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A Cache of Buddhist figures from the Sambas Treasure

Silver Buddha on a bronze lotus base, from Borneo, Indonesia, probably made in Java 8th or 9th century C.E., 7 inches high © Trustees of the British Museum
The right hand of the Buddha is held in the gesture of argument or discussion (vitarkamudra), his left holds his robes. He stands before an aura of light edged with flames. Above his head is a parasol, a reminder of his early life as a prince. This very fine image is solid cast in silver with a small gold inlay in the centre of his forehead (urna), a distinctive mark of the Buddha. Gold inlay is typical of many bronze images made in eastern India. Metal sculptures were carried to the islands of South-east Asia by pilgrims returning from the Buddhist holyland in eastern India. However, the style of this image is local, and it was probably made in Java.
This is one of a large group discovered at Sambas in western Borneo and thus known as the "Sambas Treasure." Until the coming of Islam in the late thirteenth century, much of island South-east Asia professed Buddhism or Hinduism. This sculpture is one of the earliest found in this area of maritime South-east Asia. With this image were found eight other gold and silver images, either the Buddha or bodhisattvas, along with a unique bronze incense burner in the shape of a house. Sambas was important as an ancient source of gold in South-east Asia. The production of so many images in such prestigious materials as gold and silver suggest that they were made for a very wealthy patron.
Additional resources:
N. Tarling (ed.), The Cambridge history of Southeast Asia (Cambridge University Press, 1992)
R.E. Fisher, Buddhist art and architecture (London, Thames & Hudson, 1993)
© Trustees of the British Museum

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