Whenever you see or hear the name of Myanmar, the first thing came up to your mind are countless temples and pagodas existing at each and every corner of the country. The temples and pagodas are tourist highlights as the country has a legendary background of more than 2000 years of believing in Theravada Buddhism. Buddhism was implanted in Bagan since 11th Century during the reign of King Anawrahta with the advice and attempt of Shin Arahan.
Among thousands of pagodas and temples, the attention and interest of visitors especially international visitors are on architectural styles. What else can take your time expect designs? The impressive positions particularly hand gestures of images are the only answer and every visitor has a curiosity of knowing and understanding why hand gestures are different and the stories behind them. Every Buddha image has different hand positions and each has a unique meaning which reflects the life of Buddha.
According to records, there are about 50 types of hand gestures and it is called in the Pali name of Mudras. The word “Mudra” is derived from Sanskrit language and the origin is India. It means non-verbal mode of communication, self-expression, consisting of hand gestures and finger postures. As the composition of Mudra is depended on the certain movements of the fingers and each finger represents the basic elements of the universe: sky, wind, fire, water and earth respectively starting from thumb. While the Buddha was teaching to his disciples and preaching to humans to be enlightened, his hand positions are referring to different meaning to give proper message.
In spite of having various mudras, I would like to recommend some most commonly found Mudras.
Bhumiparsha Mudra (Earth Touching)
Bhumiparsha Mudra is known as “the Earth Witness Mudra” which can be found in seated position , formed with all five figures of the right hand extended to touch the ground placing upon the right knee and the left hand resting on the lap with palm facing up. It is the posture of the realization of the ultimate truths.
Its history describes that while the Buddha was sitting on the Aprazita Throne under the Bodhi Tree before his enlightenment, the Mara , the God of evil and destruction and his fellows disturbed him not to attain enlightenment.
Thus, the Buddha called out the Earth Goddess to testify the meritorious deeds done in his past lives and to bear the witness of his attainment by touching the ground. The Wathondari came out suddenly and flooded the Mara with her long wet hair and it became one of the eight conquests of his enemies.
It is strongly believed that paying homage to those images can help to overcome our enemies, difficulties and challenges , free from the evil spirits and that kind of images can be found in Kyauk Taw Gyi Pagoda (Mandalay), Botahtaung and Kyaik Wine Pagodas (Yangon), Yan Aung Myin Image (Zalun) and Vesali Images in Mrauk –U.
This Mudra symbolizes the tuning of the wheel of Dharma and the thumb and index finger of both hands touch at their tips and the three remaining fingers of two hands remain extended with the right palm forward and the left palm facing the chest forming a circle representing the wheel of Dharma, the extending three fingers referring to three gems of the Buddha and the significance of the position of the hands in front of the heart is that the Buddha teachings were came straight from his heart.
It reminds the moment when the Buddha preached the first sermon in the deer park on the full moon day of Waso after his enlightenment. Worshiping this pose of images can help to get professional promotion, overcome hardship, understand the truth and gain effecting exercising power and authority.
These images can be found at Alodawpyae Pagoda and Ananda Temple (Bagan), Kyaik Wine and Botahtaung Pogodas(Yangon).
It is the gesture of meditation and the hands are held at the level of stomach or on the tights of the seated image. The right hand is placed on the left with palms facing upwards and the fingers are extended. In some statues, the thumbs are touching each tip and forming a mystic triangle representing the three gems: (the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sanga)
According to history, this gesture is derived from one assumed by the Buddha while meditating under the Papal Tree before his enlightenment. Paying homage to this mudra can gain the benefits of being cool and calm, being free from mental disturbances, improving intellectual power and easy in illuminating Dharma and attaining tranquility of mind complete with will power (Sadhi).This kind of Buddha images can be worshiped at Ananda Temple (Bagan) and Kabar Aye Pagoda(Yangon).
With the meaning of fearlessness, it is usually seen in which the right hand raised to the shoulder’s height, the arm bent and the palm facing outward with the fingers uptight and joined. The left hand hangs down at the side of the body while standing and this indicates the absence of fear and the presence of kindness.
In records, a cousin of the Buddha, Devaddtta jealously attempted to murder the Buddha by forcing a wild elephant to drink alcohol and to attack on the way where people were offering alms to the Buddha .Despite the elephant recklessly, angrily and rudely acted to kill the Buddha, he displayed this Mudra and sent kindness to this elephant .Finally, the elephant felt the shared kindness and calmed down immediately.
It is believed that paying homage to this image can prosper the life in terms of being free from danger and worries, anxious complex of mind and depression. These images can be observed at Shwe Dan Daw , Mya Zedi and Shwesigone in Bagan and Kyauk Taw Gyi in Yangon.
The tips of the thumb and index figure touch each other forming a circle. The right hand is positioned at the shoulder level and the left hand at the hip level in the lap with palm facing upwards.
The right arm is extended in a natural position all the way down, with the palm of the open hand facing outwards towards onlookers. If standing, the arm is held slightly extended to the front and it is signifying five perfections: generosity, morality, patience, effort and meditative concentration through five extended fingers.
There are other remaining mudras but I am sharing which can be apparently found at ease in famous and venerable pagodas and temples. If it is not your first time of visiting Myanmar, this time of visiting will be more meaningful by learning mudras and touching the surface of Buddhism from them. No worries if it is your first time, observing of these mudras can be added on your list and I am sure it is not wasting your time, something will remain in your mind and it is worthwhile of your edutainment tour.
By following calling of Mudras, come and explore in temples and pagodas in Myanmar!