mudras (gestures) in art
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Mudras are symbolic gestures used in art.
These symbolic hand gestures were predominantly used in Hinduism and Buddhism.
It is a Spiritual gesture. It is an iconography used in Indian
religious practices, Indian sculpture, painting and also in Indian classical Dance.
Mudra iconography of Hindu and
Buddhist art of Indian Sub-continent is
described in the ancient Indian scripture
NATYASHASTRA written by the sage
This scripture lists some 28 mudras of
one hand called as the ASAYUTA and
24 mudras of both the hands called as the
Mudras are symbolic gestures, used symbolically in Buddha images and in practice to evoke particular ideas or buddhas in the mind during Buddhist meditation or ritual.
Like symbols held by saints in Christian art or by gods in Hindu art, Buddhist mudras indicate the identity of a Buddha or a particular scene being depicted.
Mudras are also used in ritual meditation, especially in Tibetan Buddhism, to generate forces that invoke a particular Buddha or deity.
While there are a large number of
esoteric mudras, there are ten main ones,
of which five are most commonly used in
Buddha images. Each of the Five Dhyani
Buddhas is assigned one of the five
mudras, with which they are invariably
depicted in art.
Mudra positions are generally found by
both the hands and fingers.
Mudras have a specific meaning.
Follow a link below to learn more about each of the five main mudras and see examples of Buddha images
featuring those mudras.
Abhaya Mudra (Fearlessness) The gesture of fearlessness and protection, representing spiritual power. This mudra is most often seen in standing Buddhas.
Bhumisparsha Mudra (Earth Witness) The gesture of "earth witness," which the Buddha is said to have made at the time of his Enlightenment.
Dharmachakra Mudra (Wheel Turning) The gesture of "wheel-turning" or the turning of the wheel of the dharma, representing the Buddha's teachings.
Dhyana Mudra (Meditation) The gesture of meditation.
Varada Mudra (Gift Giving) The gesture of gift-giving or bestowal.
The Abhaya mudr ("mudr of no-fear") represents protection, peace, benevolence, and dispelling of fear. Eg. Buddha subduing the mad elephant , relief sculpture, Gandhara Art.
In the Theravda, it is usually made with the right hand raised to shoulder height, the arm bent and the palm facing outward with the fingers upright and joined and the left hand hanging down while standing. In Thailand and Laos, this mudr is associated with the walking Buddha, often shown having both hands making a double Abhaya mudr that is uniform. The mudr was probably used before the onset of Buddhism as a symbol of good intentions proposing friendship when approaching strangers. In Gandhra art, it is seen when showing the action of preaching. It was also used in China during the Wei and Sui eras of the 4th and 7th centuries. The gesture was used by the Buddha when attacked by an elephant, subduing it as shown in several frescoes and scripts. In Mahyna, the northern schools' deities often paired it with another mudr using the other hand.
This gesture calls upon the earth to witness Shakyamuni Buddha's enlightenment at Bodh Gaya. A seated figure's right hand reaches toward the ground, palm inward.
EARTH-TOUCHING MUDRA depicts Buddha as taking the earth as a witness. It symbolizes with the right hand touches the ground with fingertips near the right knee, extended or with only the pointing down with the left hand commonly resting on the lap with palm facing up.
The Dharmacakra mudr represents a central moment in the life of Buddha when he preached his first sermon after his Enlightenment, in Deer Park in Sarnath. In general, only Gautama Buddha is shown making this mudr, save Maitreya as the dispenser of the Law. This mudr position represents the turning of the wheel of the Dharma. Dharmacakra mudr is formed when two hands close together in front of the chest in Vitarka, having the right palm forward and the left palm upward, sometimes facing the chest. There are several variants such as in the frescoes of Ajanta, India where the two hands are separated, and the fingers do not touch. In the Indo-Greek style of Gandhra the clenched fist of the right hand seemingly overlie the fingers joined to the thumb on the left hand.
It is the gesture of meditation. In this mudra, the back of the right hand
rests on the palm of the other in such a way that the tip of the thumb lightly touches the other hand.
The hand rests in the lap. The right hand resting on top ,
symbolizes the state of enlightenment; the other hand, resting below, the world of appearance.
This gesture expresses overcoming the
world of appearance through
enlightenment, as well as the enlightened
state of mind for which samsara and
nirvana are one.
In a special form of this mudra, the
middle, ring, and the little fingers of both
the hands lie on top one another and the
thumbs and the index fingers of each
hand, touching each other, form a circle,
which also symbolizes the world of
appearances and the true nature of reality.
It is a gesture of teaching. The right hand points upward, the left
downwards; both palms are turned outward. The thumb and the index finger of each hand
form a circle. The right hand is at the shoulder level, the left
hand at the level of the hips. In a further form of this mudra, the index finger
and the little fingers of both the hands are fully extended, the middle and the ring fingers somewhat curved inward. The left hand points upward, the right downward.
The palms are held together at the level
of the chest.
This is the customary gesture of greeting
Used as a mudra, it expresses suchness
which is (Tahata)
Postures are relatively the position of the body:
They are controlled movement of the limbs, due to which the body is in control.
The posture or the asana, generally are understood with reference to the gestures.
The Indian Vedic texts have detailed information on the asanas. As per the ancient Vedic texts, Asana is a posture on which one realises a certain neutrality of the sense, consciousness is no longer troubled by the senses of the body.
PADMA ASANA- ( Lotus Posture) This posture is formed by crossing the legs
and bringing each foot on the opposite thigh.
The left foot presses over the right thigh, while the right leg is placed on the left thigh.
This pose is characteristic of the yogi. It is favorable to meditation and ascetic
concentration. In Indian Art until the end of Gupta period this was the historical attitude of the seated statue.
VIRASANA- ( Half Lotus Posture) This posture is formed by placing the right
foot on the left foot which rests on the earth instead of the thighs.
This indicates the right path. Right foot indicates the Right i.e. correct
path and left foot indicates a wrong path or bad path.
It is considered that Lord Buddha taught this asana to Bodh Bhiksukhas for special purposes.
Sitting in this posture also indicates and symbolizes the success of good over evil.
It is the asana with a position of ease or
In this posture one leg remains bent, the
other is pendent or hanging from the
This posture is of royal pleasure.
In this one knee remains bent in the same
way, but the other is raised and supports
the corresponding arm.
The foot of this raised leg rests near the
thigh of the other leg, the knee of the
raised leg come at the level of the chest.
The hand of arm corresponds with the
raised leg hangs over the knee, the body
slightly backwards and the other arm
supports the body.
The Buddha may be depicted in one of four postures:
Sitting: If seated, the Buddha may be shown in one of three different positions
In the "heroic posture" (vrsana), with the legs folded over each other
In the "adamantine posture" (vajrsana), with the legs crossed so that the soles of both feet are turned up
In the position of a person sitting in a chair (pralambansana) Standing: If standing, the Buddha may be shown either with his
feet together, or with one foot forward Walking Reclining: The reclining posture may represent the Buddha resting
or sleeping, but more usually represents the mahparinabbna: the Buddha's final state of enlightenment before his death
Movement is one of the most difficult
thing to convey in painting and sculpture.
If we look at the history of Indian art, the
Indian images both in painting and
sculpture are of two types:
STATIC- ( At rest)
These could be sitting, standing or
SAMABHANGA ABHANGA TRIBHANGA ATIBHANGA
Samabhanga- In this attitude the left and
the right halves of the figure are shown in symmetrical patterns, whether standing or seated figure is poised without inclining to the right or left.
In this attitude, half of the figure is
inclined slightly to right or left without
changing very much.