My first real exposure to Buddha was at Bookpeople, the bookstore I worked at in Austin, back in 1995. Sure, I had seen pictures of the Buddha before, but I hadn’t seen a statue of Buddha or held a Buddha or anything like that until I had that job. I was interested by the images and statues in which his head was covered in small bumps. I wondered what was up with that. Well, now I know.
The bumps are the Snail Martyrs. The gist is that Buddha sat down under a tree to meditate one day. It grew very hot and the snails passing by noticed that Buddha’s head was going to scorch, so they crawled upon his head to cool his scalp with their slimy trails. I know, how kind! While I could not find the link despite a lengthy search, I know that there is a source saying that there are 108 snails upon Buddha’s head, the shells of which he kept upon his head following their deaths in honor of their sacrifice. 108 is a sacred number in Buddhism and other faiths in the area.
There are, of course, many variations on how Buddha got the spiral knobs upon his head, but the most common one is that of the Snail Martyrs.
Here’s a much different take on the matter: