Mudras are a non-verbal mode of communication and self-expression, consisting of hand gestures and finger-postures. They are symbolic sign based finger patterns taking the place, but retaining the efficacy of the spoken word, and are used to evoke in the mind ideas symbolizing divine powers or the deities themselves. The composition of a mudra is based on certain movements of the fingers; in other words, they constitute a highly stylized form of gestureal communication. It is an external expression of 'inner resolve', suggesting that such non-verbal communications are more powerful than the spoken word.
A mudra is used not only to illustrate and emphasize the meaning of an esoteric ritual. It also gives significance to a sculptural image, a dance movement, or a meditative pose, intensifying their potency. In its highest form, it is a magical art of symbolical gestures through which the invisible forces may operate on the earthly sphere.
Here the Buddha, standing upon a doubly auspicious lotus pedestal, makes with his right hand the Abhaya Mudra. Abhaya in Sanskrit means fearlessness. Thus this mudra symbolizes protection, peace, and the dispelling of fear. It is made with the right hand raised to shoulder height, the arm crooked, the palm of the hand facing outward, and the fingers upright and joined. In Thailand and Laos, this mudra is associated with the movement of the walking Buddha (also called 'the Buddha placing his footprint'). It is nearly always used in images showing the Buddha upright, either immobile with the feet joined, or walking (as in this case).
This mudra, which initially appears to be a natural gesture, was probably used from prehistoric times as a sign of good intentions - the hand raised and unarmed proposes friendship, or at least peace; since antiquity, it was also a gesture asserting power, as with the magna manus of the Roman Emperors who legislated and gave peace at the same time.
Buddhist tradition itself has an interesting legend behind this mudra:
Devadatta, a cousin of the Buddha, through jealousy caused a schism to be caused among the disciples of Buddha. As Devadatta's pride increased, he attempted to murder the Buddha. One of his schemes involved loosing a rampaging elephant into the Buddha's path. But as the elephant approached him, Buddha displayed the Abhaya mudra, which immediately calmed the animal. Accordingly, it indicates not only the appeasement of the senses, but also the absence of fear.
With his left hand the Buddha makes the Varada mudra, which symbolizes charity, compassion and boon-granting. This mudra is rarely used alone, but usually in combination with another made with the right hand, most often the Abhaya mudra, as in this sculpture. This combination of Abhaya and Varada mudras is called Segan Semui-in or Yogan Semui-in in Japan.
That the artist is well-versed with the nuances of Buddha's iconography is evident in the depiction of the three supernatural signs of greatness - the urna between the eyebrows, the long earlobes, and the ushnisha (protuberance at the top of the head). The Bleesed One has an inward looking expression, with the semiclosed eyes under heavily arched brows contributing in no small measure to the overall meditative demeanour. The curving nose is sharp and pointed. The flowing monastic robe covers the left shoulder completely while falling only partially on the right. The borders of the drape are incised with decorative patterns including flowers. A beautifully delineated knot holds the garment together high above the waist.
This sculpture was created in the small town of Aligarh, situated in the state of Uttar Pradesh.