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The Image Representations of Buddha

Buddha Image Bagan Myanmar

  • The image representation of Gautama Buddha in Thailand and Laos is referred to as pang phraputtarup and a given pose as pang. These bring to mind particular events during his teachings and travels.
  • In other countries where Buddhism is followed, different but related image representation is used, for instance the mudras in Indian art.


  • The Buddha is almost always denoted with certain physical characteristics, and in specific attire and specified postures. Each posture, and particularly the gestures and position of the Buddha's hands, has a specified meaning which is known to Buddhists.
  • Buddhists consider that a correctly made Buddha image is a philosophy: an actual spiritual production of the Buddha, which has supernatural characteristics. Even though the Buddha isn’t a god, Buddhists desire to get in touch with the supernatural world via Buddha images, praying before them and making offerings to them.
  • Buddha images aren’t meant to be realistic images of what Gautama Buddha appeared like. No contemporary images of the Buddha exist and the earliest images of the Buddha date from 500 to 600 years after his lifespan. However Buddhists believe that Buddha images signify a perfect reality of the Buddha.
  • While making a Buddha image, it is expected that the artist is in a mental and spiritual state which will empower him to imagine this perfect reality. It is not a requirement that every Buddha image should be same. In fact there is a wide range of traditions and artistic styles in representing the Buddha. However there are precise laws of representation which should be followed.
  • The present range of the gestures and postures in which the Buddha may be shown, developed over the 1st millennium of the Buddhist era, mostly in India.
  • As Buddhism spread from India, the original homeland of Buddhism to other countries, differences in the depiction of the Buddha increased. The standard of Buddha representation in Laos and Thailand wasn’t formalised until the 19th century as part of "modernisation". In this process an important figure was the Siamese royal prince, a son of King Rama I, Buddhist monk Paramanuchit Chinorot who was chosen administrator of the Wat Pho royal temple in Bangkok in 1814. At the request of King Rama III, Paramanuchit represented and described 40 different poses of the Buddha in a thesis known as Pathama Sambodhikatha. Later on Paramanuchit's artworks were turned into bronze miniatures, which can be seen at Wat Phra Kaeo in Bangkok and are used as templates for the creation of modern Buddhist images.

Buddha Image Dambulla Sri Lanka

Attributes of the Buddha

  • A Pali text of the 1st century BCE, the Digha Nikaya, provides a list of 32 physical attributes of the Buddha. A few of these are fanciful or poetic, while others are more specific: a tuft of hair between the eyebrows, long and slender fingers and toes, projecting heels, feet with level tread. Even though it’s not necessary that Buddha images reflect all these attributes, a number of them have acquired official status.
  • The Buddha has always a faint smile or a serene expression. He is also always shown with very long earlobes. This is related to his earlier life like a prince, overwhelmed by material possession, but has since taken up to symbolize wisdom.

Buddha Image Bagan Myanmar

Posture and dress

The Buddha might be shown in one of four positions:

  • Reclining: The reclining position might represent the Buddha sleeping or resting but more commonly represents the mahaparinabbana: the Buddha's absolute position of enlightenment prior to his death.
  • Walking.
  • Standing: If standing, the Buddha might be depicted either with one foot forward or with his feet together.
  • Sitting: If seated, the Buddha might be depicted in one of 3 different positions
  1. In the situation of a person sitting in a chair
  2. With the legs crossed so that the soles of both feet are turned up
  3. With the legs folded over each other
  • The Buddha is almost always shown wearing a monastic robe, of the sort worn by Buddhist monks these days. The robe represents the Buddha's humility. Originally Gautama was a prince, who abandoned the world to search for enlightenment. Often Buddha images are covered with real robes, which are renovated regularly, generally at major carnivals.