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Reclining Buddha and his various depictions in art

  • Category
    History & Culture
  • Published
    1st Jun, 2021

India’s largest statue of the Reclining Buddha was to have been installed at the Buddha International Welfare Mission temple in Bodh Gaya, On Buddha Jayanti, Buddha Purnima, or Vesak,.


India’s largest statue of the Reclining Buddha was to have been installed at the Buddha International Welfare Mission temple in Bodh Gaya, On Buddha Jayanti, Buddha Purnima, or Vesak,.

  • It is a giant 100-foot fibreglass statue built over three months by artisans in Kolkata.

The Reclining Buddha

  • A reclining Buddha statue or image represents The Buddha during his last illness, about to enter Parinirvana, the stage of great salvation after death.
  • The Buddha’s death came when he was 80 years old, in a state of meditation, in Kushinagar in eastern Uttar Pradesh.

About Buddha Purnima

  • It is celebrated to mark the birth of Gautam Buddha, the founder of Buddhism.
  • It is considered a 'triple-blessed day' - as Tathagata Gautam Buddha's birth, enlightenment, and Maha Parnirvana.
  • It is believed that all the above three events occurred on this day.
  • Buddha Purnima falls on a full moon night, usually between April and May, and it is a gazetted holiday in India.
  • Buddha Purnima celebration is all about praying with the purest of feelings, and adopting what Buddhism stands for – peace, non-violence and harmony.
  • In 2000, the United Nations (UN) resolved to internationally observe the day of Vesaka at its headquarters and offices.
  • It also signifies the Buddha’s last deeksha even while on his deathbed, he took a follower into the fold.
  • As the devotional aspect subsequently entered Buddhist practice, however, iconographic representations of The Buddha began.
  • Statues and images of the Reclining Buddha show him lying on his right side, his head resting on a cushion or on his right elbow.
  • It is a popular iconographic depiction in Buddhism, and is meant to show that all beings have the potential to be awakened and be released from the cycle of death and rebirth.

How Reclining Buddha came into existence?

  • The Reclining Buddha was first depicted in Gandhara art.
  • It began in the period between 50 BC and 75 AD, and peaked during the Kushana period from the first to the fifth centuries AD, Dr Manwatkar said.
  • Buddha was against idol worship, in the centuries immediately following his parinirvana (483 BC), his representation was through symbols.

Reclining Buddha in India

  • Cave No. 26 of the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Ajanta contains a 24-foot-long and nine-foot-tall sculpture of the Reclining Buddha.
  • It is believed to have been carved in the 5th century AD.
  • It shows the Buddha reclining on his right side, and behind him are two sala trees.
  • At the base of the sculpture are his begging bowl, a water pitcher and walking stick.
  • While his disciples are shown sitting in mourning, celestial beings are shown on top, rejoicing in anticipation of the Buddha’s arrival in heaven.
  • Kushinagar, where the Buddha actually attained parinirvana, has a 6-metre-long red sandstone monolith statue of the Reclining Buddha inside the Parinirvana Stupa.

Reclining Buddha in other parts of the World

  • Reclining postures are more prevalent in Thailand and other parts of South East Asia.
  • The largest Reclining Buddha in the world is the 600-foot Winsein Tawya Buddha built in 1992 in Mawlamyine, Myanmar.
  • In the late 15th century, a 70-metre statue of the Reclining Buddha was built at the Hindu temple site of Baphuon in Cambodia’s Angkor.
  • The Bhamala Buddha Parinirvana in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, which dates back to the 2nd century AD, is considered the oldest statue of its kind in the world.
  • There are several statues of the Reclining Buddha in China, Thailand, Japan, Indonesia, and Malaysia.

Other depictions of the Buddha

  • Sitting postures, the most common depiction, mostly pertaining to his Enlightenment rather than to his demise.
    • At the Mahabodhi temple, the Buddha is sitting in the bhoomi-sparsha mudra, where his hand is pointing towards the ground.
      • It symbolises earth as being witness to his enlightenment.
  • At Sarnath, where the Buddha gave his first sermon, the stone statue has a hand gesture called the dharma-chakra mudra, which signifies preaching.
      • This is also the most popular depiction in India, along with the Bodhi tree depiction.
  • The Walking Buddha, it is either beginning his journey toward enlightenment or returning after giving a sermon.
    • This is the least common of the Buddha postures, and is seen mostly in Thailand.

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