Images of the Buddha were produced from the fifth century onwards. The sacred nature of the representation is reflected in the artistic goal of creating an aura of equanimity, perfection, and holiness. The large number of rules governing the execution of a portrayal or a statue require an erudite understanding of Buddhist symbolism. Any Buddha figure made by a skilled artist exhibits a multitude of characteristics that communicate subtle meanings and intentions to the viewer. The most important of these characteristics are perhaps the mudras, or hand gestures, of the Buddha. These well-defined gestures have a fixed meaning throughout all styles and periods of Buddha images.
Gesture with which demons are expelled.
Threat, warning. The extended index finger is pointed at the opponent.
Fulfilment of all wishes; the gesture of charity.
Gesture of reassurance, blessing, and protection. “Do not fear.”
Touching the earth as Gautama did, to invoke the earth as witness to the truth of his words.
Two hands together in the gesture of ‘sprinkling’ the nectar of immortality.
Teaching. The hand is held at chest level and the thumb and index finger again form the Wheel of Law.
The snake king. Vestige of pre-Buddhist fertility rituals and protector of the Buddha and the Dhamma.
The gesture of absolute balance, of meditation. The hands are relaxed in the lap, and the tips of the thumbs and fingers touch each other. When depicted with a begging bowl this is a sign of the head of an order.
The gesture of teaching usually interpreted as turning the Wheel of Law. The hands are held level with the heart, the thumbs and index fingers form circles.
Gesture of greeting, prayer, and adoration. Buddhas no longer make this gesture because they do not have to show devotion to anything.
Intellectual argument, discussion. The circle formed by the thumb and index finger is the sign of the Wheel of Law.