This haunting 9-inch high sculpture from 100–200 C.E. shows the lengths to which young Siddhartha was willing to go on the quest for enlightenment before discovering the true path to Nirvana. According to legend, the young prince renounced his life of privilege and comfort to dedicate himself to finding an escape from the eternal cycle of birth, death and rebirth. He joined ascetics in a forest and fasted for six years, during which time he is said to have brought himself to the brink of death by eating no more than a few grains of rice each day. Only then did Siddhartha realize that enlightenment lay not in such extremes but in pursuing a “Middle Way” defined by moderation and meditation. Having attained his own enlightenment, he became the Lord Buddha.
Images of the fasting Buddha are uncommon in Buddhist culture, but several remarkable examples were produced in the Gandhara region of Pakistan and Afghanistan.
The sculpture shown here is on display at the British Museum.