Deciphering Buddha Imagery

  • By Rick Groleau
  • Posted 02.18.03
  • NOVA

Whether in the form of a wall painting, statue, or some other religious artifact, an image of Buddha is meant to serve as an inspiration to Buddhists and as a way to honor and remember Shakyamuni, the founder of Buddhism (as well as other Buddhas). But there are many depictions in Buddhist art that resemble—yet aren't—"The Enlightened One." This interactive reveals common traits that will help you to recognize an image of the Buddha and to understand the meanings of the five most common hand gestures—or mudras—used in Buddhist art.

Launch Interactive

What you need to know to recognize an image of the Buddha

This feature originally appeared on the site for the NOVA program Lost Treasures of Tibet.


Chanda, Ramaprasad. 1934. "The hair and the Usnisa on the head of the Buddha and the Jinas." Indian Historical Quarterly, September 1934:669-673.

Kumar, Nitin. 2001. "Mudras of the Great Buddha: Symbolic gestures and postures." Exotic India, August 2001.

Vessantara (Tony McMahon). 1993. Meeting the Buddhas: A Guide to Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, and Tantric Deities. Windhorse Publications, 1993.



© WGBH Educational Foundation

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