Explained: The Reclining Buddha and his various other depictions in art

In News:

  • On Wednesday, May 26 — Buddha Jayanti, Buddha Purnima, or Vesak — India’s largest statue of the Reclining Buddha was to have been installed at the Buddha International Welfare Mission temple in Bodh Gaya, Bihar.
  • The ceremony has been postponed due to Covid-19 restrictions.

About the Reclining Buddha:

  • A reclining Buddha is an image that represents Buddha lying down and is a major iconographic theme in Buddhist art.

  • Statues and images of the Reclining Buddha show him lying on his right side, his head resting on a cushion or on his right elbow.
  • It represents the Buddha during his last illness, about to enter Parinirvana, the stage of great salvation after death that can only be attained by enlightened souls.
    • The Buddha’s death came when he was 80 years old, in a state of meditation, in Kushinagar in eastern Uttar Pradesh.

  • It is meant to show that all beings have the potential to be awakened and be released from the cycle of death and rebirth.
  • The reclining Buddha was first depicted in Gandhara Art.

Other depictions/mudras of Buddha:

  • Mudras are a non-verbal mode of communication and self-expression, consisting of hand gestures and fingerpostures.
  • While there are a large number of esoteric mudras, over time Buddhist art has retained only five of them for the representations of the Buddha.
  • These five mudras are:
  1. Dharmachakra mudra:
    • Dharmachakra in Sanskrit means the ‘Wheel of Dharma‘.

    • This mudra symbolizes the occasion when Buddha preached to his companions the first sermon after his Enlightenment in the Deer Park at Sarnath.It thus denotes the setting into motion ofthe Wheel of the teaching of the Dharma.
    • In this mudra the thumb and index finger of both hands touch at their tips to form a circle.
    • This circle represents the Wheel of Dharma, or in metaphysical terms, the union of method and wisdom.
    • In this mudra, the hands are held in front of the heart, symbolizing that these teachings are straight from the Buddha’s heart.

  2. Bhumisparsha mudra:
    • Literally Bhumisparsha translates into ‘touching the earth’.
    • It is more commonly known as the ‘earth witness’ mudra.

    • This mudra, formed with all five fingers of the right hand extended to touch the ground, symbolizes the Buddha’s enlightenment under the Bodhi tree, when he summoned the earth goddess, Sthavara, to bear witness to his attainment of enlightenment.
    • The right hand, placed upon the right knee in earth-pressing mudra, and complemented by the left hand-which is held flat in the lap in the dhyana mudra of meditation, symbolizes the union of method and wisdom.

  3. Varada mudra:
    • This mudra symbolizes charity, compassion and boon-granting.
    • It is the mudra of the accomplishment of the wish to devote oneself to human salvation.

    • It is nearly always made with the left hand, and can be made with the arm hanging naturally at the side of the body, the palm of the open hand facing forward, and the fingers extended.
    • The five extended fingers symbolize the following five perfections:
      1. Generosity
      2. Morality
      3. Patience
      4. Effort
      5. Meditative concentration

  1. Dhyana mudra:
    • The Dhyana mudra may be made with one or both hands.

    • When made with a single hand the left one is placed in the lap, while the right may be engaged elsewhere. The left hand making the Dhyana mudra in such cases symbolizes the female left-hand principle of wisdom
    • When made with both hands, the hands are generally held at the level of the stomach or on the thighs.
    • The Dhyana mudra is the mudra of meditation, of concentration on the Good law, and of the attainment of spiritual perfection.
    • It indicates the perfect balance of thought, rest of the senses and tranquillity.
    • According to tradition, this mudra derives from the one assumed by Buddha when meditating under the pipal tree before his Enlightenment.

  2. Abhaya Mudra:
    • Abhaya in Sanskrit means fearless. Thus this mudra symbolizes protection, peace, and the dispelling of fear.
    • It is made with the right hand raised to shoulder height, the arm crooked, the palm of the hand facing outward, and the fingers upright and joined. The left hand hangs down at the side of the body.

    • In Thailand, and especially in Laos, this mudra is associated with the movement of the waking Buddha.
    • In Gandhara art, this mudra was sometimes used to indicate the action of preaching.