The word Asana refers to the divine sitting posture of the divinities. It is also commonly used to denote a seat (throne) or a pedestal of a deity. Asana is one of the most essential components of Pratimā lakṣaṇa (the principles of Iconography related to the posture of icons) when describing a Hindu or a Buddhist deity. It comprises of hand gestures (mudrā), stances or poses (āsanas), and inflexion of the body (bhaṅgas).
Asana: Body posture
Asana refers to the position of the deity’s legs in relation to the body. Understanding the seated or physical posture of a deity is an essential aspect of religious iconography. The asana, in combination with the hand gestures (mudrā), body-color, and implements, along with a number of other characteristics, all contribute to identifying a deity. The basic asanas prevalent in iconography are categorized as Standing (Sthanaka asana), Sitting or Seated (Asana), and Reclining (Sayana asana). In addition to these three fundamental body postures, there are also other postures such as Kneeling, Crouching, and Flying.
Standing (Sthanaka asana)
It refers to a straight-backed standing posture. The major subdivisions of Sthanaka asana are Sampadam, Chapastana, or Nrityamurti and Alidha or Pratyalidha asana. These stances are often accompanied by five body inflexions or bend (bhaṅgas), which are samabhaṅga (samabhanga), abhaṅga (abhanga), dvibhaṅga (dvibhanga), tribhaṅga (tribhanga) and atibhaṅga (atibhanga).
- Samabhanga is the evenly distributed body limbs on a central line while standing or sitting.
- Abhanga is an iconographic term for a slightly crooked or off-center stance.
- Dvibhanga is referred to two bends in the image; at the waist and shoulder.
- Tribhanga is a three-part bend in which the one-sided hip is raised, the body is bent to the opposite side, and the head is angled.
- Atibhanga is a large bend in which the knees are bowed and the body is arched diagonally.
Some of the popular standing Asanas is explained as follows:
It refers to the upright posture, in which the head and torso are held erect and the legs and arms are kept close together. The body exhibits no bending. Bodhisattva is usually shown standing in this stance.
Chapastana (Nrityamurti Asana)
Chapastana, also known as Nrityamurti asana, is associated with the arched position of flying or dancing. This asana is popularly known as Ardhaparyanka Asana (also see Paryankasana). This asana in flying posture symbolizes triumph and liberation, whereas in dancing posture symbolizes wrath and horror.
The weight-bearing leg with the bent knee represents the bow, while the other leg, drawn up against the torso, represents the arrow. Female deities are usually depicted standing on the left leg, whilst masculine deities are depicted standing on the right. This asana is performed by dancing Shiva, Tantric deities, and others, such as Nairatma, Vidhyadhari, Vajravarahi, and Chintamani Lokeswar among others.
Alidha is commonly used to depict wrathful or semi wrathful deities like Bhairab, Durga, Dakini, and Chakrasambara, among others. This is a standing stance in which the right leg straightens and the left knee bends. On the contrary, if the right knee bends and the left leg straightens, then the stance is called Pratyalidha. These stances give the impression that the body is leaning to one side or the other. This is a dynamic stance in which the portrayed subject suggests movement. Alidha symbolizes heroism whereas Pratyalidha symbolizes destruction and disgust.
This is a posture in which the buttocks carry the weight rather than the feet, and the back is often upright.
Padmasana, also known as lotus position, is a cross-legged seated asana in which the soles of both feet face upward while resting on opposing thighs and the body is maintained upright. In other common variations of Padmasana, only one foot is placed facing upwards on the opposite thigh(half lotus pose) and sometimes, the legs are crossed with both feet under the opposing thighs (also known as Sukhasana, or easy pose). Padmasana is also known as Paryaṅkāsana (Paryankasana) or Vajraparyaṅkāsana (Vajraparyankasana) in Buddhist tradition, whereas Kamalāsana (Kamalasana) in Hindu tradition.
Padmasana denotes deep meditation and concentration. Generally, Dhyani Buddhas such as Amitabha, Shakyamuni, Vajradhara, among others, are portrayed in this posture with the exception of Maitreya in some cases. Similarly, Hindu deities such as Goddesses Lakṣmī, and Sarasvatī among others, are also portrayed in this posture. When one leg is folded and the other foot is resting on the thigh of the folded leg, it is called ardhapadmāsana. Generally Hindu deity Indra is depicted in this position.
Lalita, also known as a pose of ease, is the asana with the most flexibility. Usually, one leg (typically the right) is pendant down to touch the ground or rest on support (often a secondary lotus pedestal), while the other is in the traditional meditative stance. Sometimes, a reverse stance is also observed. Deities such as Green Tara, Basudhara, Jambhala are depicted in this pose with one leg suspended over the lotus seat, while he/she sits on a throne with the other leg tucked inwards on the seat.
Maharajalila is also called Rajalila or Lilasana or Ardhaparyanka (seated) asana. This is the asana where both legs are on the same pedestal; one of the knees is raised while the other is bent in the usual position of a Buddha. This pose is generally observed in the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas from Mahayana and Vajrayana tradition. This pose is also observed in Hindu Deities such as Indra. Generally Hindu deities are depicted in this posture.
This asana resembles the Western fashion of sitting with both legs dangling or placed next to each other on the ground below, with a straight back. Often Buddha Maitreya is depicted in this posture as either a Buddha or a Bodhisattva. Similarly, female deities Vajraśāradā and Vaśyatārā are also portrayed in this posture.
This is a reclined or sleeping position. This posture is commonly associated with Buddha and the Hindu God Vishnu. The posture signifies complete tranquility and detachment from the outside world.
Kneeling is a posture in which the body is lowered to the ground, with one leg supporting the body and the other leg pressing into the ground as the knee is bent. This posture is divided into three categories: right knee, left knee, and both knees bent. In general, Hindu deities Hanuman, Garuda, and Bhuvaraha, as well as Buddhist deities Yellow Parnashavari, and Blue or White Achala are portrayed in this posture. Similarly, the vast majority of donor figures are portrayed kneeling on both legs.
This is a stance in which the knees are bent and the body is lowered and leaning slightly forward. The identical posture may be expressed with the posterior seated on the ground and the knees raised up in front of the body, with the legs crossed loosely. Deities such as Pratisara, Vina Saraswati and Vajradaka are portrayed in this position.
This is a posture in which the legs are raised over the head. The body and legs are typically depicted leaping into the air, or sometimes one or both legs wrapped behind the shoulders in a yoga pose. Various forms of Vajrayogini, and Kacho Karmo are portrayed in a flying posture.
The term asana can also refer to the pedestal on which the represented figure is depicted seated or standing. The majorly illustrated pedestals are Kurmasana, Makarasana, Padmasana, Singhasana, and many more.
- Kurmasana is the pedestal supported by the tortoise. Generally, the Hindu river goddess Ganga is depicted mounting this pedestal.
- Makarasan is the pedestal of a mythical being Makara. Hindu river goddess Ganga is usually depicted mounted on this pedestal.
- The pedestal supported by lions is called Singhasana. It is the mount of Vairochana Buddha, Manjushree, Maitreya, and Avalokiteshvara among others.
Padmasana is a sacred base or a throne of lotus. It symbolizes the origin of all life. Padmasana is occasionally carried by vehicles of deities such as elephants, lions, tortoise and other mythical beings. Padmasana is commonly depicted in two ways: single row (Padmasana) and double row (Visvapadmasana). Visvapadmasana implies a high status, with lotus petals pointing upwards signifying the heavens, while the lotus petals facing downwards signify the mortal realm.
- Beer, R., (1999). The Encyclopedia of Tibetan symbols and motifs. Boston: Shambhala.
- Beer, R., (2003). The Handbook of Tibetan Buddhist Symbols. Boston: Shambhala.
- Bhattacharya, B., (1958). The Indian Buddhist Iconography. Calcutta: K.L. Mukhopadhyay.
- Bose, P.N., (1926). Principles of India Silpasastra. Lahore: The Punjab Sanskrit Book Depot.
- Gopinath, T.A., (1916). Elements of Hindu Iconography. Madras: The Law Printing House.
- Jansen, E.r., (2002). The book of Buddhas: Ritual symbolism used on Buddhist Statuary and ritual objects. New Delhi: New Age Books.
- Sakya, J.B., Short description of Gods, Goddesses and ritual objects of Buddhism and Hinduism in Nepal. Nepal: Handicraft Association of Nepal.
- “>sreenivasarao’s blogs
- Photos, Adobe Stock, Himalayan Art Resources