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The serene smile of the Buddha is his most distinguishing feature. Along with this, the viewer’s attention cannot help but be drawn towards the Buddha’s graceful hands, displayed in a variety of gestures. What do they mean?
Each of these gestures is called a “mudra”. In Sanskrit, the word “mudra” (literally, “seal” or “mark of identity”) is a form of non-verbal communication that refers to symbolic gestures imbued with varied spiritual meanings. Common to both Hindu and Buddhist iconography, mudras are typically expressed with the hands and fingers and sometimes with the whole body.
In Buddhist iconography, mudras invoke specific aspects of Sakyamuni or other Buddhas (for example, as teacher, protector). They are extensively used during prayer rituals and mantra recitations. It is believed that mudras enable the practitioner to experience a connection with the Buddha being invoked.
The significance of hands
In the Buddhist Tantric tradition, the right hand represents skilful, focused method of action and the active male principle. The left hand symbolizes wisdom, emptiness and the contemplative female principle. Thus, we find many images of the Buddha where his right hand is portrayed in gestures actively signifying teaching, protection and granting blessings, while his left hand reposes meditatively upon his lap. In next few weeks, we will discuss all the Mudra’s individually.