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Table of Content

  • Introduction

  • What Do Lotus blossoms and leaves Represent?

  • The Motive of Naga(Sanskrit name for serpents)

  • The Calm Eyes of Buddha - Meaning Behind It

  • The Form of An Icon's Head

  • True Purpose of Elongated Earlobes

  • The Meaning Behind the Dharma Wheel and Its Spokes?

  • Conclusion

Each Religion is premised on the idea of construction and communication of its religious teachings in its adherents. In order to facilitate this, there is a substantial reliance on, arts, statues, artworks, events, links with nature, and so on. These all are collectively referred to as symbols. Symbols and their significance help in articulating values of the said religion in the society. It aids the process of creating awareness regarding the basic tenets and teachings of the religion and builds a connection of worship amongst the believers.

Buddhism is the religion of the adherents of Gautama Buddha, or the Shakyamuni. 'Buddha' refers to one who has become enlightened through their own efforts and insight. A Buddha is someone who has understood the enlightenment that ends the cycle of birth and death and which brings freedom from suffering. He is perhaps one of the most recognizable and widely known figures depicted in Eastern art. There are many images, statues, and artifacts of Buddha across the world. Each is designed, created and worshiped under the cultural influence of local places and people. Buddhist art comprises a tremendous range of objects from paintings to sculptures to ritual objects. The Monastic Buddhist images in Southeast Asia are vastly distinct from the Buddhist images where Buddhism is prevalent as a socially engaged religion. In the Pali canon, it is mentioned that Buddhas have appeared in the past and will also appear in the future. There were also numerous enlightened Buddhas who ascended in earlier world cycles and who preached the very same Dhamma that gives freedom from suffering and death to all mature beings.

                                                                                                         12" Shakyamuni Buddha from Nepal

Buddhism has opted for a mildly confrontational and more philosophical approach by using highly stylized statues, symbolic paintings and sculptures of the Buddha representing various hand gestures (mudras), physical attributes and postures (sitting versus standing) that carry deeply symbolic connotations.

The calmness and compassion of the Buddha’s facial expression mildly affirm that all perceptive beings can reach salvation through their faith in him. Every feature of the Buddha, from Ushinisha (the bump of knowledge) to elongate earlobes and Mudra (hand gesture), judiciously follows the prevailing canon to demonstrate him as an enlightened being, thus inspiring the worshipers to follow his teachings. The symbols used are intended to portray the Buddha’s expanded spectrum of knowledge and awareness after enlightenment.

The reason why Buddhist art stands out from other religious symbolism is that physical representations of Buddha and his teachings did not commence until after his death. This is partially because of what is referred to as the “middle path of moderation,” or the balance between self-indulgence and self-mortification, to which Buddha dedicated his life. He rejected both asceticisms as well as the physical desires of the current world with the belief that those who had not attained enlightenment would ultimately be reincarnated.

The most omnipresent Buddhist symbol is the statue of Buddha himself, which has been slightly reformed with several mudras (hand gestures), halos, and facial expressions. There are some more common symbols and themes in Buddhist art that are described below:

What do Lotus blossoms and leaves Represent?

In Buddhist iconography, the lotus is a symbol of enlightenment, the state of freeing oneself from the thirst of our physical and material world as well as from the cycle of birth and rebirth, as also taught in Hinduism which preceded Buddhist thought. The lotus is also connected with purity, spiritual awakening, and faithfulness. The flower is considered pure as it is able to arise from muddy waters in the morning and be flawlessly clean. It is also known to symbolize purity of speech, of the body, and of the mind.


                                                                                           21" Buddha Under Serpent Muchalinda

The Motive of Naga(Sanskrit name for serpents)

Nagas is often depicted as door guardians or, as in Tibet, as minor deities. The Buddhist Naga has the figure of a massive cobra, typically portrayed with a single head but sometimes with several heads. The Naga which is seen giving the Buddha refuge while meditating is known as Mucalinda. Mucalinda is considered to have protected the Buddha from rain and storm after he achieved enlightenment. As per the tales, during the historical Buddha’s core journey to enlightenment, he was safeguarded from the elements by a Naga (serpent), commonly portrayed as a seven-headed snake. Despite being highly stylized and having numerous heads, the serpents’ intimidating hood flares, and expanded necks forming a sort of hood, reflect the common cobras found all over Southeast Asia. These artistic depictions of the Buddha practicing meditation under the guard of Mucalinda are common in many Buddhist countries which are well-known for their exclusive Buddhist arts, namely Burma, Laos, and Thailand.

The Calm Eyes of Buddha - Meaning Behind It

The eyes on Buddhist figures are, more often than not, somewhat exposed with a downward gaze, signifying a state of inner contemplation while still being aware of the outdoor world. Contrariwise, an icon’s eyes may be seeing outward, signifying the historical Buddha’s compassion for all sensitive beings in our earthly arena as well as portraying the Buddha as a tutor who was fully involved with his pupils.

The Form of An Icon's Head

in several Buddhist traditions, figures portraying the historical Buddha have a protuberance, referred to as an Ushnisha in Sanskrit, crowning the topmost part of the head. This protuberance characterizes knowledge and insight and may vary in size and overall shape or form, from one part of East Asia to another.

                                                                                       17" Wooden Buddha Head With Beautiful Carving

True Purpose of Elongated Earlobes

One unusual characteristic of these Buddha statues are long ears and elongated earlobes, which can be seen in many forms raging from porcelain statues, and stone sculptures to paintings. The ears in statues are often portrayed as long and bulgy. Long earlobes represent the Buddha’s boundless willingness and ability to listen to the cries and pains of other perceptive beings. It is to show that he learned to be free from suffering, that he is wise. It is also believed that the long ears are a reminder that Siddhartha was once dragged down by wealth, but his earlobes are empty because he renounced that wealth. Therefore, it can be said that the depiction of the stretched ears serves as a reminder for the followers of Buddhism to always be compassionate.

The Meaning Behind the Dharma Wheel and Its Spokes?

The circle, the rounded shape of the wheel, characterizes the perfection of the dharma, the Buddha's teaching. The rim of the wheel embodies meditative concentration and mindfulness, which hold practice together. The hub signifies moral discipline. A Dharma Wheel with four spokes symbolizes the Four Noble Truths. When the wheel has eight spokes, it represents the Eightfold Path and Buddhism. Ten spokes on a Dharma Wheel signify the ten directions and twelve spokes symbolize the Twelve Links of Dependent Origination.


                                                                             Tibetan Shakyamuni Buddha (Brocadeless Thangka)

Buddhist art portrays most faithfully all the significant stages in the history of Buddhism. Statues of the Buddha have always been historically important artistic, religious, and social symbols. Every notion of Buddhism, whether its iconographic features, literary evidence, or deities of different types, have a perfect description and a reason behind it. The symbols serve as signs of Buddha's teachings, good fortune, inner peace, and the motivating force that should be present in every human being. The messages learned through them have been taught in different parts of the world for many centuries, but still continue to serve as a source of strength and motivation. The philosophy of Buddha is simple and solitary, something that anyone can achieve if they focus on their inner core. The practice of inner contemplation has attained traction in recent years.

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