Offering Empathy: The Abhaya Mudra

Shrey MauryaShrey Maurya

Shrey (she/her) holds a bachelor’s in Political Science from Lady Shri Ram College, Delhi University, and a master’s in Visual Art from Ambedkar University, Delhi. She also holds a diploma in South Asian Painting from Jnanapravaha, Mumbai. Her research interests include miniature painting, Buddhist art, handloom textiles, as well as jewellery, perfume and cultures of adornment in the Indian subcontinent. At the MAP Academy, she manages the team, as well as all the content produced under the Encyclopedia of Art and its associated projects. She works from multiple locations.

A Gandharan Shakyamuni Buddha dating to the first century, a Sri Lankan standing Buddha dating to the tenth century and a Tibetan Buddha Amoghasiddhi belonging to the twelfth century, all have one thing in common — the right hand is raised in what is known as the abhaya mudra, a gesture of extending compassionate protection to the devotee. The word abhaya directly translates to fearlessness, and the gesture dispels fear and bestows reassurances of safety, peace and benevolence. Most scholars believe that this particular mudra was used even before the onset of Buddhism, as a symbol of good intentions and a proposal of friendship, when approaching strangers.

One of Buddhism’s five important mudras or gestures, the abhaya mudra is one of the most widely used symbolic and ritual gestures. It is also found in Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism and Sikhism and appears in depictions of deities, saints and great teachers. 

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