Sacred Symbols

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Om or Aum

Reproduced with permission from the Himalayan Academy

Note: this article will give visual representations of 38 endearing images embodying intuitions of the spirit that adorn Hindu art, architecture and iconography. The descriptions are written by Satguru Sivaya Subramuniyaswami, and illustrated by A. Manivel for the book Dancing with Siva, published by the Himalayan Academy. Parents and educators may visit minimela.com to purchase many of these resources at a very low cost, for distribution in your community and classes.

Om, or Aum, is the root mantra and primal sound from which all creation issues forth. It is associated with Lord Ganesha. Its three syllables stand at the beginning and end of every sacred verse, every human act.

02
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Ganesha

Reproduced with permission from the Himalayan Academy

Ganesha is the Lord of Obstacles and Ruler of Dharma. Seated upon His throne, He guides our karmas through creating and removing obstacles from our path. We seek His permission and blessings in every undertaking.

03
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Vata or Banyan Tree

Reproduced with permission from the Himalayan Academy

Vata, the banyan tree, Ficus indicus, symbolizes Hinduism, which branches out in all directions, draws from many roots, spreads shade far and wide, yet stems from one great trunk. Siva as Silent Sage sits beneath it.

04
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Tripundra or Three Stripe, and Bindi

Reproduced with permission from the Himalayan Academy

Tripundra is a Saivite's great mark, three stripes of white vibhuti on the brow. This holy ash signifies purity and the burning away of anava, karma and maya. The bindu, or dot, at the third eye quickens spiritual insight.

05
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Nataraja or Dancing Shiva

Reproduced with permission from the Himalayan Academy

Nataraja is Siva as "King of Dance." Carved in stone or cast in bronze, His ananda tandava, the fierce ballet of bliss, dances the cosmos into and out of existence within the fiery arch of flames denoting consciousness. Aum.

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Mayil or Mayur (Peacock)

Reproduced with permission from the Himalayan Academy

Mayil, "peacock," is Lord Murugan's mount, swift and beautiful like Karttikeya Himself. The proud display of the dancing peacock symbolizes religion in full, unfolded glory. His shrill cry warns of approaching harm.

07
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Nandi, Shiva's Vehicle

Reproduced with permission from the Himalayan Academy

 Nandi is Lord Siva's mount, or vahana. This huge white bull with a black tail, whose name means "joyful," disciplined animality kneeling at Siva's feet, is the ideal devotee, the pure joy and strength of Saiva Dharma. Aum.

08
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Bilva or Bael Tree

Reproduced with permission from the Himalayan Academy

Bilva is the bael tree. Its fruit, flowers and leaves are all sacred to Siva, liberation's summit. Planting Aegle marmelos trees around home or temple is sanctifying, as is worshiping a Linga with bilva leaves and water.

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Padma or Lotus

Reproduced with permission from the Himalayan Academy

Padma is the lotus flower, Nelumbo nucifera, perfection of beauty, associated with Deities and the chakras, especially the 1,000-petaled 'sahasrara.' Rooted in the mud, its blossom is a promise of purity and unfoldment.

10
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Swastika

Reproduced with permission from the Himalayan Academy

Swastika is the symbol of auspiciousness and good fortune-literally, "It is well." The right-angled arms of this ancient sun-sign denote the indirect way that Divinity is apprehended: by intuition and not by intellect.

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Mahakala or 'Great Time'

Reproduced with permission from the Himalayan Academy

Mahakala, "Great Time," presides above creation's golden arch. Devouring instants and eons, with a ferocious face, He is Time beyond time, reminder of this world's transitoriness, that sin and suffering will pass.

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Ankusa or Ganesha's Goad

Reproduced with permission from the Himalayan Academy

Ankusha, the goad held in Lord Ganesha's right hand, is used to remove obstacles from dharma's path. It is the force by which all wrongful things are repelled from us, the sharp prod which spurs the dullards onward.

13
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The Anjali Gesture

Reproduced with permission from the Himalayan Academy

Anjali, the gesture of two hands brought together near the heart, means to "honor or celebrate." It is our Hindu greeting, two joined as one, the bringing together of matter and spirit, the self meeting the Self in all.

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'Go' or Cow

Reproduced with permission from the Himalayan Academy

'Go,' the cow, is a symbol of the earth, the nourisher, the ever-giving, undemanding provider. To the Hindu, all animals are sacred, and we acknowledge this reverence of life in our special affection for the gentle cow.

15
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The Mankolam Design

Reproduced with permission from the Himalayan Academy

Mankolam, the pleasing paisley design, is modeled after a mango and associated with Lord Ganesha. Mangos are the sweetest of fruits, symbolizing auspiciousness and the happy fulfillment of legitimate worldly desires.

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'Shatkona' or Six-pointed Star

Reproduced with permission from the Himalayan Academy

 Shatkona, "six-pointed star," is two interlocking triangles; the upper stands for Siva, 'purusha' (male energy) and fire, the lower for Shakti, 'prakriti' (female power) and water. Their union gives birth to Sanatkumara, whose sacred number is six.

17
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Musika or Mouse

Reproduced with permission from the Himalayan Academy

Mushika is Lord Ganesha's mount, the mouse, traditionally associated with abundance in family life. Under cover of darkness, seldom visible yet always at work, Mushika is like God's unseen grace in our lives.

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'Konrai' Blossoms

Reproduced with permission from the Himalayan Academy

Konrai, Golden Shower, blossoms are the flowering symbol of Siva's honeyed grace in our life. Associated with His shrines and temples throughout India, the [i]Cassia fistula[/i] is lauded in numberless Tirumurai hymns.

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The 'Homakunda' or Fire Altar

Reproduced with permission from the Himalayan Academy

Homakunda, the fire altar, is the symbol of ancient Vedic rites. It is through the fire element, denoting divine consciousness, that we make offerings to the Gods. Hindu sacraments are solemnized before the homa fire.

20
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The 'Ghanta' or Bell

Reproduced with permission from the Himalayan Academy

Ghanta is the bell used in ritual puja, which engages all senses, including hearing. Its ringing summons the Gods, stimulates the inner ear and reminds us that, like sound, the world may be perceived but not possessed.

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The 'Gopura' or 'Gopuram' (Temple Gateways)

Reproduced with permission from the Himalayan Academy

'Gopuras' are the towering stone gateways through which pilgrims enter the South Indian temple. Richly ornamented with myriad sculptures of the divine pantheon, their tiers symbolize the several planes of existence.

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The 'Kalasha' or Scared Pot

Reproduced with permission from the Himalayan Academy

Kalasha, a husked coconut circled by five mango leaves on a pot, is used in puja to represent any God, especially Lord Ganesha. Breaking a coconut before His shrine is the ego's shattering to reveal the sweet fruit inside.

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The 'Kuttuvilaku' or Standing Oil Lamp

Reproduced with permission from the Himalayan Academy

'Kuttuvilaku,' the standing oil lamp, symbolizes the dispelling of ignorance and awakening of the divine light within us. Its soft glow illumines the temple or shrine room, keeping the atmosphere pure and serene.

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The 'Kamandalu' or Water Vessel

Reproduced with permission from the Himalayan Academy

'Kamandalu,' the water vessel, is carried by the Hindu monastic. It symbolizes his simple, self-contained life, his freedom from worldly needs, his constant 'sadhana' and 'tapas' (devotion and austerity) and his oath to seek God everywhere.

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The 'Tiruvadi' or Sacred Sandals

Reproduced with permission from the Himalayan Academy

Tiruvadi, the sacred sandals worn by saints, sages and satgurus, symbolize the preceptor's holy feet, which are the source of his grace. Prostrating before him, we humbly touch his feet for release from worldliness. Aum.

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The 'Trikona' or Triangle

Reproduced with permission from the Himalayan Academy

'Trikona,' the triangle, is a symbol of God Siva which, like the Sivalinga, denotes His Absolute Being. It represents the element fire and portrays the process of spiritual ascent and liberation spoken of in scripture.

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The 'Seval' or Red Rooster

Reproduced with permission from the Himalayan Academy

Seval is the noble red rooster who heralds each dawn, calling all to awake and arise. He is a symbol of the imminence of spiritual unfoldment and wisdom. As a fighting cock, he crows from Lord Skanda's battle flag.

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The Rudraksha Seed

Reproduced with permission from the Himalayan Academy

Rudraksha seeds, Eleocarpus ganitrus, are prized as the compassionate tears Lord Siva shed for mankind's suffering. Saivites wear 'malas' (necklaces) of them always as a symbol of God's love, chanting on each bead, "Aum Namah Sivaya."

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'Chandra-Surya' - The Moon & Sun

Image Gallery of Hindu Symbols Chandra is the moon, ruler of the watery realms and of emotion, testing place of migrating souls. Surya is the sun, ruler of intellect, source of truth. One is 'pingala' (yellow) and lights the day; the other is 'ida' (white) and lights the night. Aum. Reproduced with permission from the Himalayan Academy

Chandra is the moon, ruler of the watery realms and of emotion, testing place of migrating souls. Surya is the sun, ruler of intellect, source of truth. One is 'pingala' (yellow) and lights the day; the other is 'ida' (white) and lights the night. Aum.

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The 'Vel' or Holy Lance

Reproduced with permission from the Himalayan Academy

 Vel, the holy lance, is Lord Murugan's protective power, our safeguard in adversity. Its tip is wide, long and sharp, signifying incisive discrimination and spiritual knowledge, which must be broad, deep and penetrating.

31
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The 'Trishula' or Trident

Reproduced with permission from the Himalayan Academy

'Trishula,' Siva's trident carried by Himalayan yogis, is the royal scepter of the Saiva Dharma (Shaivite religion). Its triple prongs betoken desire, action and wisdom; 'ida, pingala and sushumna'; and the 'gunas'--'sattva, rajas and tamas.'

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The 'Naga' or Cobra

Reproduced with permission from the Himalayan Academy

Naga, the cobra, is a symbol of 'kundalini' power, cosmic energy coiled and slumbering within man. It inspires seekers to overcome misdeeds and suffering by lifting the serpent power up the spine into God Realization.

33
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'Dhwaja' or Flag

Reproduced with permission from the Himalayan Academy

Dhvaja, 'flag,' is the saffron/ orange or red banner flown above temples, at festivals and in processions. It is a symbol of victory, signal to all that "Sanatana Dharma shall prevail." The saffron color betokens the sun's life-giving glow.

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'Kalachakra' or Wheel of Time

Reproduced with permission from the Himalayan Academy

Kalachakra, 'wheel, or circle, of time,' is the symbol of perfect creation, of the cycles of existence. Time and space are interwoven, and eight spokes mark the directions, each ruled by a Deity and having a unique quality.

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The Sivalinga

Reproduced with permission from the Himalayan Academy

Sivalinga is the ancient mark or symbol of God. This elliptical stone is a formless form betokening Parashiva, That which can never be described or portrayed. The 'pitha,' pedestal, represents Siva's manifest 'Parashakti' (power).

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The 'Modaka' Sweet

Reproduced with permission from the Himalayan Academy

'Modaka,' a round, lemon-sized sweet made of rice, coconut, sugar and spices, is a favorite treat of Ganesha. Esoterically, it corresponds to siddhi (attainment or fulfillment), the gladdening contentment of pure joy.

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The 'Pasha' or Noose

Reproduced with permission from the Himalayan Academy

Pasha, tether or noose, represents the soul's three-fold bondage of 'anava, karma and maya.' Pasha is the all-important force or fetter by which God (Pati, envisioned as a cowherd) brings souls (pashu, or cows) along the path to Truth.

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The 'Hamsa' or Goose

Reproduced with permission from the Himalayan Academy

Hamsa, vehicle of Brahma, is the swan (more accurately, the wild goose, Aser indicus). It is a noble symbol for the soul, and for adept renunciates, Paramahamsa, winging high above the mundane and diving straight to the goal.

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Das, Subhamoy. "Sacred Symbols." ThoughtCo, Mar. 10, 2017, thoughtco.com/hindu-sacred-symbols-gallery-4123128. Das, Subhamoy. (2017, March 10). Sacred Symbols. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/hindu-sacred-symbols-gallery-4123128 Das, Subhamoy. "Sacred Symbols." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/hindu-sacred-symbols-gallery-4123128 (accessed October 21, 2017).