The Hand Gestures in Thai Buddha Statues Have Their Own Meanings

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Published: 08th June 2011
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Buddhism started in India hundreds of years ago. From India it spread to the rest of the world. The culture of Buddhism was absorbed by the new country instead of imposing itself on the country's own culture. Because of this, Thai Buddhism is different than Indian Buddhism. One thing that is unique about the Thai Buddha statues is their gestures.

While many of the mudras, or hand positions, are similar, there is one gesture that is completely unique to Thailand. That is the reclining Buddha. This position is unique to Thailand and Laos. These countries share much including the hand gestures of Buddha statues.

There are 6 main madras, other than using an arm as a pillow in the case of a reclining Buddha, that are associated with Thai Buddha statues.

Mediation, pang sa-maa-ti or dhyana mudra. This gesture is usually shown with a seated Buddha. Buddha's hands are palms up, flat in his lap. This position shows the mental concentration that Buddha is using to discipline himself and his mind.

Absence of fear, pang bpra-taan a-pi or abhaya mudra. When the hands of the Buddha are shown in this position it symbolizes Buddha either being fearless in the face of a foe or adversity, or admonishing others to be so. While this is usually seen with a standing Buddha it also shows up in a seated Buddha. There are two variations. One is one arm bent at both the wrist and the elbow. The fingers are pointing up and the palm is facing out. When it is the right hand it is called calming animals. If it is both hands the position is called forbidding the relatives.

Charity, pang bpra-taa pon or varana mudra. The Buddha's right hand is pointing down with his palm facing front and the fingers are extended. This is most often seen on a standing Buddha and is associated with him either receiving or giving offerings of charity.

Touching the Earth, pang maa-ra-wi-chai or bhumisparsa mudra. When this position is on Thai Buddha statues it can also be called Buddha subduing Mara. Mara was a demon that tempted Budda. His right hand is on his leg with the features touching the Earth, sometimes only symbolically. Buddha is renouncing all worldly desire. This is the most often seen position.

Setting the wheel in motion, dharmachakra mudra. The index and thumb of each hard are touching each other with the fingers of the left hand on the right palm. The fingers from the left hand are touching the right palm. This is a very rare position. It refers to when he set the wheel of his life in motion in his first sermon.

Reasoning and exposition, vitarka mudra. The thumb and index finger of one hand, usually the right are brought together with the remaining fingers pointing up. The arm and hand is bent at the elbow and the wrist. This is often seen as a call to peace because Buddha is trying appeal to logic and reasoning.

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