hi thereand howdy to yourself
A R T   A N D   C U L T U R E   ии  B U D D H A   I M A G E S

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Buddha Mind - get one, be one.

  The Buddha staute is an image of the idealised human being. It aims to represent the potential perfection of humanity - both physically, socially and spiritually.


halo +
3rd robe

abhaya mudra

neck rings

robe pattern

One of the classic reference points for the stylistic appearance of a Buddha image is the 32 marks of a great being §. If you read this list of human attributes literally some of the items may seem a bit fanciful. When considering imagery from a symbolic perspective, it is important to reflect on the human tendency to idealise greatness. It is also useful to remember the inclination toward myth in much of Indian history. The symbols on a Buddha image are seen for a variety of reasons - not just because they are on 'the list'.

There are pictorial examples for each of the symbols discussed here but rather than clutter the body text with link information use the '§' to jump to a list at the bottom of the page.

A significant number of the traditional symbols relate to the head.
The hair:
Early images used a relatively natural hairstyle but this was gradually replaced with a mass of 'snail shell' curls turning to the right. There seems no obvious racial, social, or otherwise reason for this. The only reference that I can find is to a story of the time when Sidhattha first cut his princely hair - it sprang into spiral curls and never needed cutting again. §
Images generally show a cranial bump of some form. § This has sometimes been thought of as a symbolic bony protuberance indicating wisdom but its origin probably lies more in the hair styling of India. Men commonly wore their hair long and it would often have been in a bun or arranged for wearing a turban or, in the case of the Buddha, the ascetic's top-knot. It is generally known as the ushinisha. §
The urna:
The 31st mark is a whorl of hair between the eyebrows. § Many images have a raised circle, dot or inset gem at this point. It is known as the urna. § Another consideration is its origin as a symbol of the sixth (of seven) energy centres (cakras) in the ancient yogic system. [see thumbnail link above]
The ears:
The earlobes on all images are long; presumably extended by the weight of pendants worn by the Buddha when he was prince Sidhattha. Certainly it is a symbol of his regal ancestry. Many images go so far as to show a slit on the lobe as a sign of the original piercing stretched by heavy jewellery. §
The halo:
The halo makes an early appearance in Buddhist imagery. In its simple form it is a plain round disk behind the head. As styles develope this disk became increasingly ornate. There is a superb example on the Sarnath Buddha. §. As a symbol of radiating light the halo becomes quite stylised in some instances. §.
Palms and soles are sometimes have wheels in their centre. [2nd mark]
The neck is commonly seen with three rings or lines around it. Other than representing 'flesh folds' artistically I have no thoughts as to why this should be so consistent. §
The robes are often seen as two garments - rather than the prescribed three of the monk. The lower robe (held up by a belt) is particularly visible on the early standing images. §. Images show an outer robe worn either in the 'open' mode, leaving the right shoulder bare §, or covering both shoulders and reaching almost to the ankles §. Differences often depend on whether the image is standing or seated. The third robe is occasionally seen worn folded and draped over the left shoulder §. The sculptural treatment of the robe varies but is usually either realistic, showing folded drapery, or 'wet' where the robe is almost invisible. §. The Tibetan page [STYLES]shows painted examples of the robe pattern - not normally seen on statuary. [see: thumbnail example & MONASTIC REQUISITES for more on the robe pattern.]
Hand gestures - mudras - became stereotyped relatively early. The seven primary mudras generally have their basis in relation to the life story of the Buddha. They vary considerably and are such a distinctive aspect of any image that it is worth a seperate page. §


I found a series of very good quality Buddha icons which I thought you might find useful. The download [see: RESOURCES] is a collection of over fifty icons from various traditions. The thumbnail link is to .ico files converted to .gif if you want to use them on your site.

These links are to examples of various symbols as discussed above.

Links to 'BBTF' are to the small booklet on symbols - Buddhas Back to Front (note the page number).
The 32 marks of a great being.
A page of small images exemplifying the spiralled hair and bump on top of the head.
BBTF - The ushinisha - see page 29.
Four images showing different representations of the urna - the 'dot' on the forehead.
BBTF - the urna - see page 28.
A collection of five heads showing different styles of earlobe.
Sarnath Buddha - good examples of the halo, mudra, ears, hair, wheel.
Simple halo. Very ornate metal halo. Intricate stone lattice work Two simple examples
An example of the outer robe worn over both shoulders with the under robe visible - see page 5.
The outer robe worn over one shoulder leaving the right shoulder bare. 3 examples
A recent photo of monks wearing the outer robe over both shoulders.
A recent photo of monks wearing the third (upper) robe - as well as the usual two!. Statue example of same.
A Tibetan example of the 'wet' style robe. (bottom, centre) Thai example of same.
Two Chinese examples of the rings on the neck.