WASHINGTON (AP) _ The world's most expensive stuffed animal, the remains of a giant circus gorilla bought at auction recently for $20,350, returned home Monday to Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus amid a parade of superlatives.

The homecoming party for Gargantua II, a star attraction of the circus for 22 years until he died in 1971, was a publicity agent's dream.

On hand to greet the stuffed beast in the balloon-filled lobby of the circus' executive headquarters here was ''the smallest man in the world,'' a circus midget named Michu who is 33 inches tall.

Gargantua II was toasted with 60-ounce glasses of French champagne. Guests were served 48-ounce cups of coffee, quart-sized glasses of orange juice and foot-wide glazed doughnuts.

''We are very proud to have Gargantua back where he belongs,'' said Kenneth Feld, president and owner of the circus. ''He will be displayed in this office for now and forever.''

When he died, Feld said, Gargantua was the largest gorilla in captivity, standing 6 feet tall and weighing 850 pounds. He was stuffed at a cost of $5,200, traveled for a while with the circus menagerie and then took up residence 10 years ago in Circus World, the theme park at Orlando, Fla., then owned by Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey.

When the park's new owners decided to put Gargantua II on the auction block in New York a few weeks ago, Feld bought the gorilla back for $20,350, had him refurbished by an Atlanta taxidermist and moved the animal to permanent quarters in Washington, in a glass case with a constant temperature of 70 degrees.

Feld and C.P. ''Chappie'' Fox, the official circus historian, said Gargantua II was more docile and easier to handle than his infamous namesake, Gargantua, an African gorilla from the Brooklyn Zoo who joined the circus in 1938 as ''the world's most terrifying living creature'' and died of pneumonia in 1949.

The original Gargantua could double and redouble a rubber tire casing with his gigantic hands, and easily beat 10 of the biggest roustabouts on the circus lot in a game of tug of war, but his successor had a softer heart.

Although he could strike terror in the hearts of fans when he beat his breast and rattled the steel bars of his cage, Gargantua II enjoyed watching television soap operas in the afternoon and even had a human girlfriend.

She was a Cuban woman of wealth who moved to Florida and would visit Gargantua II every evening, holding his hand through the bars while she read poems in Spanish and slipped him a nightcap of cognac, Fox said.