Buddhist tradition 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.
Images of the Buddha have traditionally been depicted with eyes half-closed in meditation. However, the eyes are not depicted as simple slits but appear carved like the petals of a lotus. The eyebrows in turn resemble two bows arched fluently over the eyes. The nose is well-defined and aquiline and the thin lips on the slim face seem to be tightly pursed in a grim determination. The three, curving, conch-like lines on the Buddha's neck indicate that his speech is as sweet as the voice of the sacred conch.
The shoulders are not broad, but nevertheless sturdy and robust. The right hand upraised in the Abhaya mudra is lithe and supple, with just the slight suggestion of muscle. The fingers are slim and expressive. The left hand, save the palm and wrist, is entirely covered with a shawl which leaves the right shoulder completely bare. The left palm faces upwards, engaged in the Dhyana mudra.
The Buddha sits upright and firm, and though he wears the simple minimal robes of a monk, the drape nevertheless enframes his body with extraordinary grace and elegance. The sculptor's remarkable control over his medium is evident in the expressive plasticity of the composition as also in the finesse of finish he has granted to the sculpture. He has skilfully managed to enclose the Buddha in a taut form which seems to be bursting at the seams, withholding within itself an infinite spiritual potency.
Of Related Interest:
Buddha in the Abhaya Mudra(Wood Sculpture)
Buddha in the Abhaya Mudra (Brass Sculpture)
Mudras of the Great Buddha : Symbolic Gestures and Postures (Article)
The Boon of Fearlessness
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