When you read or hear about Gotama leaving his home and family, the story is usually something like "he shaved his face and head and went out to be a wandering monk". But very few depictions of the Buddha (perhaps apart from the laughing, fat buddha) is of a bald man. Why is that?

I've also heard, but don't remember the source, that in early times there was no iconography in Buddhism. As far as I remember hearing, depictions of the Buddha did not appear for many hundreds of years. Actually I've heard that the iconography of Buddhism actually comes from the Greek,,that the first to make icons of the Buddha were Greeks living in India.

There's obviously a lot of variations over time and between traditions. But can anyone give me some information, and sources about Greek influences on Buddhist iconography? Also I wonder why Buddha almost always is depicted with hair?

  • this question has been asked before - buddhism.stackexchange.com/questions/2804/hair-of-the-buddha
    – Ryan
    Dec 26, 2015 at 11:52
  • 1
    The question you are referring to is not about Greek influences on Buddhist iconography. It's also not a general question about iconography Dec 26, 2015 at 11:57
  • But very few depictions of the Buddha (perhaps apart from the laughing, fat buddha) is of a bald man. Why is that? <- is this not a question? This is the only question that I see , Aside from asking for source material? And what I linked is the source material you're looking for, as per why the Buddha isn't depicted as having hair.
    – Ryan
    Dec 26, 2015 at 12:00
  • Also, the "laughing, fat Buddha" , isn't the Buddha, its : en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Budai
    – Ryan
    Dec 26, 2015 at 12:03
  • Part of the question. The one you refer to answers neither my question about Greek influences nor about iconography in general. Dec 26, 2015 at 12:03

3 Answers 3


About the Statue called Laughing Buddha...

The Statue called Laughing Buddha is not Lord Buddha or any Buddha. He is some local divine figure in some culture in the east and this statue is misunderstood as a Buddha because it has a name that sounds a lot like Buddha. It's correct pronunciation should be like this or something close - Laughing Budhai

About the Greek connection...

The statues were not made by the Asian artists because of respect and the fear of their creation being not god enough, This should go withot saying Gauthama Buddha was considered the most charming person in India and people even became monks just to see Buddha's beauty.

As the story goes the appearance was unique and it was not alike with any other person (But as the suttas say only The great arahant kashyapa looked a bit like Lord Buddha). With the scientific knowledge we have today we can say the DNA structure of a Lord Buddha is either unique or a complete anomaly.

A king called Kanishka who ruled a certain part of India took a Greek wife and with her came a lot of people as it was a tradition to send skilled people as gifts with princesses who marry to countries abroad.

At the time Buddhists had many other depiction of Lord Buddha to worship Like the "Anandha Bodhi" - Video and Lotus carvings on rock pallets.

The princess questioned the king Kanishka why there is no statue of Lord Buddha in his kingdom and the king explained why. So she ordered her people to create a statue and with time finally Asian artists came up with their designs.

Why Buddha is not bald and what was the appearance of Gauthama sage?

When Prince Gauthama started his journey he used his sword to cut his hair. But later on even though Lord Buddha advised monks to shave the hair there is no mentioning about Lord Buddha shaving hair. This should go with the special look all the Lord Buddhas shared "The hair with very small curves." A lord Buddha never appears without hair and the unique hair is sign for others to know who it is.


Re. the hair or head (but not the Greek influence) I found some references:

  • Ushnisha (Wikipedia)

    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 hair and the Usnisa on the head of the Buddha and the jinars

    So by the time when the sculptors of Mathura began to carve images of Gautama Buddha there were two rival traditions relating to hair on the Buddha's head: an older one now preserved in the Pali Nikayas represented Gautama as mundaka or shaven-headed monk; and another tradition preserved in the Mahavastu, the Lalitavistava and the Nidanakatha represented him as having cut his hair with his sword leaving part of it intact on the head.

  • Usnisa-siraskata (a mahapurusa-laksana) in the early Buddha images of India

    The correct interpretation of this peculiarity of a Buddha, especially in connection with its representation in Buddhist iconoplastic art of different periods, has engaged the attention of many a scholar.

For more about prefigurative and early iconography, see answers and comments to these topics:


As it happens, there is an article on this very question, by Eisel Mazard, entitled "The Buddha Was Bald," located at http://asiapacific.anu.edu.au/newmandala/2010/12/30/the-buddha-was-bald/. Obviously I cannot quote it here in full, but I quote part of the conclusion:

"Thus far, we have demonstrated that (1) the core canon explicitly describes the Buddha as a bald-shaven man; moreover, (2) implicitly, these texts are incompatible with the historically-subsequent assumptions about the Buddha’s physical appearance now commonly found in statuary. The ancient texts can neither be reconciled with the image of the Buddha having a full head of hair, nor with his having magical curls of hair, nor with his having a freakishly deformed skull. There is no doubt as to the antecedence of one source of information over the other."

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