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Translations of
Sanskrituṣṇīṣa / उष्णीष
Glossary of Buddhism
Head of the Buddha, crowned by the ushnisha, 3rd century, Hadda, Afghanistan.

The ushnisha (Sanskrit: उष्णीष, IAST: uṣṇīṣa) is a three-dimensional oval at the top of the head of the Buddha.


The Ushnisha is the thirty-second of the 32 major marks of the Buddha. The thirty-second of these is that the Buddha has a fleshy or cranial protuberance at the top of his head. Later sets elaborate that this is covered with hairs that curl in the direction of the sun.

Later on a second definition of Ushnisha was added, which was a flame that ascends from the middle of this protuberance.


The first representations of the Buddha in the 1st century CE in the Greco-Buddhist art of Gandhara also represent him with a topknot, rather than just a cranial knob. It is thought that the interpretation of the ushnisha as a supernatural cranial protuberance happened at a later date, as the representation of the topknot became more symbolic and its original meaning was lost.[1]


While the ushnisha is an important feature of Buddha statues and images, there is no evidence that Buddha had a topknot on his head. Ancient books clearly state that Buddha had a shaven head. One event mentioned in the texts is where a hunter while out on a hunt encounters Gautama Buddha (prince of Lumbini) in a different attire than that a prince should had. The hunter is mentioned as giving up hunting for the day, after seeing the shaven man in the middle of the jungle, considering it to be a bad omen.[2]

The Boddhisattva-Cakravartin in Early Buddhism[edit]

In Early Buddhism, the uṣṇīṣa was represented differently. The Mahāvastu (1.259f) and the Divyāvadāna, as well as the Theravadin Milindapañha, describe the marks of the cakravartin, an idealised world-ruler: uṣṇīṣa or patka turban, chhatra parasol, "horn jewel" or vajra, whisk and sandals. These were the marks of the kshatriya.[3]

The plastic art of early Mahayana Buddhism in Mathura presents bodhisattvas in a form called uṣṇīṣin "wearing a turban/hair binding", wielding the mudras for "nonviolent cakravartin rule".[3]

Possible Indus Valley origins[edit]

A bull figurine excavated from Lakhan-jo-Daro from bronze age Indus Valley Civilization has a similar Ushnisha styled knob above its head, its a unique feature and not applied to any other bull figurine indicating intelligence insignia.[4]

See also[edit]

  • Uṣṇīṣa Vijaya Dhāraṇī Sūtra : ऊष्णीष विजय ढारणी  – via Wikisource.

The crown-protrusion, mentioned in is this same upper-brain-blossoming/development, simply with a different label.


  1. ^ Mario Bussagli, L'art du Gandhara
  2. ^ "Origin of Ushnisha".
  3. ^ a b Falk, Harry, "Small-Scale Buddhism" in Voegeli, François; Eltschinger, Vincent; Candotti, Maria Piera; Diaconescu, Bogdan; Kulkarni, Malhar, eds. (2012). Devadattīyam : Johannes Bronkhorst felicitation volume. Bern: Peter Lang. ISBN 9783034306829., p. 495
  4. ^ Mallah, Qasid Hussain; Shafiq, Tooba (2016). "Exceptional objects from Lakhan-jo Daro". Frontier Archaeology. 10–14: 81–88 – via researchgate.