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Although the Buddha was not represented in human form until around the 1st century CE (see Buddhist art), the Physical characteristics of the Buddha are described in one of the central texts of the traditional Pali canon, the Digha Nikaya, in the discourse titled "Sutra of the Marks" (Pali: Lakkhana Sutta) (D.iii.142ff.).
These characteristics comprise 32 signs, "The 32 signs of a Great Man" (Pali: Lakkhana Mahapurisa 32), and were supplemented by another 80 Secondary Characteristics (Pali:Anubyanjana). These traits are said to have defined the appearance of the historical Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama and have been used symbolically in many of his representations.
Although many of the characteristics described in these texts are rather poetic and lack informational value, some of them are quite specific and help define the global aspect of the historical Buddha as recorded in the Pali canon:
- The Buddha had an elongated, lengthy body with long appendices (long arms with a span equal to body length, long fingers, long hands, elongated face, protruding and well-formed nose).
- His hair was fine, dark and with soft, long curls.
- His eyes were wide, and strongly blue or bluish.
- His body was light-colored and golden, with a pinkish color under the nails.
The 32 signs of the Great Man
There are 32 main characteristics (Pali: Lakkhana Mahapurisa 32):
- He has feet with a level sole (Pali: supati thapado). Note: "feet with level tread,/ so that he places his foot evenly on the ground,/ lifts it evenly,/ and touches the ground evenly with the entire sole." (Lakkhana Sutta)
- He has wheel marks on soles (Pali: he thapadatalesu cakkani jatani).
- He has projecting heels (Pali: ayatapa ni).
- He has long fingers and toes (Pali: digha nguli).
- His hands and feet are soft-skinned (Pali: mudutalahathapado).
- He has netlike lines on palms and soles (Pali: jalahathapado).
- He has
high raised ankles (Pali: ussa nkhapado).
- He has taught calf muscles like an antelope (Pali: e nimigasadisaja ngho).
- He can touch his knees without bending (Pali: thitako va anonamanto).
- His sexual organs are concealed in a sheath (Pali: kosohitavatguyho).
- His complexion is bright, the color of gold (Pali: suva n nava no). Note: "His body is more fair than all/ the Gods he seems, great Indra's like" (Lakkhana Sutta).
- His skin is so fine that no dust can attach to it (Pali: sukhumacchavi).
- His body hair are separate with one hair per pore (Pali: ekekalomo).
- His body hair is bluish and curls clockwise (Pali: uddhagalomo).
- He has a godlike upright stance (Pali: brahmujugatto).
- He has the seven convexities of the flesh (Pali: satusado). Note: "the seven convex surfaces,/ on both hands, both feet, both shoulders, and his trunk." (Lakkhana Sutta)
- He has a chest like a lion's (Pali: sihapuba dhakayo).
- There is no hollow between his shoulders (Pali: pitantara mso).
- The distance from hand-to-hand and head-to-toe is equal (Pali: nigrodhaparima n dalo). Note: incidentally, these are also the ideal proportions according to Leonardo Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man.
- He has a round and smooth neck (Pali: samva d dakhando).
- He has sensitive taste-buds (Pali: rasagasagi).
- His jaw is like a lion's (Pali: sihahanu).
- He has 40 teeth (Pali: cata.lisadanto). Note: The average person normally has 32 teeth.
- His teeth are evenly spaced (Pali: samadanto).
- His teeth are without gaps in-between (Pali: avira ladanto).
- He has crystal-like canine teeth (Pali: sukadanto).
- He has a large, long tongue (Pali: pahutajivho).
- He has a voice like a Brahman’s (Pali: brahmasaro hiravikabha ni).
- He has very blue eyes (Pali: abhi nila netto). Note 1: "very (abhi) blue (nila) eyes (netto)" is the literal translation, although it has been interpreted variously as actually blue, or possibly blue-black. Nila is the word used to describe a sapphire and the color of the sea, but also the color of a rain cloud. It also defines the color of the Hindu God Krishna. Note 2: "His lashes are like
a cow's; his eyes are blue./ Those who know such things declare/ 'A child which such fine eyes/ will be one who's looked upon with joy./ If a layman, thus he'll be/ Pleasing to the sight of all./ If ascetic he becomes,/ Then loved as healer of folk's woes.'" (Lakkhana Sutta)
- His eyes are like a cow's (Pali: gopa mukho). Note: Probably refers to large eyes and long eyelashes.
- He has a white soft wisp of hair in the center of the brow (Pali: una loma bhamukantare jata). Note: this became the symbolic urna.
- His head is like a royal turban (Pali: u nahisiso).
The 80 secondary characteristics
There are also 80 secondary characteristics (Pali: Anubyanjana):
- He has beautiful fingers and toes.
- He has well-proportioned fingers and toes.
- He has tube-shaped fingers and toes.
- His fingernails and toenails have a rosy tint.
- His fingernails and toenails are slightly upturned at the tip.
- His fingernails and toenails are smooth and rounded without ridges.
- His ankles and wrists are rounded and undinted.
- His both feet are equal length.
- He has a beautiful gait, like that of a king-elephant.
- He has a stately gait, like that of a king-lion.
- He has a beautiful gait, like that of a swan.
- He has a majestic gait, like that of a royal ox.
- His right foot leads when walking.
- His knees have no protruding kneecaps.
- He has the demeanour of a great man.
- His navel is without blemish.
- He has a deep-shaped abdomen.
- He has clockwise marks on the abdomen.
- His thighs are rounded like banana sheafs.
- His two arms are shaped like an elephant's trunk.
- The lines on the palms of his hands have a rosy tint.
- His skin is thick or thin as it should be.
- His skin is unwrinkled.
- His body is spotless and without lumps.
- His body is unblemished above and below.
- His body is absolutely free of impurities.
- He has the strength of 1,000 crore elephants or 100,000 crore men. Note: A crore is equal to 10 millions.
- He has a protruding nose.
- His nose is well proportioned.
- His upper and lower lips are equal in size and have a rosy tint.
- His teeth are unblemished and with no plaque.
- His teeth are long like polished conches.
- His teeth are smooth and without ridges.
- His five sense-organs are unblemished.
- His four canine teeth are crystal and rounded.
- His face is long and beautiful.
- His cheeks are radiant.
- The lines on his palms are deep.
- The lines on his palms are long.
- The lines on his palms are straight.
- The lines on his palms have a rosy tint.
- His body emanates a halo of light extending around him for two meters.
- His cheek cavities are fully rounded and smooth.
- His eyelids are well proportioned.
- The five nerves of his eyes are unblemished.
- The tips of his bodily hair are neither curved nor bent.
- He has a rounded tongue.
- His tongue is soft and has a rosy-tint.
- His ears are long like lotus petals.
- His earholes are beautifully rounded.
- His sinews and tendons don't stick out.
- His sinews and tendons are deeply embedded in the flesh.
- His topknot is like a crown.
- His forehead is well-proportioned in length and breadth.
- His forehead is rounded and beautiful.
- His eyebrows are arched like a bow.
- The hair of his eyebrows is fine.
- The hair of his eyebrows lies flat.
- He has large brows.
- His brows reach the outward corner of his eyes.
- His skin is fine throughout his body.
- His whole body has abundant signs of good fortune.
- His body is always radiant.
- His body is always refreshed like a lotus flower.
- His body is exquisitely sensitive to touch.
- His body has the scent of sandalwood.
- His body hair is consistent in length.
- He has fine bodily hair.
- His breath is always fine.
- His mouth always has a beautiful smile.
- His mouth has the scent of a lotus flower.
- His hair has the colour of a dark shadow.
- His hair is strongly scented.
- His hair has the scent of a white lotus.
- He has curled hair.
- His hair does not turn grey.
- He has fine hair.
- His hair is untangled.
- His hair has long curls.
- He has a topknot as if crowned with a flower garland.