Recognize asanas and other postures – Part 1

- through Fabrice Groult

Published on

First part of the gallery of postures of Buddhist characters and deities, devoted to seated postures, or asanas.

This recognition is complex: if the oldest mudras (“symbolic gestures”) often correspond to a precise event, the posture alone does not make it possible to recognize a scene, an event or a character; it participates, in the same way as the rest of the body, in a global expression which, it, will allow the sought identification.

A number of attitudes and postures draw their oldest sources from the treatises of yoga and dance of ancient India; the meditation posture, the most usual posture to represent the historical Buddha, is even represented on seals from the Indus civilization, four thousand years ago.
It is customary to distinguish between sitting, kneeling and half-raised, standing, lying, flying and joint attitudes. In this first part devoted to seated postures, we present the main attitudes adopted in Buddhist iconography, any exhaustive analysis being impossible, because, when we go into the detail of the representations, the number of postures is unlimited!

1-The postures sitting with both legs bent

The seated posture, seemingly simple, turns out to be complex when all the possible combinations are analyzed: legs more or less crossed with the soles of the feet visible; left foot on the right thigh, the right foot being invisible; right foot on the left thigh, the left foot being invisible; thighs slightly raised with the feet then resting on the seat; one foot resting on one thigh and the other on the seat...

The lotus posture

The meditation or lotus posture, padmasana – also called vajrasana or vajraparyanka (diamond posture) - is the most famous of all the postures, it is the one adopted by Gautama Shakyamuni Buddha during his meditations at the foot of the bodhi tree, during Mara's assault and during her Awakening.
The legs are crossed, the feet rest on the opposite thigh, the two soles of the feet are visible. This posture of the ascetic in meditation, in addition to the Buddha, concerns all the deities and historical figures of the Buddhist pantheon during their meditation.

Some other seated postures with bent legs

There are variations of the lotus posture; we present some diagrams below: legs more or less crossed, knees more or less raised, soles of the feet more or less visible.
In the “half-lotus” posture, virasana or ardhapadmasana, symbol of heroism, only one foot is visible; one of the two feet rests on the ground and the opposite thigh covers it while the other foot, whose sole can be seen, rests on the thigh.

In the noble attitude, sattvaparyanka, the figure is seated cross-legged, the legs are folded over each other, they are not crossed, the feet rest on the floor or the seat, only one sole of the feet is visible .

In the sattvasana attitude, the feet are crossed at the level of the ankles, the right foot is located in front; it is the symbol of attention to others.

In the utkutakasana or yogasana posture, the knees are raised and the hands rest on them, the legs are crossed at the ankles, the soles of the feet rest on the floor or on the seat. This posture is adopted by ascetics in meditation or by the tantric goddess Uluki of the lineage of Amitabha.

2-Seated postures with one leg bent

The posture of royal ease – maharajalilasana

In this posture, the figure is seated, both legs are apart, the left leg is bent on the seat, toes curved towards the ground or lying on the side; the right leg is straightened, knee bent, toes curved towards the ground, the arm rests on the knee by the wrist or the forearm; the opposite attitude right leg bent and left leg straightened bears the same name.

The pose of the thinker – mahakarunika

The posture of thinking characters is very old: there are representations of Mara in this form as early as the XNUMXnd century BC. J.-C. on the barrier of the stupa of Bharhut, but it is especially in the Gandharian reliefs that the ancient examples abound, with the example of the young Siddhartha during the first meditation, during the great renunciation and when the gods l invite to preach after his enlightenment; likewise, disciples and devotees (parayaṇa) of Shakyamuni are represented in this attitude; finally, and still in Gandhara, the most famous examples show representations of Avalokitesvara. According to Louis Frédéric, this attitude then passed to China, Korea and then Japan; one finds in these different countries very beautiful sculptures of Maitreya, Manjusri and Avalokitesvara in this posture.

There are many variations of this attitude, palm of the hand or index finger placed on the cheek or on the forehead, attitude leaning on the right side or on the left side...

The pose with the right leg hanging down - lalitasana

Lalitasana or ardhaparyanka or lalitaksepa: both legs are apart, the left leg is bent on the seat and the sole touches the right thigh, the right leg hangs down, it is a symbol of serenity.

The posture with the hanging left leg – vamardhaparyanka

In the opposite attitude, vamardhaparyanka or vamordhvaparyanka, the right leg is bent and the left leg hangs down; this posture is common in Manjusri, but it is found in other deities like Vajrapani.

3-Seated postures with both legs stretched out 

The favorable posture, bhadrasana, or hanging-legged posture, pralambapasana, is called “European posture” or “royal posture”. Depending on the case, the legs are straight or slightly apart, the feet rest on the ground or on a cushion. This posture is adopted in all countries practicing Buddhism, all styles of Buddhist art and all schools. Maitreya is often depicted in this form which is also found in Dvaravati art, as in the chosen illustration.

The kneeling posture – januparyanka

The deity can be kneeling on the left side or on the right side as in the present illustration where the right knee rests on the ground, the left leg is bent and supports the elbow. This statue represents Acala, protective deity of the northeast and of the teachings of Shakyamuni. This deity is represented in xylography in several canonical or iconographic works of the XNUMXth and XNUMXth centuries and in statue in one of the chapels of the Pao-hsiang Lou pavilion of the forbidden city of Beijing.

In partnership with the Institute of Buddhist Studies (

photo of author

Fabrice Groult

Fabrice Groult is an adventurer, photographer and Buddhist who has traveled the world since a young age. After studying Buddhism in India, he embarked on an eighteen-month journey through Asia that took him to the Himalayas, where he discovered his passion for photography. Since then, he has traveled the world capturing images of Buddhist beauty and wisdom. He was a guide for ten years, and is now a journalist with Buddhist News.

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