Mudras: the hand positions of Buddha statues

Asian art

Mudras: Buddhas hand positions

Mudras is a Sanksrit term for the seal, mark or gesture which is a symbolic gesture in the statues of the Hindu and Buddhist iconographies. Most of the Mudras are usually performed with hands and fingers while some of them involve the entire body. Though the art styles, tradition, and structures of many Buddhist statues vary from the region or era of the origin from another, Mudras of these statues have remained pretty much the same over the years as they are taken as the general guidelines of the spiritual gestures portrayed and taught by the Buddha himself.

mudra is a gesture which is also an energetic seal used in the Buddha statues and spiritual practice of Dharma in Buddhism. The Mudras have been the center of curiosity for many enthusiasts of Buddha statues and Buddhism as they portray and depict Buddha with different hand positions. As we know that each and every body positions of the Buddha have their own meanings, it is certain that these mudras have their own meanings. Similarly, in Hinduism and Tantrism, there are at most 108 mudras for the statues and the Tantric rituals while the Buddhist statues are seen to be portraying only 4 to 5 mudras in general. Each mudra seems to have a peculiar effect on the practitioner of Buddhism while common hand gestures are commonly seen in both Hindu and Buddhist iconography.

Here are the common Mudras used in Buddha statues:

Abhaya Mudra

abhaya mudra

The Abhaya mudra, translated as the mudra of no fear symbolizes peace, benevolence, protection and defeat of fear. In the Buddha statues, this mudra is depicted with the right hand raised to the height of the shoulder while the arm is bent and the palm is facing outward with the fingers of the hand upright and joined to each other. The left hand of the statue is hanging down while standing. In the Buddha statues from Thailand and Laos, this mudra is particularly associated with the walking Buddha. This mudra is also seen when showing the action of preaching by the Buddha. The Abhaya mudra is also taken as a symbol of goodwill and good intentions in the beliefs which are older than Buddhism.

Dharmachakra Mudra

Dharmachakra Mudra

The Dharmachakra mudra is known to have used only by Gautam Buddha during a central moment of his life when he preached his first sermon in Sarnath after his enlightenment.

This mudra symbolizes the turning of the wheel of the Dharma.

In Dharmachakra mudra. The two hands are closed together in front of the chest in Vitarka.

The right is forward while the left palm faces upwards and also sometimes facing the chest.

This Mudra is very common among Buddha statues all over South East Asia.

Dhyana Mudra

Dhyana Mudra

The gesture of meditation, Dhyana mudradepicts the Buddha in the state of meditation while concentrating for Dharmaand the Sanghafor the Buddhist followers.

In the Dhyana Mudra, the palms of both the hands are seen resting on the lap and facing upwards.

In this mudra, the hands and fingers form a triangle shape which also represents the spiritual fire of the Triratna.

This mudra is generally used while depicting the Shakyamuni Buddha and the Amitabha Buddha statue.

Varada Mudra

varada mudra

Translated as the “favorable” mudra, the Varada Mudra symbolizes charity, compassion, sincerity, welcome, giving and offering. The mudra is depicted with the both of the hands ofthe Buddha at the waist level with palms out. The right hand of the statue is up while the left hand is down. The varada mudra can also be depicted with the crooked arm as well as the palm offering slightly turned up. In case the arm is facing down, the palm of the statue is presented with the fingers of the palm facing upright and slightly bent. This variety of mudra is widely used in the Buddha statues crafted from the Southeast Asian regions.

Vitarka Mudra

Vitarka Mudra

The mudra of discussion, the Vitarka mudra is the mudra or the gesture of discussion while the princples of Buddhism are being taught or preached.

The mudra is represented by joining the tips of the thumb and the index fingers together and the other fingers are kept straight.

This mudra is very much similar to other mudras like Abhaya and Varada but with the thumbs touching the index fingers.

This mudra has many variants in various Mahayana Buddhist regions in eastern Asia.

Namaskara Mudra

Namaskara Mudra

Namaskara Mudra, as the name suggests is the greeting mudra in Buddha statues and other Buddhist artifacts. Namaskara is the gesture used by many Asian countries as a gesture of greetings with the two palms joined together. Another name for the Namaskara mudra is the Anjali Mudra. The joined hands are usually kept at the stomach or the thigh level. The joined palms face upwards with each or the fingers extended and the thumbs touching at the tips.

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