Abhaya Mudra: Symbol of Fearlessness in Buddhist and Hindu Traditions


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What’s in today’s article?

  • Why in News?
  • Mudras in Buddhism
  • Abhaya mudra in Hindu religion

Why in News?

In his first speech as the Leader of the Opposition in Lok Sabha, Rahul Gandhi referred to the abhaya mudra, a gesture with a raised open palm that symbolizes reassurance and freedom from fear.

He said that the abhaya mudra was a common thread in the depictions of Lord Shiva, Guru Nanak, and Jesus Christ, and also figured in Islam, Buddhism, and Jainism.

Mudras in Buddhism

  • About Mudras
    • Mudras are a non-verbal mode of communication and self-expression, consisting of hand gestures and finger postures. 
    • They are symbolic sign-based finger patterns taking the place, but retaining the efficacy of the spoken word, and are used to evoke in the mind ideas symbolizing divine powers or the deities themselves.
    • The composition of a mudra is based on certain movements of the fingers; in other words, they constitute a highly stylized form of gestureal communication.
  • Mudras in Buddhism
    • Mudras also represent the dominant themes in particular episodes of the Buddha’s life, making the gestures useful as narrative and pedagogical devices for viewers familiar with the symbolism. 
    • While there are a large number of esoteric mudras, over time Buddhist art has retained only five of them for the representations of the Buddha. 
      • Images of the Buddha which exhibit mudras other than these are extremely rare. 
    • The significance of these mudras can be gauged from the fact that each of the five transcendental (Dhyani) Buddhas is assigned one of these mudras, and they are invariably depicted in visual arts with this particular mudra only.
  • Five primary mudras
    • The abhaya mudra
      • One of the five commonly depicted mudras in Buddhism, the abhaya mudra is associated with the fifth Dhyani-Buddha, Amoghasiddhi. 
      • The gesture symbolizes 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.
    • The dharmachakra mudra
      • This mudra is associated with the first Dhyani-Buddha, Vairochana, who is one of the five aspects of Buddha according to the Tibetan concept of the five-Buddha families.
        • Dharmachakra in Sanskrit means the 'Wheel of Dharma'. 
      • This mudra symbolizes one of the most important moments in the life of Buddha, the occasion when he preached to his companions the first sermon after his Enlightenment in the Deer Park at Sarnath. 
      • In this mudra the thumb and index finger of both hands touch at their tips to form a circle. 
      • This circle represents the Wheel of Dharma, or in metaphysical terms, the union of method and wisdom. 
        • The three remaining fingers of the two hands remain extended.
    • The bhumisparsha mudra
      • It symbolizes the moment of inception of the Buddha, when the prince Siddhartha attained enlightenment under the pipal tree (also known as the bodhi tree). 
      • Literally translated to “earth touching mudra,” it is also often referred to as the “earth witness” and is usually associated with the Dhyani-Buddha Akshobhya.
      • The figure depicting the mudra is always shown in the seated position, with the right hand reaching over the knee so that all five fingers extend downwards to touch the earth.
      • The gesture is believed to be an invocation of the earth goddess, who witnessed the Buddha’s ascendance to the state of enlightenment. 
      • The mudra is also thought to proclaim the defeat of temptation and evil intention, personified by the demon king, and challenge his supremacy.
    • The varada mudra
      • The varada mudra is associated with the third Dhyani-Buddha Ratnasambhava.
      • It is depicted or performed in both the sitting and standing positions and is commonly known as the “boon-granting” mudra, or dana mudra. 
      • In India, this mudra makes its earliest appearance in depictions of Avalokitesvara during the fourth and fifth centuries.
      • The mudra is almost always depicted using the left hand, with the palm and all five fingers angled downward and facing the viewer.
    • The dhyana mudra
      • Dhyana, meaning “meditation” in Sanskrit, denotes a state of concentration and is most commonly associated with the fourth Dhyani-Buddha, Amitabha.
      • The dhyana mudra is performed in the seated padmasana (cross-legged) position and is usually depicted using both hands, with the hands held at the level of the stomach and resting on the thigh or lap; the right hand, with all fingers fully extended is placed palm-up over the similarly placed left hand.

Abhaya mudra in Hindu religion

  • Over time, the abhaya mudra appeared in depictions of Hindu deities, and the Buddha himself was absorbed into the Hindu pantheon as the ninth avatar of the Puranic god Vishnu.
  • As multiple traditions, practices, and cultural influences mingled in the great melting pot of the Indian subcontinent, mudras were seen in art and visual depictions of gods. 
  • The abhaya mudra was seen in divine depictions, most commonly of Buddha, Shiva, Lord Vishnu, and Lord Ganesh.

Q.1. What is Buddhism?

Buddhism is a spiritual and philosophical tradition founded by Siddhartha Gautama (the Buddha) in the 5th century BCE. It teaches the path to enlightenment through practices like meditation, ethical conduct, and wisdom to end suffering.

Q.2. Who was Guru Nanak?

Guru Nanak was the founder of Sikhism and the first of the ten Sikh Gurus. Born in 1469 in present-day Pakistan, he taught messages of equality, devotion to one God (Ik Onkar), and social justice through his travels and teachings.

Source: What is the significance of ‘abhaya mudra’, invoked by Rahul Gandhi in Parliament | Deccan Herald | Standford Edu