The Footprint of the Buddha
The footprint of the Buddha is an imprint of Gautama Buddha's feet which may be of one or both feet. In the present context, there are two forms - natural, as found in stone or rock, and artificial which is later made with the inspiration from the natural ones. It is acknowledged that the footprints that are in natural forms are not the actual footprints of the Buddha. Even though these are also the replicas or representations of them are considered as a Buddhist relics. Mainly these are the early aniconic and symbolic representation of the Buddha. Among found in the earth, the footprint located at the top of Sri Padaya in Sri Lanka is among the largest and most famous footprints.
Historical account of the footprint of the Buddha
In the ancient times, worshiping deities and placing one's head at or under their feet is a common form of taking blessings. Due to these behaviors, the representation of deities feet has been taken as the feet of the actual ones. The same goes for the Buddha as well. The representation of footprints of the Buddha has been taken as the feet of the Buddha. Hence the Buddhists value and worship the footprints as the relics.
The Buddha's footprint was classified in a variety of ways - Uddesika, Paribhogika, and Saririka. Uddesika means representational relics, Paribhogika means relics of use or of contact, and saririka means the footprint as not just a replica but as the Buddha's actual feet. it is learned that the depiction of the footprints may signify events in the life of the Buddha, but others may have been depictions of people worshipping at footprint shrines.
It is also learned that when the footprint of the Buddha is depicted in a concave image it refers to the relic that was left behind on earth to purposefully mark his passage over a particular spot. If the footstep is depicted in a convex image, this image represents the actual soles size of his feet The images of the Buddha’s feet are convex images which represent the actual soles of his feet, with all their characteristics.
If we associate forms and style, the first style of Buddha's foot, Concave image, is a sort of paribhogika because it connects with the Tathagata himself. The convex style of image is associated with Uddesika because it has been created by a devoted artist to commemorate the Buddha.
But the footprint as of a sculptural object has a long history which has originated in the ancient times in India. There were made during the pre-Greco-Buddhist phase of Buddhist art at some parts of India. The tradition later became prominent in other South Asian countries.
Symbolically, the footprints were to remind the people that the Buddha was present on earth and left a spiritual path to be followed. These footprints are special since they are the only monuments which make us feel that the Buddha have a physical presence on earth.
It is believed that the footprints of the Buddha abound throughout Asia. These footprints were carved at different locations in various periods. Motoji Niwa, Japanese Scholar researched such footprints for many years. He estimates that he only found more than 3,000 the Buddha's footprints. Among them, about 300 numbers of footprints were in Japan and more than 1,000 in Sri Lanka. It is found that the footprints often bear distinguishing marks, such as a Dharmachakra at the center of the sole.
Footprints at different places
In Thailand, the most important of the Buddha's footprints are naturally embedded in rock is at Phra Phutthabat in Central Thailand.
In China, the large footprint of the Buddha was discovered in Chengzhou during Tang Dynasty in 701 CE. It is recorded that with the discovery of this footprint, Empress Wu Zetian announce a new reign name, the Dazu (Big Foot) era.
As for Sri Lanka, there is a legend as of how Buddha left the Footprints. As it suggests, the Buddha once flew to Sri Lanka and left the footprint on Sri Padaya to indicate the importance of Sri Lanka as the perpetrator of his teachings. He also left footprints in all lands where his teachings would be acknowledged.