Buddha statue (Thailand)

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Sukhothai-style striding Buddha, Wat Benchamabophit , Bangkok

A Buddha statue ( Thai พระพุทธ รูป , phra phuttharup ) is the plastic, mostly idealized image of the Buddha . Most Buddha statues were not created as a work of art for decoration, but rather to remind or teach the viewer of Buddha. The creation of a Buddha statue is seen by believers as a "good deed", which is hoped to have a positive impact on the next rebirth.


For the historical classification of the Buddha statues, see article Buddha statue or article Buddhist art .

Iconography of Thai Buddha statues

In the course of history, special rules developed according to which the enlightened one could be portrayed: special physical characteristics, the monk's clothing, gestures and body postures. All of this has been codified.

The 32 characteristics of a "great man"

Most Buddha statues have some unusual features: sometimes it's a small dot between the eyes, other times it's an image of a wheel on the palms of the hands or feet. Most of the time the Buddha has a bulge or even a flame on his head.

All of these are examples of "supernatural" characteristics that were common to all extraordinary people ( Mahapurusha ) in Indian iconography , be he a universal ruler ( Chakravartin ) or a Buddha .

There are 32 main characteristics (Sanskrit: Lakshana ) and 80 secondary characteristics.

According to legend, when Siddhartha Gautama was born, the seer Asita appeared, who discovered the 32 characteristics of Siddharta and prophesied a great future for him.

These characters were mentioned in many ancient texts, both in Pali and Sanskrit .

Here is a quote from the Digha Nikaya Sutra - "The Longer Collection", a sacred text of the Theravada Buddhists, translated by Karl Eugen Neumann

"Thirty-two, you monks, are the characteristics of a great man with which a man gifted can walk only two tracks, not a third. If he stays in the house, he will become king, emperor, a just and true ruler, a victor to the march of the sea, who gives security to his empire ... And he will have over a thousand sons, brave, heroic, destroyer of the enemy armies. Then he will rule this earth up to the ocean, just triumphing without a stick and without steel.
But if he moves out of the house into homelessness, he will become holy, fully awakened, and remove the veil from the world. "
  1. "There, you monks, the great man has well-solid feet: but that, you monks, the great man has well-solid feet, that is one of the characteristics of a great man in him." (The English translation here says ... "He hath feet with level tread", in German: he has flat feet - but that doesn't fit into the sentence melody and rhythm.)
  2. Next, you monks: below you can see wheels of the great man on the soles of his feet, adorned with a thousand spokes, with rim and hub and all insignia: that too, you monks, is one of the characteristics of him of a great man. "
  3. «Go on then, you monks: the heel is narrow, ...» (The English translation here means “He has protruding heels”, which can be seen well, for example, with the striding Sukhothai Buddha.)
  4. «... long are the toes, ...» (The English translation: "Long are the fingers and the toes, ...")
  5. "... hands and feet are gentle and delicate."
  6. "The conjunctiva between the fingers and toes is broadly curved like a net."
  7. "The instep is scalloped."
  8. "The legs are slender like the gazelle."
  9. "Standing, he can feel and touch his knees with both palms of his hands without bending over."
  10. "The pubic member is hidden in the foreskin."
  11. «The body shines with gold, its skin shines like gold. ... »
  12. "... It is supple, so supple that dust and dirt won't stick to it."
  13. "The hair is individual, the downy hair has grown individually in the pore."
  14. "The down is directed upwards, the downy hairs have grown upwards, black as eyeshadow, curled like rings, turned to the right."
  15. "The figure rises sacred and is even serene to look at."
  16. - - - (The English translation inserts here: "It has the seven convex surfaces.")
  17. "The front body is like the lion, with the broad chest."
  18. - - - (The English translation inserts: "He has no furrow between his shoulders.")
  19. "His stature is a fathom high, his body length corresponds to his arm width, his arm width corresponds to his body length." (The English translation describes here: "Its proportions are those of the Banyan tree: its body length corresponds ...")
  20. "The shoulders are uniform ..."
  21. «... mighty the auricles, ....»
  22. "... the chin like a lion."
  23. "The teeth are complete, ..."
  24. «... evenly joined, ...»
  25. «... not standing apart, ...»
  26. "... the teeth are shiny white."
  27. "The tongue is tremendous ..."
  28. "... the sound of the voice is sacred, a sound like the song of a forest bird." (In the English translation the forest bird is a "caravika bird".)
  29. "The eyes are deep black ..."
  30. "... the eyelashes like bark."
  31. "A flake has grown between the brows, white and soft like cotton." (Sanskrit: Urnah )
  32. "And the tall man has a crest." (The English translation here reads: "He has a head like a royal turban", Sanskrit: Ushnisha )

The elongated earlobes are not on this list, despite the fact that the prince wore heavy earrings that permanently changed the shape of his earlobes. Also wrong is the popular belief that long earlobes promise a long life.

Sukhothai-style Buddha statue, "stopping the sandalwood statue", Wat Benchamabophit, Bangkok

Additional characteristics of the Sukhothai artist

Typical of the Sukhothai style: the hand of the Buddha statue in Wat Si Chum

The artists of the kingdom of Sukhothai followed another list of characteristics used for centuries by Indian poets to describe divine or god-like beings:

  • An oval head "like the shape of an egg" or "like the fruit of the Indian bael tree".
  • Curved eyebrows "like a drawn bow".
  • An aquiline nose "like a parrot's beak".
  • A chin “like the core of a mango” (often emphasized by an elliptical line like a skin fold).
  • Hands "like an opening lotus bud".
  • Shoulders "like the head of an elephant".
  • Arms twisted like the trunk of an elephant.
  • "No representation of bones, muscles or veins".

Postures of Buddha statues

Traditionally, Thai Buddha statues are only shown in certain postures ( iryapatha ) (gestures of the Buddha):

  • Sitting
    • The Indian or heroic pose ( virasana ): Crossed legs - one is on top of the other, usually the right one is on top. In order to get up from this position, only the upper leg has to be swiveled downwards (see picture 1).
    • The Andamant or Yogi Pose ( vajrasana ): Crossed legs - each foot lies on the other thigh, the soles of the feet point upwards (see picture 2). To get out of this posture, one needs the help of one hand. (Not everyone can sit in such a position.)
    • The western (European) pose ( pralambanasana ): Like a person sitting in a chair, the legs hang loosely (see picture 5).
  • Standing: the figure is facing the viewer, both feet are parallel to each other and firmly on the floor (see picture 6)
  • Striding: the body weight of the figure lies on one leg, the other is slightly bent with the heel raised to show the movement (see picture above)
  • Lying: the figure usually lies on its right side, although some exceptions can be observed. Your right hand supports your head while your left hand is stretched out on your left side. Both feet are symmetrical and parallel. The right shoulder rests on the traditional triangular Thai pillow. (see picture 11)

Hand postures of Buddha statues

Meditation style Buddha statues in Wat Suthat

The hand postures ( mudra ) are an important part of iconography. They represent certain actions or events in the life of the Buddha. There are six traditional mudra for Thai Buddha statues:

  • It is a standing or walking figure:
    • He has either raised his right or both hands like a traffic policeman: This hand position is called "Driving away fear" ( Abhaya mudra ). It symbolizes the promise of protection and fearlessness (see picture 6).
    • He has either raised one hand (or more rarely both hands). His index finger and thumb form a circle. This hand position is called "the gesture of instruction" ( Vitarka-mudra ), it is the gesture of teaching and explaining.
    • His right arm is stretched out, the palm is facing forward, the fingers are pointing straight down. This hand position is called "the gesture of granting a wish" ( Varada-mudra ). It symbolizes mercy and permissiveness. There are also some seated figures (e.g. in Wat Pho , Bangkok) with this hand position (see picture 4).
  • It is a seated figure:
    • He has both hands loosely in his lap, one hand on the other, palms facing up. This hand position symbolizes meditation ( Dhyana mudra ). Sometimes the Buddha sits in the meditation posture on the curled up body of a snake (in Thai: Naga Brok - Buddha under the Naga - see picture 3).
    • His left hand lies palm up in his lap. His right hand lies on his right knee, the fingers point downwards: This hand position symbolizes the defeat of the demon Mara , in which the Buddha called on the earth as a witness for his path. ( Bhumisparśa-mudra - literally: "Touching the earth", Thai: Sadung Mara ) It symbolizes the steadfastness of the Buddha (see picture 1).
    • He holds both hands at chest height. The index finger and thumb of each hand form a circle, the fingertips of the left hand touch the right palm: This hand position is called " setting the wheel of teaching in motion" ( Dharmacakra mudra ). Originally, figures with this hand position sat in the Indian pose (see previous page), later this hand position was only used for figures in a European sitting position. Very rare even with standing figures.
  • Traditionally, no special hand postures are distinguished for lying figures. However, there is an unusual exception to this rule at Wat Samphao in Chiang Mai: the Buddha lies on his right side, with his head supported by his right hand rather than a pillow. The left arm lies along his left side and his hand is executed in the "gesture of instruction".

Image examples

Types of Thai Buddha Statues

In addition to the body and hand postures already mentioned, there are many other types of Thai Buddha statues. King Rama III. asked his uncle, the abbot Prince Paramanuchit Chinorot , abbot of Wat Pho in Bangkok, to catalog the confusing variety. Abbot Chinorot described forty different postures of the Buddha in an illustrated treatise, the Pathama Sambodhikatha . Based on these descriptions, King Rama III. later 34 miniature statues (about 10 cm measured from knee to knee) were cast in bronze and set up in the Phra Karamanusorn hall on the grounds of Wat Phra Kaeo .

In the Phra Rabieng (cloister) of the great Phra Pathom Chedi in Nakhon Pathom there are even 80 different types of statues, each with a brief description of the event that this statue represents.

However, most of the poses from the above combinations were not particularly popular, so that the art-historically interesting Buddha statues in Thailand are reduced to the following types:

  • Submission of the Mara (see picture 1 and 2): The Buddha sits in the yoga position. The left hand lies in the lap with the palm facing up. The right hand rests on the right knee and points downwards, the fingers often touching the ground lightly. Often this position is also called: "Calling the earth as a witness", in Thailand pang one called wichai . During his meditation in Bodh Gaya , the demon Mara tried to tempt the Bodhisattva. The evil one offered him riches, power, sensual pleasures, etc., but the Buddha rejected everything. This victory over Mara is actually victory over yourself.
  • Meditation (see picture 3): The Bodhisattva sits in the Indian pose ( virasana ), the hands are in the lap, the right in the left. Usually the eyes are closed or they are focused on the tip of the nose. In Thailand this is the most common posture, it is called pang samadhi or samadhi asara . Especially popular in the Northern school ( Lan Na ) of Thai art, but also in sculptures in Chiang Saen (today Chiang Rai province were) found is the lotus position ( vajrasana ): the legs are tightly crossed, are the hands palm up in your lap. This beautiful posture represents the heroic and decisive episode when the Bodhisattva struggled to find the cause of the suffering and overcoming it, and how he became a Buddha when he saw the solution. This sitting posture is often extended by a seven-headed Naga standing up behind the Buddha and protecting him from a storm (see Figure 3). According to the Thai tradition, the statue of the meditating Buddha is assigned to people who were born on a Thursday. This day is also the day of teachers, judges and lawyers.
  • Resting with the monkey and elephant (see picture 4): The Buddha sits in the western style, the left hand is on the thigh, the right hand on the knee, palm up in the Varada mudra. He is receiving a honeycomb from a monkey and a pot of water from an elephant. When his disciples in Kosambi were at odds with one another, the Buddha sought his rest in a peaceful forest. Here a monkey and an elephant brought him refreshment. This statue is usually called the Phra Phuttha Palalai , but Phra Phuttha Palilaika is also common. The latter name refers to the elephant of the Parileyyaka (Palelayaka) jungle, where the Buddha settled after he left Kosambi. This episode shows that even the members of the animal kingdom cared for the Buddha. This statue is also associated with the people who were born on Wednesday evening.
  • The miracle of Sravasti (see picture 5): The Buddha is mostly shown as a statue seated in the western style, the left hand lies in the lap, the right hand is held at chest level and shows the gesture of instruction (Vitarka-mudra: thumb and index fingers form a circle, the other fingers are almost straight out). This statue can also be shown standing. The miracle of Sravasti was a demonstration of the Buddha's abilities to the unbeliever. The Buddha surrounded himself with a heavenly aura, earthquakes, lightning and thunder accompanied the spectacle.
  • Descending from the Tavatimsa heaven: The Buddha descends a steep staircase from the Tavatimsa heaven. Both hands are raised at hip height and show the Vitarka mudra. The related event: Seven years after his enlightenment, the Buddha visited Tavatimsa Heaven to greet his mother. She died seven days after he was born and has enjoyed Tavatimsa heaven ever since. Over the next three months, the Buddha explained his doctrine to her. Then he was escorted back to earth by two Hindu gods and angels via a wonderful crystal staircase, Brahma is often on a gold staircase on his left, Indra on a silver staircase on his right. This event is also very often depicted in paintings. (By the way, compare the stairs that lead up to the sanctuary of Wat Phra Phutthabat near Saraburi .)
  • Stop the ocean (see picture 6): The Buddha stands upright, both hands are raised as if they were pushing something away. The abhaya mudra with both hands, which the Buddha used to prevent flooding, is called ham samut in Thai . It became a symbol of the Buddha's mastery over passions.
  • He holds up the sandalwood statue (see picture 7): A standing Buddha raises his left hand to stop a sandalwood statue. The right arm hangs loosely by his side. This strange legend happened after the Buddha's sojourn in Tavatimsa heaven, where he preached to his mother. During the master's absence, King Udayana had a sandalwood statue made in his own image. It was placed at the Buddha's seat in the great hall in the Jetavana Garden in Sravasti. When the Buddha returned, the sandalwood statue suddenly came to life as it went to greet the master. With a wave of his hand, the Buddha sent the statue back to its podium. A wonderful example of such a statue can be seen in Phutthamonthon Park near Bangkok. This statue is not to be confused with the following:
  • Resolving the dispute between relatives: The Buddha is shown standing upright, calming his relatives with the abhaya mudra of the right hand. The left arm hangs loosely by his side. This scene took place after the Buddha had been in Tavatimsa heaven for three months and then returned to earth. He settled a dispute among his relatives over water rights on a river that flowed between their properties. His relatives on his father's and mother's side came to a compromise to share the water. Through a mediating conversation, the Buddha managed to get the family to put an end to their previous enmity. Traditionally, this statue is associated with people who were born on a Monday.
  • Looking at the Bodhi tree (see picture 8): After his enlightenment, the Buddha stands upright, his hands crossed in front of his abdomen. The eyes are wide open without blinking, the expression is alert. After his enlightenment, the Buddha pondered for seven days the knowledge he had just acquired under the Bodhi tree . He stood there in full consciousness, both hands loosely crossed in front of his body. So he experienced a feeling of happiness when he realized that his previous life was completely meaningless, when he realized that he had withstood all the temptations of the Mara and that he could thereby serve as an example to people. After a total of 49 days of thoughtfulness, the Buddha decided to share with the other people. He did this in the Sarnath Wildlife Park in Central India. Those seven days under the Bodhi tree were only a brief pause before setting off on his historic mission. This statue is traditionally associated with people who were born on a Sunday.
  • Deep in thought (see picture 9): The Buddha stands upright, his hands are crossed in front of his chest. His expression is calm as he ponders being. When the Buddha returned to the Bodhi tree, he considered how he could explain the cause of the suffering to others, for the Brahmin Sahampati pleaded with him to preach his teaching. He stands in a thoughtful posture, hands pressed to his chest to decide who should receive the Dhamma. At first he thinks of his first two teachers, but through his great insight into all things he realizes that they have already died. So he thinks about more disciples. This statue is associated with the people who were born on a Friday.
  • He holds the alms bowl (see picture 10): The Buddha stands upright and holds an alms bowl with both arms. This posture is meant to remind of the first morning in Kapilavastu after visiting his father's palace. In the early morning the Buddha went on his rounds through the city to receive food from his father's subjects, although his own relatives had made all the preparations to receive him at Nigrodarama. However, they had neglected to ask him the previous evening if he would like to have breakfast with them. Traditionally, this statue is associated with the people who were born on a Wednesday morning.
Resting Buddha in Wat Pho
  • Resting (see also picture 11): The Buddha lies on his right side. The right hand supports the head while the left hand is stretched out on its left side. Both feet are symmetrical and parallel. Usually the right shoulder rests on the traditional triangular Thai pillow. The monk's robe is worn in the traditional “open” way, with the right arm not covered. In the Indian tradition, this sculpture represents the Mahapari-nibanna , i.e. the final entry into nirvana, which ends the earthly career of the Buddha. However, in Thailand after the Sukhothai period, this same pose only depicts the Buddha at rest, called Phra Phuttha Saiyat in Thai . The Indian tradition also prescribes that the representation of the lying body is the same as that of a standing body, only viewed horizontally. Hence the “flying” ends of the monk's robe. In resting sculptures, the soles of the feet are often decorated with the characteristics of a tall person. They are recorded in a Pali list of characteristics (Pali: lakkhana ) that belong to a Buddha as a "universal ruler" ( Chakravartin ) . The most famous example of this is the "Phra Non", the large reclining Buddha in Wat Pho in Bangkok.

See also


Web links

Commons : Buddha Statue  - Collection of Images, Videos and Audio Files

Individual evidence

  1. quoted from http://www.palikanon.de/digha/d30.htm
  2. ^ Carol Stratton: Buddhist Sculpture , 217