Restored Buddha Statues Displayed for Good

Interested in peaceful and compassionate smiles on exalted faces of the Buddha Statues and in the excellence of artistry and workmanship of Vietnamese sculptors of hundreds of years ago? Why not drop by the National Museum of Vietnamese History at 2 Nguyen Binh Khiem in District 1, to contemplate the collection of restored Buddha statues originally sculpted by the local artists between the 17th and 19th centuries, which were unveiled at the museum on April 28.

Kids contemplate the statue of Buddha Amitabha made by order of King Minh Mang (Photo: Phuong Lan)

The collection consists of 18 most-valued ancient statues featuring Buddha Sakyamuni, Buddha Amitabha and some Bodhisattvas in accordance with Mahayana tradition, a primary form of Buddhism in North Asia and the Far East including China, Japan, Korea, Tibet, Mongolia and Viet Nam. Before restoration, all the ancient statues were in poor conditions with their gilding rubbed off or the protective lacquer coating faded or broken. Many of them were also worm-eaten.

The restoration project, worth US$27,495, was financed by the U.S. Ambassador's Fund for Cultural Preservation to help the museum restore the ancient statues in particular and the country to preserve its cultural heritage in general.  A team of skillful lacquer workers from Hue, which was the capital of the Nguyen emperors between 1802 and 1945, worked industriously under the leadership of Mr. Do Ky Man, one of most talented lacquer craftsmen of Hue, for four months to bring back splendor to the ancient statues.

All the statues now are wearing a thin glittering coat of pure gold that helps prevent them from deteriorating due to the harsh weather conditions or from the erosion of time. Among them are six statues of Buddha Amitabha, three sets of statues of Buddhas of the past, present and future, two statues of Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara or Cundi Bodhisattva that have many hands and eyes and one statue of Buddha Sakyamuni.

The most striking statue is the 2-m wooden statue of Buddha Amitabha with a round face and two long lappets sitting cross-legged on the lotus made by the order of King Minh Mang. The statue has been a witness to many ups and downs of Vietnamese history during the French domination period.
As far back as 1971, Mrs. Tran Thi Dang,  royal concubine of Lord Nguyen Phuc Anh (later King Gia Long,1762-1820) gave birth to Prince Nguyen Phuc Dam  in the residence of the Grand Duke Tong Phuoc Khuong in Gia Dinh, now part of Ho Chi Minh City.

The statue of Cundi Bodhisattva (Photo: Phuong Lan)

In 1920, Prince Dam became Emperor Minh Mang (1820 -1840). To mark his birth place, in 1932,  the king decided to have a temple built right on the place where he had been born. King Ming Mang named the temple Quoc An Khai Tuong and granted a splendid wooden statue Buddha Amitabha painted with lacquer and trimmed with gold to the temple on the inauguration date. The statue was transported from Hue to Gia Dinh.

In 1859,  Rear-Admiral  Rigault De Genouilly commanded the allied French and Spanish troops to attack Gia Dinh. 1980, the French demolished the temple and built a military defense line, now part of the War Remnants Museum, 28 Vo Van Tan, District 3. The statue was seized as a booty and kept in the warehouse of the residence of the then governor-general.

In 1929, the Blanchard De La Bross Museum (now the National Museum of Vietnamese History) was established and the statue was displayed there for the public's contemplation for a while before being moved to a warehouse because of deterioration. 

The National Museum of Vietnamese History owns the largest and most highly valued collection of Buddha statues in Viet Nam, including 300 wooden figures.  Aside from the restored statues of ancient Buddha on display, there are photos illustrating the restoration process from the pegging and consolidation phase to the gilding phase. There are also Buddha statues from other countries in Asia. The Buddhist tradition in Viet Nam dates back to the 11th century.

By Thanh Phuong

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