Gold in Religious Art and Symbolism
Gold in Buddhism symbolizes the sun, or fire. The most valuable of metals, it is accorded a sacred status through its association with Surya, the sun god of the Hindu pantheon. The alloying of gold with other alloying elements is therefore thought of as an act of sacrilege, since it dilutes the natural brilliance of the golden radiance. Thus when used in the fine arts, whether sculpture or painting, the gold is always of the purest 24 karat variety.
The statues prepared in the Tibetan regions are often painted with gold. Not only the faces but often the complete figure is gilded over with pure gold. Indeed the practice of painting statues, particularly faces, with gold paint is exclusively Tibetan. If, therefore, a sculpture looks as if it has been given a face-lift with gold paint, it is likely to have emerged from Tibet, no matter where it was made.
Tibetans have a love for gold that stretches back to ancient times. This love is reflected in their workmanship in gold, which was praised as long ago as the Tang period in Chinese chronicles and which, therefore, may have been as intrinsic to them as it was to the Scythians in Central Asia.
- Kumar, Nitin. “Color Symbolism in Buddhist Art.” Exotic India Art. 1 Feb. 2002. Excerpts reprinted with permission of the author.