Art of the Ancient World, C. 5000 B.c.e.–400 C.E.

Art of India and Southeast Asia

What markings distinguish images of the Buddha?

The Buddha is not a god, but an enlightened being who has achieved suprahuman status and has escaped the Buddhist cycle of life and death. The earliest images of the Buddha show the holy figure as a monk wearing long robes and can be identified by certain body attributes called lakshanas. As a boy, the Buddha was wealthy, therefore one important body attribute is elongated ears due to years of wearing heavy jewelry. Another important marking is called the urna, a curl of hair between the Buddha’s eyebrows, often depicted as a dot. Mudras, or hand-gestures, allow images of the Buddha to convey specific messages. For example, if the Buddha is shown with his right hand reaching towards the ground, this represents a call to witness the Buddha’s enlightenment and is a mudra known as bhumisparsha (earth touching).


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