Intensive research during the last twenty-five
years has shown that footprints of the Buddha exist in Afghanistan,
Bhutan, Cambodia, China, India, Japan, Korea, Laos, Malaysia, the Maldives,
the Union of
of the existing examples have been meticulously examined, interpreted,
drawn and catalogued during this period. There are considerable variations between, and within, each country
that have resulted from the source texts used in their preparation and
the prevailing schools of Buddhist thinking at the particular point in
Each footprint reflects a particular time and place in a culture. Construction materials vary considerably and range from alabaster to
silver and gold. According
to present research, stone appears to be the only material used during a
thousand-year period. During
the 12th century in Bagan, Union of Myanmar, the footprints were often
presented as a pair and in mural form on the ceilings at entrances to
religious structures. These
depictions were probably used as meditation devices. In Bagan, 78
existing murals have been studied. Some are intact, whereas from others only small
fragments remain. Just one Buddha footprint made from stone remains in
this ancient city. Although
this left footprint has been attributed to the Bagan Period (B.E. 1583 to
1830, A.D. 1040 to 1287), this dating remains in doubt.
When the historical period from 250 B.C. until now
is reviewed, Bagan features prominently in the study of the Buddha
footprints due to their abundance in this historic and ancient city.
Although Bagan is situated in a sensitive earthquake area, a rich and
incredible resource of Buddhist relics remains until the present day.
More than 2,000 individual sites and approximately 17 buildings
with five sides exist and it is likely that each building contained a
pair of painted Buddha footprints on their ceilings.
Some footprints do not contain embellishments, iconography or auspicious
illustrations whilst others are heavily embellished and contain many
icons and illustrations. It
is most likely that in one particular period, from circa 100 B.C. until
circa the 4th to 6th century A.D., in Sri Lanka eight auspicious illustrations were
often used as form of embellishment. During a later period, from the
1st century A.D. to the 4th
century A.D., it seems that a tradition of only using eight
auspicious illustrations also existed in southern India.
Early footprints have often been complex to read.
Readings have been facilitated by the work of Peter Skilling, a
Tibetan and Sanskrit scholar of the Pali Text Society in London.
In the early stages of the Buddha footprint lineage it is unclear
as which foundation texts were used. The material presence of many
footprints remains, yet their
inspirations are not always known.
|In Bagan, all
footprints contain 108 auspicious illustrations; others are devoid of markings or
illustrations. Our current knowledge of the existing texts suggests that only
Pali texts were used in Bagan to create the footprints.
line drawing of the Himavanta-pabbata,
an auspicious illustration, has been extracted from the Shwe Min-Wun site,
Union of Myanmar.
texts in Pali and Sanskrit have been extensively studied to ascertain
their relevancy to particular footprints and to identify the symbols
studied include the Jinalankara-tika
(A.D. 1157), Samanta-bhaddika
(5th century A.D.), and the Pathama Sambodhi (circa 14th century A.D.).
The texts have been examined in both their palm leaf
and copied forms. The
first two texts were Sinhala script Pali texts that have subsequently
been transcribed into a wide range of other scripts, particularly in
South East Asia. The
earliest list of 108 auspicious illustrations used for the footprints is
dated to the reign of King Dhatusena (B.E.: 998 to 1016; A.D.: 455 to 473).
A line drawing of
the left Footprint at Pakhan-gyi, Union of Myanmar, the world's largest
first Buddha footprints appeared during the appatima
period that started in the earliest period of Buddhism and which
remained strong until the 4th century A.D.
Recent indications suggest that the date extends further and that
the tradition continued for a longer period in Sri Lanka. This country was the base of the tradition and many
Buddha footprint artefacts date to more than 2,000 years earlier.
Stone was normally used and pairs of footprints made.
Sinhala script Pali texts of Jinalankara-tika
and Samanta-bhaddika were
written in Sri Lanka.
written when Anuradhapura was in its glory with the second text written
during the period when Polonuruva was in its glory.
Each text provides lists of 108 auspicious illustrations;
however, an artefact with 108 illustrations has not yet been found in
During the Bagan
Period (B.E.: 1583 to 1830; A.D.:
1040 to 1287), most of the several thousands of pairs of Buddha
footprints were prepared, painted and embellished.
The majority used the
as source text and it is suggested by some that the text was written
subsequent to the establishment of the Buddha footprint tradition. Considerable evidence in Bagan relates to Metteyya, the future
Buddha, and it seems possible that the footprint tradition existed there
already at an early date.
list of 108 auspicious illustrations is similar, but is not entirely the
same. Copies of each
of the mentioned texts were recently obtained and it appears that they
are transliterations from the Burmese Pali script texts brought by monks
from Amarapura, Union of Myanmar, to Sri Lanka after A.D. 1820.
examples of the Buddha footprint murals remain that carry syncretic
information. Data was
taken from the Gotama tradition (Jinalankara-tika)
and the Metteyya tradition (Samanta-bhaddika)
to create a composite.
For the first twenty years of Dr.
Waldemar. C. Sailer's research on Buddha footprints little was known and the
subject appeared without clarity or resolution, as there was a dearth of
the latter part of the 1970's, Dr. Sailer's good fortune in having a Sinhala
teacher, the late Dr. L.T.P. Manjusri, in Colombo, ensured that from that point
maintained accurate documentation. This was the commencement of the building of a considerable
library of the footprints drawings and illustrations that contains now in
excess of 600 examples.
In Thailand, the oldest
known Buddha footprint, dating to 600 A.D., is located at Sar Morakot, Khok Peep
District, Prachinburi province. Dr.
Sailer considers that the most beautiful are those from the Sukhothai
period, which are based on the Sri Lankan and Bagan Buddhist traditions.
However, none can surpass the Buddha footprint presented by the Siam
Society to Her Majesty The Queen of Thailand on her 60th birthday.
This particular footprint, measuring 50 cm by 140 cm, was
prepared in 1991 from pure gold and required one highly skilled
craftsman and the constant supervision of Dr. Sailer throughout its
preparation. It is now housed within a private hall adjacent to the Royal
Chapel at the Grand Palace in Bangkok.
Research, to date, has indicated that the oldest surviving Buddha
attributed to Gotama, the present Buddha, is located at
Union of Myanmar. This
example, dating to 1157 A.D., contains
108 auspicious symbols.
Although some footprints
date to the 2nd or 3rd century B.C., it is an assumption to attribute
them to Gotama as Pali texts to list less than 108
auspicious illustrations have not survived.
in Sanskrit and Tibetan do not list the auspicious illustrations.
An older tradition, in
bas-relief, that may number between two to three thousand examples, is found in Sri Lanka.
A few pieces are to be found in southern India; however,
their composition is quite different.
During preliminary work in
the 1980's, done together with the late and most excellent U Bo Kay,
Director of Archaeology at Bagan, Union of Myanmar, began with deciphering the
palm leaf texts. Although
many thousands of palm leaf texts still remain, it was often most
difficult to locate them and to have access to them.
Footprint at Loka-hteik-pan, Bagan, Myanmar
The final stages of complete documentation,
interpretation, full understanding, accurate dating, complete reading
and dissemination of the knowledge gained of the Buddha footprint are
expected to continue for many years still.
2001 Dr. Waldemar C. Sailer. All rights reserved.