Women and East Asian Art

Seated Buddhist Sculptures



Buddha on an Elephant Throne Performing Bhumisparsa Mudra is atrout gallery
sculpture from Myanmar (Burma) during the 18th-19th century. It is made of wood and gold lacquer.  The Buddha has many symbolic meanings from his ushnisha to the elephant throne he is sitting on. Starting at the bottom, this Buddha is sitting on two elephants as a throne.  The pair of elephants symbolize the triumph over temptation.  Another important symbol in this sculpture is the representation of this Buddha’s Bhumisparsa Mudra.  Mudra is the very specific hand placement of the Buddha and can have many different meanings representing rituals, stories, and beliefs. Bhumisparsa mudra represents the idea of immovability and this Buddha’s right hand has all five fingers open intended to touch the ground to summon the earth goddess to witness his enlightenment under the bodhi tree, one of the four life events of the historical Buddha, Shakyamuni.  This Buddha sculpture is also a representation of achieving enlightenment as his hair has many curls in a beautiful pattern with a lotus bud ushnisha.  Another key symbol in this sculpture is the elongated ears and how they reach his shoulders.  The representation of long ear lobes shows how the historical Buddha gave up the luxurious lifestyle of a Prince.  During the Buddha’s early life, the Prince would wear lots of jewelry but when the prince changed to enlightenment, his appearance was more simplistic. It is clearly represented within the simplicity of his clothing which is a singular piece of clothing with very few designs.  Another symbol is the Buddhas eyes being half closed.  This is symbolizing he is in meditation.  Each Buddha representation is a little different from each country because different countries believed that the Buddha had different powers.  Comparing different seated Buddha’s from different countries shows the differences of the ushnisha’s, mudra’s as well as many other important symbolic meanings.

Trout gallery

Seated Buddha from Thailand was made between the fourteenth andTrout gallery sixteenth centuries. This sculpture differs from the wood and gold lacquer sculpture from Myanmar in current exhibition as the materials used here are bronze.  This Thai Buddha has a very different ushnisha than the Myanmar’s lotus bud.  Instead, he is represented with strands of hair pulled into a crown-like headpiece. This sculpture also has a tall ushnisha with a flame finial on the top of the head symbolizing the crown of the Buddha.  The flame like finial is a representation of the Buddha’s fiery spiritual energy.  Another important symbol is the clear indication that the Buddha is in a state of meditation because his eyes are half closed and he has a soft smile on his mouth. Another important symbol this Buddha represents is Dhyana mudra, the hand gesture of meditation.  Both of the Buddha’s hands are placed on his lap with palms up which is Dhyana mudra.  His right hand is a representation of world enlightenment or is sometimes a reference to paradise.  His left hand is a representation of the world appearance or earth/the cycle of birth.  Unlike the Myanmar piece in this exhibition, the Thai Buddha is sitting upon a very simple throne without designs/ornaments of any animals.  This throne features two triangles of simplicity and perfect balance, which is unlike many other thrones that feature lotus petals and elephants. There is also a clear indication that the Buddha is in a state of meditation because his eyes are half closed and he has a soft smile on his mouth.  This Thai Buddha has some similarities but for the most part is very different that the Buddha in Myanmar (Burmese).  Some of the key differences I found were the ushnishas.  Another interesting difference is the thrones that they sit on.





Seated Buddha from Thailand was made in the late 15th-16th century Metmuseumand is another sculpture from Thailand.  This seated Buddha contains many symbols and visualizations similar to the other two sculptures but also has its own unique details.  This Buddha has a beautiful flame-finial ushnisha very similar to the other Thailand Buddha.  His strands of hair are shaped into a flame symbolizing his fiery spiritual energy.  His snail like hair curls have details as each curl looks like a pearl.  This Buddha is clearly in a state of meditation because his eyes are half closed with a little smile on his face.  His ears are also a symbol of when the Buddha became enlightened and began to reject the material world.  The main difference I observed between these two Thailand Buddha’s is their mudra.  This Thai Buddha is representing Bhumisparsa mudra much like the Burmese Buddha.  He has his right-hand facing palm up on his lap and his other hand is resting on his knee palm down.  When a Buddha reached enlightenment, he used the Bhumisparsa mudra to summon the earth to see his victories over seductive illusions.  Another similarity to the other Buddhas is the representation of the simplistic robe.  This robe is created with just a few carvings and looks similar to a belt strap.  I also noticed the sculptor uses very slight lines to outline the Buddha’s pants.  I also believe that the double stacked throne could represent a higher power.  This Buddha sits on a stack of two blocks with a pattern of well-designed dots on the top which might represent royalty.  Comparing these sculptures has allowed me to understand the symbolic and visual meanings of different Buddhist countries and their representations.  I also learned about the meanings of mudra, thrones, and ushnisha’s and the various representations it has to people.

Ian Thompson



Manifestation and Adaptation Variations in Buddhist Sculpture Across Asia. The Trout Gallery Art Museum of Dickinson College


Mudra: What Do Buddhist Hand Gestures Mean?






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