Richie, Cristina. “Symbolism in Asian Statues of the Buddha.” Intermountain West Journal of Religious Studies, 5 no. 1 (2014): 32-51.
Art may have either literal or symbolic function. Iconography- the correlation between symbolic characteristics and otherworldly concepts- is like a code. When the semiotics of the art is studied, deeper meaning can be excavated. In surveying the diverse statues of Buddha from across Asia, certain repetitious themes appear.
The ways in which the various parts of the head, the hands in their mudras, the legs of the Buddha- be it seated or standing- and the accouterments that surround the Enlightened One are created to serve a heuristic function for the devotee. Once these aspects of Buddhist art are understood, additional insight into the account of Siddhartha and the way of Buddha can be more readily internalized. To gaze upon a statue of Buddha and observe the representational details of the head, arms and legs is to understand the cycle of samsara and diligently pursue Nirvana.
Utah State University (website: http://digitalcommons.usu.edu/imwjournal/)