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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.


It symbolizes his attainment of reliance in the spiritual guide.[1] [2]


The ushnisha was not described initially in the Physical characteristics of the Buddha spelled out by the Buddhist canon. Rather, there are several mentions about a topknot:

"His topknot is like a crown." (Secondary characteristics, No 53)
"He has a topknot as if crowned with a flower garland." (Secondary characteristics, No 80)


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.[3]

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.[4]

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".[4]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "The true Buddha head is bare, covered only with ringlets of hair (plate 560) and surmounted by a peculiar swelling, the "usnisa", which is one of the thirty-two traditional "great marks" (Maha-Laksana) of the Buddhist superman-savior. Sometimes on the Usnia there is represented a small image of the transcendent Spiritual Buddha from whom the historical savior is an emanation: the supramundane source whence his phenomenal appearance proceeds. But never does the Buddha wear a kingly crown" The Art of Indian Asia Vol 1. Zimmerman. page 67
  2. ^ "The Bodhisattva, it will be remembered, departed from his palace, cross the border-river of his father's Kingdom, and on its bank severed, with a single stroke of his sword, the tuft of his hair, saying, 'If it is destined to me to become a Buddha, may my hair and head-cloth remain hanging in the air; if not, let them fall to the ground'. A God caught both, transported them to the heaven of the Trayastrimsat Gods, and there a Chaitya-Cudamani was constructed", The Art of Indian Asia Vol 1. Zimmerman. page 233.
  3. ^ Mario Bussagli, L'art du Gandhara
  4. ^ 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