As we know that the mudras are the peculiar hand gestures of many Buddha statues depicting the Buddha in various positions and performing different hand gestures, each of the mudras have their own meaning and ways of depiction in these Buddhist arts. Dharmachakra mudra is one of such interesting and unique hand gestures used in Buddha statues which means the wheel of Dharma in Buddhism. The Dharmachakra mudra is also known as gesture of Teaching of the Wheel of Dharma. This gesture depicts one of the most important moment in the Buddha's life as he performed the Dharmachakra mudra in his first sermon in Sarnath after he attained enlightenment.
Dharmachakra, in Sanskrit means the wheel of Dharma. Thus, the Dharmachakra mudra represents the setting into motion of the wheel of the teaching of the Dharma. Generally, the Dharmachakra mudra is shown being used by Gautam Buddha, the historical Buddha. The Dharmachakra mudra is formed when the thumb and index finger of both the hands touch at their tips to form a circle. This particular circle symbolizes the Wheel of Dharma. Similarly, this circle also means, in the metaphysical term, the union of method or Upaya and wisdom or Prajna. Both the hands are held against the chest in Vitarka, while the left hand is facing inward which covers the right hand facing outward. The three remaining fingers of both the hands remain extended and they have their own symbolic importance: The middle finger of the right hand represents the 'hearers' of the teachings of the Buddha, the index finger represents the 'realizers’ of the teachings and the little finger represents the Mahayana or 'the great vehicle. Similarly, the three extended fingers of the left hand represent the three jewels of the Buddhist principles. They are: the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha. As the gesture is performed with the hands held in front of the left side of the chest, or in front of the heart, the Dharmachakra mudra represent the teachings are straight from the Buddha's heart.
There are many variants of the Dharmachakra mudra such as the ones in the frescoes of Ajanta in India where both the hands are separated and the fingers do not touch each other. In the meantime, in the Indo-Greek style of the Gandhara Buddha statues, the right fist overlooks the fingers joined to the thumb on the left hand. And in the Japanese Horyu-ji pictures, the right hand is seen to be overlapped on the left. In the same way, the Amitabha Buddhas originating before the 9th Century in Japan are also seen using the Dharmachakra mudra.