Reclining Buddha – UPSC Prelims

What is Reclining Buddha?
  • Reclining Buddha is a statue or image of Buddha lying down on his right side.
  • It represents Buddha during his last illness i.e. about to enter Parinirvana.
  • Parinirvana is the stage of great salvation after death that can only be attained by enlightened souls.
  • The Buddha’s death came when he was 80 years old, in a state of meditation, in Kushinagar in eastern Uttar Pradesh, close to the state’s border with Bihar.

Iconographic Representation of Reclining Buddha:
  • The 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 shows that all beings have the potential to be awakened and release from the cycle of death and rebirth.
Origin of Depiction of Reclining Buddha:
  • The Reclining Buddha was first depicted in Gandhara art which began in the period between 50 BC and 75 AD. It peaked during the Kushana period from the first to the fifth centuries AD.
  • However, since Buddha was against idol worship, his representation was through symbols, in the centuries immediately following his parinirvana (483 BC).
  • But as the devotional aspect subsequently entered Buddhist practice, the iconographic representations of the Buddha also began.
Statues of Reclining Buddha Outside India: Reclining postures are more prevalent in Thailand and other parts of Southeast Asia.
  • The largest reclining Buddha in the world is the 600-foot Winsein Tawya Buddha built-in 1992 in Mawlamyine, Myanmar.
  • The Bhamala Buddha Parinirvana in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province dates back to the 2nd century AD. It is considered the oldest statue of its kind in the world.
Statues of 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.
  • Kushinagar where the Buddha actually attained parinirvana has a 6-metre-long red sandstone monolith statue of the Reclining Buddha inside the Parinirvana Stupa.
Other depictions of the Buddha in India:
  • At the Mahabodhi temple, the Buddha is sitting in the bhoomi-sparsha mudra. 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 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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