For over 15 years Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery has hosted our annual Buddha Day event, always an incredibly special day for us and the local Buddhist community.
The day is usually timed to coincide with the birthday of Siddhartha Gautama, who would one day become known as Buddha, which this year is around the 19th of May (the date varies depending on the denomination of Buddhism). The Buddha’s birthday celebrations, also known as Vesak, are commemorated differently in many counties around the world. Celebrations can include sharing food, lighting lanterns, visiting temples and meditating. Sadly, this year, like last year, we are unable to hold the event due to the museum’s ongoing closure due to essential works. In order to protect the Sultanganj Buddha statue while those works are taking place, it has been enclosed to protect it from damage. Though we can’t visit the Buddha statue this year, we know it is still much loved, here in the city and around the world.
In previous years, Buddhists from across Birmingham and the region have gathered in the Faith Gallery to bless and venerate the Sultanganj Buddha. Blessings have included chanting by Theravada Monks, beautiful songs by the Triratna Choir from Birmingham Buddhist Centre, incredible Sokka Gakai mantra chanting and a reading of the Heart Sutra from the Order of Buddhist Contemplatives, led by Rev. Saido with Birmingham Serene Meditation Group, to name just a few! The diversity of language and practice demonstrates the wide range of Buddhist communities in the city.
The Sultanganj Buddha statue is famously one of the first objects to come into Birmingham Museum’s collections, in 1864, when a former Lord Mayor, Samuel Thornton, bought it and had it shipped to Birmingham from India. The Buddha as an object is a testament to the skill of the metalworkers of India in the 7th century - Thornton in fact felt it would inspire Birmingham metal workers - but it is still also a symbol of the Buddhist faith and an object alive with agency and spiritual energy. This is never more the case than on Buddha Day.
Here former World Cultures Curator Adam Jaffer explores the detail of the statue and its history:
We look forward to bringing our annual Buddha event back in the future.