Mudras (Gestures) in Art

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Text of Mudras (Gestures) in Art

  • Guneeta Chadha

    Unit-iv, B.A.III

  • 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

    Bharata Muni.

    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

    in India.

    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.

  • SUKHASANA- (Lalitasana)

    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)

    DYNAMIC (Moving)

    These could be sitting, standing or



    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.

  • Abhanga-

    In this attitude, half of the figure is

    inclined slightly to right or left without

    changing very much.

    The l