What makes the life of this spiritual leader so intriguing? How do effigies from different countries distinguish themselves? What are people looking for when they turn to Buddhism? These and other questions are central to the exhibition ‘THE BUDDHA’.

Visitors are taken on a journey through the most important Buddhist countries along historical sites across the world, where Buddhism had meaning in the past, and where it is still very much alive today. Upon entering the exhibition visitors are welcomed by a large Buddha statue, followed by an introduction to Buddha’s life.

The story of his life is told as if it were a comic strip. Presented in an intimate pavilion, a selection of beautiful reliefs from Ghandara shows the highlights of Buddha’s life in a linear fashion. These first depictions of Buddha are countered by what is displayed on the surroundings walls. Contemporary manga and modern art show that passing on Buddhist teachings by means of visual stories is tradition still very much alive. By means of infographics visitors can get to know about the iconography and meaning of the different positions of the hands in Buddha statues.


Having been equipped with this knowledge, visitors are ready to start their pilgrimage. The journey includes Thailand, India, China, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Tibet and Japan, but also The Netherlands.

In each country a specific topic has been highlighted, such as relics, the dissemination of the faith, writings and death. Kossmann.dejong has managed to find a wonderful equilibrium between the presentation of the museum collection and creating an experiential environment for the visitors.

A connecting band of life-size photographs provides the unique collection of Buddha statues with a context. In an impressive manner it shows the religious experience of Buddhist worldwide as well as the many temples and festivals. A variety of altars offer visitors space for reflection and contemplation.

Together the exhibition spaces form a rainbow, which in the last room converge into a white experience of light. A metaphor for reaching enlightenment and Nirvana.

For the exhibition Kossmann.dejong also designed the accompanying catalogue: a little cardboard box that includes a miniature expandable reproduction of two important collection items, amongst this the just obtained 35-metre long Vessantara banner. A special souvenir with more in-depth information about the life of Buddha.

‘THE BUDDHA’ is open to the public from 12 February until 14 August in the National Museum of Ethnography in Leiden, and will then travel to the Tropenmuseum in Amsterdam.


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