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Figure - Head of the Buddha

Head of the Buddha

  • Object:


  • Place of origin:

    Bihar (excavated at Sultanganj., made)

  • Date:

    7th century-8th century (made)

  • Artist/Maker:


  • Materials and Techniques:

    Fine-grained mica schist

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    South Asian Sculpture, Room 47b, case 4

When the V&A acquired this sculpture there was a small paper label stuck on the back of the head. It bore the following history in faded ink: ‘Found embedded in red clay and dug out during excavations for Sultangange Railway, Bengal, 1862’.

This head of the Buddha displays a number of conventional auspicious marks (‘laksanas’). These include the close-curled hair represented in spirals (‘snail-shell’ type), a prominent skull protruberance (‘ushnisha’), a forehead mark (‘urna’) indicated as a curl of hair, and distended ear lobes. An examination of the back reveals that the head once had a nimbus (‘prabha’) and most probably formed part of standing Buddha figure.

Experts are now confident that the sculpture came from Sultanganj, once the site of a major Buddhist monastery and stupa in the early Pala period (about 760-1142 AD). The style of this sculpture belongs to a Sarnath school of the post-Gupta period (320-about 540 AD). However, it already exhibits the highly accomplished skills of the Bihari sculptors who worked the fine-grained shale stone characteristic of sites south of the Ganges. It may be dated to the early Pala period.

Physical description

The head is severed at the neck and appears to have been originally haloed. The conventional close- curled hair is represented by spirals turning clockwise, and it covers a prominent ushnisha. There is an urna, or a circle of hair, on the forehead, and the ear lobes are extended . The upper lip is thinner than the lower, the latter having an indented line along its edge. The stone is slightly fissured down the proper left cheek, and more seriously down the proper right cheek, both fissures apparently having been caused by blows or possibly in the course of excavation.

Place of Origin

Bihar (excavated at Sultanganj., made)


7th century-8th century (made)



Materials and Techniques

Fine-grained mica schist


Height: 22 cm, Width: 14.5 cm, Depth: 15 cm, Height: 34.5 cm including modern mount, Depth: 16 cm including modern mount

Object history note

This sculpture is reliably attributed to Sultanganj, once the site of a Buddhist monastery and stupa, which was discovered in 1862 during excavations associated with railway construction. A small paper label formerly stuck on the back of the head when first acquired by the Museum was inscribed 'Found embedded in red clay and dug out during excavations for Sultangange Railway, Bengal, 1862. Head of a Buddhist idol supposed to be over two thousand years old'. The site also yielded the famous bronze standing Buddha now in the Birmingham Museum and a number of related stone sculptures.

And see also IS 452-1950 pedestal with kneeling figure also found during excavation for the Sultangange Railway.

Historical context note

Purchased from Ralph Fastnedge, Curator, Holburne of Menstrie Museum, Bath in 1949 fror £40.

Descriptive line

Head of the Buddha, Fine grained Mica-schist, Bihar, Eastern India, 7th/8th century.

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Rajendralal Mitra, ' On the Buddhist remains of Sultanganj' J.R.A.S.B., Vol XXXIII, 1864, pp 360-372.
A. Cunningham, Archaeological Survey Reports, Vol. X, 1874-7, pp.127-8; and Vol.XV, pp.25-26.
Cf. Commemorative Catalogue, R..A. Exhibition of Indian Art 1947-8, Plate 33, No.199.
J. Irwin, 'Some unknown Gupta sculptures from Sultanganj', Artibus Asiae Vol.17, 1954, pp.34-38.
Guy, John (ed.). L’Escultura en els Temples Indis: L’Art de la Devocio, Barcelona , Fundacio ‘La Caixa’, 2007, No. 92 p.136.
ISBN 9788476649466
pl. 6b
Irwin, John C., Indian Art, Victoria and Albert Museum, London: H. M. Stationery Office, 1968

Labels and date

5. Head of the Buddha
Eastern India (Sultanganj, Bihar)
Museum no. IS.171-1949 [06/06/2011]

Production Note

Attribution note: A sample of the stone was analysed by Dr. Cambell Smith, Keeper of Minerals, Natural History Museum in Feb.1950. He reported: "The best I can suggest as name for this stone is 'a very fine-grained mica-schist'. It is so fine-grained that the individual minerals are difficult to identify, On the other hand it contains accessory minerals, such as tourmaline and specks of magnetite surrounded by brown mica, which would make it easy to recognise the stone again either in other pieces of sculpture or in the quarry.





Subjects depicted



Sculpture; Buddhism


South & South East Asia Collection

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