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    ARTICLE

    Abhaya Mudra

    Map Academy

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    One of the five commonly depicted mudras in Buddhism, the abhaya mudra is associated with the fifth Dhyani-Buddha Amoghasiddhi. The gesture symbolises peace and friendship, and denotes the acts of pacification, reassurance or protection. It is performed using either the right hand or both hands, with the fingers outstretched, with the palms slightly cupped and facing the viewer. When it is performed using only the right hand, he left hand usually hangs loosely by the side of the body or assumes the varada mudra.

    This mudra is one of the most widely used symbolic and ritual gestures across Hinduism, Jainism, Sikhism and Buddhism. Across Southeast Asia, depictions of deities, saints, great teachers, or gurus, show them in the benevolent abhaya mudra, making it a recognisable gesture and an indicator of divine associations.

    It appears most significantly within Buddhist art, in murals, sculpture, thangkas and popular prints, lending particular symbolic meaning to its context. When it is made with the left hand, as is common in Theravada Buddhism, it is thought to denote a warning or a command to halt. This interpretation is based on a popular Buddhist story in which the Buddha stopped the advances of a rampaging elephant released by a spiteful Devdutta — his nephew and disciple, by extending his hand in the abhaya mudra. In another incident, the Buddha uses the mudra to resolve a water dispute within a family.

    There have been minor inflections in how mudra is represented across different periods. In Gandharan art, for instance, the hand forming the gesture is held up at the shoulder level, but in later periods, from the fifth century CE onwards, the hand begins to dip until it is at hip level. Though primarily seen in representations of the standing Amoghasiddhi, it is also associated with the walking Buddha in the Theravada sects of Thailand and Laos.

     

     
    Bibliography

    Asian Art|Mudras: Buddhist Hand Positions. n.d. “Abhaya mudra.” Accessed 6 August 2020. https://www.burmese-art.com/about-buddha-statues/hand-positions/abhaya-mudra

    Beer, Robert. 1999. The Encyclopedia of Tibetan Symbols and Motifs. Boston: Shambhala.

    Samad, Rafi. The Ancient Buddhist Civilization of The Swat, Peshawar, Kabul and Indus Valleys. New York: Algora Publishing. 2011.

    Munsterberg, Hugo. Art of India and South East Asia. New York: Harry N. Abrams Inc. 1970.

    Ables, Kelsey. “The Complex Meanings behind Hand Gestures in Buddhist Art” Artsy. Last Accessed July 8, 2020. https://www.artsy.net/article/artsy-editorial-complex-meanings-hand-gestures-buddhist-art

    Kossak, Steven. “The Arts of South and Southeast Asia” The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin LI, No.4. 2011.

    Behrendt, Kurt. “Tibet and India Buddhist Traditions and Transformations” The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin LXXI, No. 3. 2014.

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