The footprint of the Buddha (Buddhapada in Sanskrit) is an imprint of Gautama Buddha's one or both feet. It comes in two forms: natural, as found in stone or rock, and artificial engravement. Many of the "natural" ones, of course, are acknowledged not to be actual footprints of the Buddha, but replicas or representations of them, which can be considered relics in Buddhism and also an early aniconic and symbolic representation of the Buddha.
The footprints of the Buddha abound throughout Asia, dating from various periods. Japanese author Motoji Niwa (丹羽基二 Niwa Motoji ), who spent years tracking down the footprints in many Asian countries, estimates that he found more than 3,000 such footprints, among them about 300 in Japan and more than 1,000 in Sri Lanka. They often bear distinguishing marks, such as a Dharmachakra at the centre of the sole, or the 32, 108 or 132 auspicious signs of the Buddha, engraved or painted on the sole.
Buddhist legend holds that during his lifetime the Buddha flew to Sri Lanka and left his footprint on Adam's Peak to indicate the importance of Sri Lanka as the perpetuator of his teachings, and also left footprints in all lands where his teachings would be acknowledged. In Thailand, the most important of these "natural" footprints imbedded in rock is at Phra Phutthabat in Central Thailand. In China, during Tang Dynasty, the discovery of a large footprint of the Buddha in Chengzhou caused Empress Wu Zetian to inaugurate a new reign name in that year, 701 CE, starting the Dazu (Big Foot) era.
The footprint as a sculptural object has a long history stemming from the first examples made in India. These were made during aniconic phase of Buddhist art at Sanchi, Bharhut, and other places in India, along with the Bo-Tree and the Dharmachakra. Later, the footprint-making tradition became prominent in Sri Lanka, Burma, and Thailand.
The veneration of the feet of gurus or deities were commonplace in ancient India, placing one's head at or under their feet being a ritual gesture declaring a hierarchy. As a relic, the Buddha's footprint was classified in a variety of ways. Some were uddesika, representational relics, and others were paribhogika, relics of use or of contact, and occasionally saririka, as though they were not just footprints but the Buddha's actual feet. Some of the depictions of the footprints may signify events in the life of the Buddha, but others may have been depictions of people worshipping at footprint shrines. According to French scholar Paul Mus, the footprints were the type of magical objects which "enables one to act at a distance on people related to it."
- Stratton, Carol (2003). Buddhist Sculpture of Northern Thailand. Serindia Publications. p. 301. ISBN 1932476091.
- Strong, John S. (2004). Relics of the Buddha (Buddhisms: A Princeton University Press Series). Princeton University Press. p. 87. ISBN 0691117640.
- Strong, John S. (2004). Relics of the Buddha (Buddhisms: A Princeton University Press Series). Princeton University Press. p. 86. ISBN 0691117640.
- Niwa, Motoji (1992) (in Japanese and English). Buddha's footprints, pictures and explanations: Buddhism as seen through the footprints of Buddha (図説世界の仏足石: 仏足石から見た仏教 Zusetsu sekai no bussokuseki: bussokuseki kara mita Bukkyō ). Meicho Shuppan. p. 5. ISBN 4626014321.
- "Footprints of the Buddha". Buddha Dharma Education Association Inc. 2008. http://www.buddhanet.net/e-learning/history/b_feet.htm. Retrieved 2008-05-11.
- Stratton, Carol (2003). Buddhist Sculpture of Northern Thailand. Serindia Publications. p. 302. ISBN 1932476091.
- Strong, John S. (2004). Relics of the Buddha (Buddhisms: A Princeton University Press Series). Princeton University Press. p. 85. ISBN 0691117640.
- "A "Buddhapada" stone, 1st / 2nd c. CE, Gandhara: Commentary by John Eskenazi Ltd.". Columbia University. http://www.columbia.edu/itc/mealac/pritchett/00routesdata/0100_0199/kushanart/buddhapada/buddhapada.html. Retrieved 2008-05-10.
- Mus, Paul (2002). Barabudur (Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts). Sterling Publishers, India. p. 67. ISBN 8120717848.