Buddhist mudras : depictions in art

        There are various mudras in Buddhism and Hinduism. A mudra can mean a spiritual gesture or symbolic mark. The mudras are non-verbal.  Some important  ones in Buddhism include the dhyana mudra, the bhumisparsha mudra, the varada mudra, the vitarka mudra, the abhaya mudra,the dharmachakra mudra, the tarjani mudra,the namaskara mudra,the buddha sramana mudra,the bhutadamara mudra among others. Each of these mudras have a deep significance and meaning. Mostly the hands and fingers are used to depict a particular mudra. 

    The meaning of the namaskar or anjali mudra  is a prayer position ; a bowing gesture. The attitude is one of devotion. A special gesture of Avalokiteswara when he has more number of hands.

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Buddha in anjali or namaskar mudra, Java, Indonesia.

By Veit Zahlaus (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

     The abhaya mudra is one of reassurance, protection,blessing,; the word abhaya meaning fearlessness. The Buddha used this gesture while walking. In sculpture seated Buddhas too are depicted in this mudra.

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Seated Buddha in abhaya mudra ,Kushana  period, Government Museum, Mathura.

Biswarup Ganguly [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

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Standing Buddha,abhaya mudra, 20th century,Hussain Sagar Lake, Hyderabad.

By Swapnika amancha (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

         The bhumisparsha mudra  or touching the earth symbolises the enlightenment of the Buddha,calling the earth as a witness to the event. This mudra usually has the left hand in the dhyana mudra.  In this mudra Buddha overcame the obstructions created by the demon Mara. the Dhyani Buddha Akshobhya is often shown in this mudra.

Buddha in Bhumisparsa mudra.jpg

Buddha, bhumisparsa mudra, cloth painting, 19th century, Tibet, National Museum, New Delhi.

By Jen – Own work (I took this photo), CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7656718

Borobudur - Buddha Statue - 006 Bhumisparsa Mudra, Akshobhya (11678949555).jpg

Aksobhya, bhumisparsha-mudra, Borobudur, Java, Indonesia.

By Photo Dharma from Penang, Malaysia – 006 Bhumisparsa Mudra, Aksobhya, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=40749973

   The dhyana mudra is a flexible gesture either made with one or both hands. It is the mudra of meditation. This was the gesture of the Buddha before he attained enlightenment. The Dhyani Buddha Amitabha is depicted in this mudra.

File:Buddha in Dhyana Mudra, China, Ming dynasty - Museo d'Arte Orientale Edoardo Chiossone - DSC02393.JPG

Buddha,dhyana mudra, Ming dynasty,(14th to 17th century), China, Museo d’Arte Orientale,Italy.

By Daderot (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

   The dharmachakra or vajra mudra is shown while depicting the Dhyani Buddha Vairocana. The Buddha used this gesture while preaching the first sermon in Sarnath. The dharmachakra means wheel of dharma.  It symbolises teaching and preaching.

Buddha,vajra mudra, 2nd century, Gandhara, ,Tokyo National Museum, Japan.

CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=135258

File:Buddha in Sarnath Museum (Dhammajak Mutra).jpg

Buddha,dharmachakra mudra, sandstone,Gupta period, (4th to 6th century), Archaeological Museum,Sarnath. 

By พระมหาเทวประภาส วชิรญาณเมธี (ผู้ถ่าย-ปล่อยสัญญาอนุญาตภาพให้นำไปใช้ได้เพื่อการศึกษาโดยอยู่ภา่ยใต้ cc-by-sa-3.0) ผู้สร้างสรรค์ผลงาน/ส่งข้อมูลเก็บในคลังข้อมูลเสรีวิกิมีเดียคอมมอนส์ – เทวประภาส มากคล้าย (Tevaprapas Makklay (พระมหาเทวประภาส วชิรญาณเมธี)) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

   The varada mudra is a gesture of giving and charity. It symbolises dispensing of boons. The right hand is used with the palm pointing downwards.

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Standing Buddha,varada mudra, concrete,Bodh Gaya, Bihar.

Source : flickr.com/photos/wonderlane/5978081277

     One of the lesser known mudras, is the tarjani mudra which is a gesture to ward off evil forces. In the depiction below the left hand is in tarjani mudra. The middle and ring fingers are folded while the other three are outstretched as shown.

        File:Shwezigon, Standing Buddha, Pagan 0208.jpg

 Standing Buddha,left hand in tarjani mudra, Pagan,Shwezigon.

By Michael Gunther (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

The vitarka mudra symbolises discussion,debate and explanation of the dhamma.  In this gesture all the fingers are held upwards with the thumb and index finger tips touching, as depicted below. The miidle and ring fingers too can touch the thumb, in case it is the middle finger it depicts compassion and in case of the ring finger it depicts good fortune.

File:Buddha's statue near Belum Caves Andhra Pradesh India.jpg

Buddha,vitarka mudra,near Belum Caves, Andhra Pradesh.

By Purshi (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

 

 

References:

  1. wikipedia.org
  2. lotussculpture.com
  3. buddhas-online.com

Posted by

Soma Ghosh

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