The Buddha is presented in several hand and leg postures or gestures, called Mudras,
each Mudra symbolizing some aspect of the Buddha’s life. The visualization has its origin several thousand years ago. Basically there are four body postures in which a Buddha image is depicted. Buddha standing is a representation of his descent from heaven after he had gone to preach to his mother.
Buddha walking represents him taming the berserk “Nalagiri” elephant sent by his cousin Devadatta to kill him. Buddha seated explanation, is the most common Mudra posture. There are three different seated positions legs crossed with both feet hidden; legs crossed with feet on thighs and soles turned upward, called the lotus position, and legs straight down. Buddha reclining with his head pointing to the north depicts his death and entry into nirvana. If his head is pointing to any other direction, it represents him sleeping.
There are also six symbolic hand gestures
each hand gesture carrying a distinct meaning. The Bhumisparsa is the most common one showing Buddha seated with crossed legs, left hand on his lap, palm upwards, and his right hand on right knee with fingertips touching the ground. This represents Buddha asking Mother Earth to witness his Enlightenment. In the Dhyana the Buddha sits cross-legged with the palm of his right hand in the left palm, and both hands lying in his lap.
The event in the life of the Buddha being depicted is indicated by the objects held in the hands or figures flanking the Buddha image.
The Dharmacakra Mudra depicts Buddha with both hands held in front of his breast forming a circle with the middle finger and thumb of his left hand touching the tips of the index finger and thumb of the right.
Mudras of Buddha
This signifies the Buddha’s first Sermon
at Sarnath, India, giving an explanation of the Wheel of Law.
The Abhaya, found only on a standing Buddha, shows the right hand raised and the left pointed downward. This represents Buddha promising his followers tranquility, protection and courage if they accept and follow his law.
The Varada depicts the standing Buddha with arms outstretched in front of his body, palms opened out and the tips of the fingers pointing downwards to the earth. This represents the Buddha blessing his followers.
The Abhaya and Varada show Buddha’s right hand raised as in the Abhaya and his left hand outstretched as in the Varada. This postures and gestures portrays Buddha blessing and promising protection to his followers. It also represents his descent to earth after preaching to his mother in heaven.
Today in Buddhist countries such as Myanmar, the specific Mudras summarized above, as well as other strict directions and rules must be rigidly followed by all makers of Buddha images.
As religion, art and culture cannot be separated in Myanmar life; these Mudras are enacted by Myanmar dancers and form the basis for their positions, gestures, and movements. They also are the basis for the marionettes and mime actors of the pwes.
Mudras Buddha, asanam