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Mahaparinirvana: The significance of Reclining Buddha

India’s largest statue of the Reclining Budhha was to be installed at Budhha Internation Welfare Temple in Bodh Gaya. The ceremony has been put off due to Covid-19 restrictions. The giant 100-foot fibreglass statue, built over three months by a team of 22 artisans in Kolkata, remains a captivating work of art, as much for its size as for the way the Buddha has been depicted.

What is the significance of the Reclining Buddha?

The reclining Buddha is an iconographic representation of the Buddha lying down during the moment of his Mahaparinirvana. It is one of the famous iconographic patterns in Buddhism. They represent the historical Shakyamuni Buddha during his last moments of illness. With reclining Buddha statues, the Buddha is seen lying on the right side while his head is supported by his right hand.

What is Parinirvana or Mahaparinirvana?

  • Parinirvana the stage of great salvation after death that can only be attained by enlightened souls.
  • Mahaparinirvana of the Buddha is supposed to be a very important event that happened in Kushinagar in eastern Uttar Pradesh, close to the state’s border with Bihar; it is not simply a demise, it is the great demise, after which there is no rebirth for him. The Buddha’s death came when he was 80 years old, in a state of meditation.

This posture in the Buddha’s life seems to have originated simultaneously with the other symbols and images of the Buddha. The first depiction of the Reclining Buddha was in Gandhara art, which began in the period between 50 BC and 75 AD, and peaked during the Kushana period from the first to the fifth centuries AD. This particular position of the Buddha is better known as the ‘mahaparinirvanasana’ in Buddhism. 

It is believed that Buddha had known that his death was nearing while in this position, the Buddha asked his disciples to make a couch for him in a bush to make it easy for him to lie down. Although he had attained enlightenment and became the Buddha, as a human being, the Buddha had to leave his physical manifestation. Therefore, his physical demise of the awakened world is termed as Mahaparinirvana, the state beyond Nirvana. The statue hence intends to depict that all beings have the potential to be awakened and be released from the cycle of death and rebirth.

 The serene and smiling expression of the Buddha in the reclining Buddha statue portrays the compassion and calmness that comes with enlightenment. However, as we talk about the significance of the reclining Buddha statue it is important to note that the buddha was against worshipping.

The Associated Art and Aesthetics around the World

 There are many iconic reclining Buddha statues all over the Buddhist nations like Chaukhtatgyi Paya in Burma, Dambulla in Sri Lanka, Wat Pho in Thailand, Monolithic Buddha in Cambodia and many more. These reclining Buddhas are perceived as places of great importance both in religious as well as tourism point of view.

There is an abundance of galleries all over the world with many reclining Buddha statues as they are revered by both the Buddhists and non-Buddhists alike. 

The largest Reclining Buddha in the world is the 600-foot Winsein Tawya Buddha built-in 1992 in Mawlamyine, Myanmar.

A 70-metre statue of the Reclining Buddha was built at the Hindu temple site of Baphuon in Cambodia’s Angkor in the late 15th century. 

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.

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, believed to have been carved in the 5th century AD.

Kushinagar, the actual sport 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

Experts say the Buddha is portrayed in over a hundred poses around the world. While the most common depiction is Sitting Buddha —is believed to be teaching or meditating, the Standing Buddha signifies rising to teach after reaching nirvana.

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 prevalent and famous 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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