No one knows exactly when it was crafted, but the Golden Buddha is the largest solid gold statue in the entire world. In our last blog post, we discussed how the statue was disguised – covered in plaster to keep it from becoming a spoil of the Burmese–Siamese War in 1765. But when the war was over, nobody uncovered the statue. Soon, everyone forgot the statue had existed and one of the world’s greatest masterpieces stayed disguised as a mediocre plaster Buddha.
The Golden (Plaster) Buddha was moved among a few temples through the ages. Most times, temples refused to take the statue because it was so large and plain (and presumably, curiously heavy). It came to rest under a simple tin roof behind the Wat Phraya Krai temple.
The Golden Buddha sat there for so long, the covering structure fell into disrepair. A new covering was built, and plans were made to move the statue there in 1955 (almost 200 years after the statue was disguised). During the move, one of the hoisting ropes snapped (remember, the Golden Buddha weighs 5.5 tons) and the Buddha crashed to the ground, cracking some of the plaster and revealing a glint of gold. The temple monks were shocked. Soon, an excavation was under way.
Not only did they rediscover the world’s largest solid gold statue, but they also found that it had many unique characteristics. While removing plaster from the statue, a small golden key was found within. When inserted into the statue’s newly discovered keyhole, it disassembles the statue into nine pieces – making it much easier to move. When reassembled, the pieces fit together seamlessly.
Also, assays determined that portions of the statue are made from different purity levels of gold. The entire body of Buddha is made of 10k gold. The head is 18k (from chin to forehead) and the hair is 24k. All in all, the value of the statues gold content is more than $250 million (according to today’s gold prices).
And to think, it was all nearly forgotten forever.