Depictions of Gautama Buddha in film

Depictions of Gautama Buddha in film

The life of Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha, has been the subject of several films.



The first known film about the life of Buddha was Buddhadev (English title: Lord Buddha) which was produced by the well-known Indian filmer Dadasaheb Phalke (1870–1944) in 1923. Two years later, another important Buddha film was released, The Light of Asia (Hindi title: Prem Sanyas). This movie was made by the German filmmaker Franz Osten (1875–1956). Himansu Rai (1892–1940) played the Buddha. Its title suggests that the script was based on the book The Light of Asia composed by the British poet Sir Edwin Arnold, which was issued by the Theosophical Society in 1891, but, in fact, its contents deviate deliberately from Arnold's book. The film was a greater success in Europe than in India. It gives a somewhat romantic picture of the life of Buddha. Buddhadev as well as The Light of Asia were silent films.

On March 20, 1952, a Japanese feature film representing the life of Buddha had its premiere, Dedication of the Great Buddha. Director Teinosuke Kinugasa (1896–1982) directed the picture under the Japanese film company Daiei Eiga. It was nominated for the 1953 Cannes Film Festival.

Another film about Buddha was a documentary film entitled Gotama the Buddha. It was released by the government of India in 1957 as part of the Buddha's 2500th birthday celebration. Rajbans Khanna acted as director and Bimal Roy as producer. It got an honourable mention on the filmfestival of Cannes in 1957 because of its beauty and high morality. It is a black-and-white film consisting of beautiful images of natural environments, archeological sites, reliefs and paintings, ancient ones from Ajanta as well as modern ones accompanied by a voice over relating the history of Buddha.

There was a film Angulimal in 1960 that was not directly on the life of Buddha, but was on the life of a dacoit and killer who used to loot and kill innocent people and cut their finger and made a garland of such fingers to wear in his neck, thus he got the name Angulimal (Angluli: finger, mala: garland). The film depicts the incident that such dreaded dacoit once meets Buddha when Buddha was passing to a forest and goes ahead to kill him, but was corrected by the compassion of Buddha.

The fifth film about Buddha was a Japanese one, Shaka, produced by Kenji Misumi in 1961. It was shown in the USA in 1963 under the title Buddha. On February 13, 1964 a Korean film about the life of the Buddha had its premiere, Seokgamoni, the Korean translation of the Sanskrit Shakyamuni, which in Mahayana Buddhism is the term for the historical Buddha.

In 1997 the Indian producer G.A. Sheshagiri Rao made a Buddha film. It was simply entitled Buddha. This one did not roll in cinemas, but it was only sold on dvd. This one is also the longest movie about Buddha, as it consists of five dvds with approximately 180 minutes film each.

In 2008, K. Raja Sekhar produced another Buddha film entitled Tathagata Buddha. The original film was in Telugu, but later it was dubbed in Hindi. This film relates Buddha's life story until its end, his parinirvana. The film is available on DVD.

It is known that Buddhists in countries like Sri Lanka and Burma abhor the very idea of any human being impersonating the Buddha in a film.[1] After its release in 1925 The Light of Asia was banned in Sri Lanka and the Malay States (contemporary West Malaysia).[2]

List of films on the life of Buddha

Date English title Original title Country Notes IMDB
1923 Lord Buddha Buddhadev India Silent film by Dadasaheb Phalke [1]
1925 The Light of Asia Prem Sanyas India / Germany Silent film by Franz Osten [2]
1952 Dedication of the Great Buddha Daibutsu kaigen (大仏開眼?) Japan Film by Teinosuke Kinugasa [3]
1957 Gotoma the Buddha India Documentary produced by Bimal Roy. Director was Rajbans Khanna [4]
1960 Angulimal India
1961 Buddha Shaka Japan Film by Kenji Misumi [5]
1964 Shakyamuni Buddha Seokgamoni South Korea Film by Il-ho Jang [6]
1967 Gautama the Buddha India Rerelease of Bimal Roy's documentary [7]
1989 Buddha India Short documentary [8]
1993 Little Buddha Italy / France / Liechtenstein / UK Film by Bernardo Bertolucci, where the life of Buddha is enacted as a story-within-a-story [9]
1997 Buddha India Serial produced by G. Adi Sheshagiri Rao. Director was P.C. Reddy
2001 Life of Buddha La Vie de Bouddha India and France Documentary produced by Martin Meissonnier
2004 The Legend of Buddha India 2D animation film [10]
2007 Life of Buddha Phra Phuttajao Thailand 2D animation film produced by Wallapa Phimtong The Life of Buddha
2008 Tathagata Buddha India Telugu film on DVD produced by K. Raja Sekhar
2011 Buddha France To be based on the book Old Path White Clouds by Thich Nhat Hanh [11]
2011 Buddha ブッダ Japan anime film based on the manga series Buddha by Osamu Tezuka

See also


  1. ^ Aloysius Pieris, Love Meets Wisdom: A Christian Experience of Buddhism, Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books 1990, p. 54, 125.
  2. ^ Rachel Dwyer, Filming the Gods: Religion and Indian Cinema, London et al.: Routledge, p. 28.
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