in 1989. Visitors can climb up the statue to enjoy the panoramic views or use one of the eight places dedicated to prayers between the 6th and 20th floor.
6. Great Reclining Buddha and Standing Buddha near Monywa, Myanmar – 90 m & 116 m
The Reclining Buddha with another huge one behind, under construction in 2006.
In Monywa, close to the Po Khaung Taung mountain range, visitors are in for a treat as not one but two gigantic Buddha statues wait to be explored. The Monywa Buddha is the largest Reclining Buddha statue in the world.
Dimension check – the Buddha is a building!
Don’t be fooled by the length – the statue is also 60 ft tall! It was constructed in 1991 and is like a building inside that visitors enter through the Buddha’s, er, rear. They can then walk from the Buddha’s head to his toes, guided by 9,000 metal images of the Buddha, events in his life and his disciples.
Monywa’s Giant Standing Buddha in early 2008.
But there’s more; the complex also boasts of one of the tallest standing Buddha statues, called Laykyun Setkyar. Though it is often billed at 132 m (433 ft), the height of the statue is 116 m (380 ft). Since its opening in February 2008, the statue has become one of Myanmar’s main tourist attractions.
5. Guanyin Buddha, Sanya, Hainan province, China – 108 m (354 ft)
As mentioned earlier, guanyin statues depict the bodhisattva Guan Yin, the Goddess of Mercy. The one in Sanya is located on the tropical island of Hainan, a popular seaside resort. Not unlike the Statue of Liberty, it rests on a specially designed island platform, this one surrounded by the South China Sea. Also noteworthy are the statue’s three sides – one facing inland and two facing the sea so that blessings and protection can be directed everywhere.
Image: C. Ling Fan
A close-up does justice to the Guanyin Buddha’s details but not its size.
Another remarkable fact is that more than a hundred Buddhist monks from Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macao and Mainland China and tens of thousands of pilgrims participated in the construction that took six years. The statue was inaugurated in April 2005.
4. Dai Kannon of Sendai, Japan – 100 m (328 ft)
Is that a smile?
Here’s another depiction of Avalokitesvara in Sendai, the capital of the Miyagi prefecture. It was built by a once flush and now defunct company in the 1980s to avoid taxes rather than show devotion, a reason why it is loathed by many locals. Visitors enjoy the elevator ride to the top though and admire the spectacular views of the city.
3. Ushiku Daibutsu, Japan – 120 m (394 ft)
Three times taller than the Statue of Liberty.
At 120 m, the huge Buddha statue in Ushiku, Japan is one of the world’s tallest. But that’s not all; the gently smiling Buddha with the upward facing right palm and downward facing left palm has a secret – a four-level museum related to Buddhism inside and an observation platform at 85 m.
A landmark greeting visitors from afar.
The statue was completed in 1993 and stands on a 10 m high base and another 10 m high lotus platform. Just to get a vague idea of the dimensions: the Buddha’s hands are each 18 m long, each ear 10 m and the mouth 4 m.
2. Spring Temple Buddha, Henan, China – 128 m (420 ft)
Serene – the Henan Buddha
The Spring Temple Buddha, named after the nearby Tianrui hot spring, was built in response to the destruction of the Buddhas of Bamyan, an act the Chinese government condemned. The project was completed in 2002 and tops the Ushiku Daibutsu by 8 m, making it the tallest completed statue in the world.
Part of the statue is a 20 m high lotus throne but it also stands on a 25 m high building, raising its height to 153 m if taken into account. Since 2008, the hill the Buddha is placed upon is also being reshaped into two pedestals, really letting the statue reach for the sky with an expected height of 208 m. Bigger is better? We don’t know yet.
Image: Maitreya Project
1. Maitreya Buddha, Uttar Pradesh, India – 152 m (500 ft) – planned
A computer-generated image of the proposed statue.
Finally, speaking of ambitious projects, the Maitreya Project is an international organisation that aims to build the world’s tallest Buddha statue in Kushinagar, Uttar Pradesh, India. Planned is a steel-truss construction covered by around 6,000 aluminium-bronze panels.
Part of the project will be education and healthcare facilities for the local population. One aim is also to develop the area for tourism, which is why an accompanying park, cathedral, monastery, convent, guesthouse, library and food facilities are also planned.
If all those tall Buddha statues remind you of the Tower of Babel or you think that the astronomical building costs could better be used for housing for a nation’s poor, here what His Eminence Trizin Tsering Rinpoche, chairman of the Buddha Dordenma project, has to say:
“By building Buddha statues limitless people can pray and offer for thousands of years, thus by receiving blessings, clearing negativities and building virtues, this life will be happy, next life will be better at a higher level then finally everybody will be enlightened. The well being of future generations is dependent on the kindness and compassion of the present sponsors, Buddha makers and those who participate in this activity. This project brings benefit to self and all beings.”
Especially in view of the latest Buddha building craze, this list claims by no means to be complete, so if you know of any tall Buddha statues we have missed, let us know!