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Over the millennia of its development, Hinduism has adopted several iconic symbols, forming part of Hindu iconography, that are imbued with spiritual meaning based on either the scriptures or cultural traditions. The exact significance accorded to any of the icons varies with region, period and denomination of the followers. Over time some of the symbols, for instance the Swastika has come to have wider association while others like Om are recognized as unique representations of Hinduism. Other aspects of Hindu iconography are covered by the terms murti, for icons and mudra for gestures and positions of the hands and body.
Main article: List of materials used in Hinduism
Hindu sacraments are physical pieces of that help objects or markings that are considered sacred and used as a sign of devotion by the followers of Hinduism. These are often objects associated with a puja (prayer) or religious ceremony.
Murtis (Sanskrit: मूर्ति) are sacred works of art, primarily in the form of statues and paintings, which serve as representations of divinity, for use during religious devotion. Murtis are a huge part of contemporary mainstream Hindu culture and often hold significant sentimental value in many Hindu homes. Many believe that murtis are vessels that capture the essence of gods, which helps the devotees focus and concentrate during prayers. Although there are many Hindu gods, the most common murtis are depictions of Ganesha, Hanuman, Shiva, and Lakshmi. Each deity appeals to certain aspects of human life, for example Lakshmi is the goddess of fortune and the embodiment of love, while Hanuman is worshiped for strength and loyalty.
The tilaka (or tilak) is a mark worn on the forehead or other parts of the body as a sign of spiritual devotion. Hindus may wear a tilaka regularly or especially on religious occasions. The shape of the tilaka is often an indicator of devotion to a certain deity. For example, the U-shaped urdhva pundra usually denotes devotion to Vishnu, while Shiva devotees often wear it in the form of three horizontal lines. It may be made of saffron, vermilion, turmeric, clay, or simply ash.
To denote marriage and auspiciousness, married Hindu women commonly wear a decorative vermilion dot or bindu, or bindī on the forehead. This is analogous to a wedding ring worn in western countries. In southern India, the mark is called pottu (or bottu). The exact shape, size and location of the bindi or pottu shows regional variation; for instance, in northern India the bindi is often worn just below the hairline, while in southern India it is more common to wear it between the eyebrows. In east India, especially in West Bengal, traditionally larger bindis are worn as mark of devotion towards goddess Durga.
Vibhuti (☰) is the holy ash obtained from sacred puja rites involving fire. Ash is considered a sign of purity due to its powdery white color. It is used on the forehead, normally as three horizontal lines representing Shiva. Some Hindus meld both the three horizontal vibhuti lines of Shiva and the U-shaped urdhva pundra of Vishnu in an amalgam marker signifying Hari-Hara (Vishnu-Shiva). In addition, sacred ash signifies that the body's origin is from dust and ash, acting a marker of impermanence and a reminder of the illusory nature (maya) of existence.
Rudraksha (📿) are seeds of the rudraksha tree that represent the tears of Shiva (also known as Rudra). They are often threaded into a necklace and used as a rosary to accompany prayer and meditation.
Among the most revered symbols in Hinduism, three are a quintessential part of its culture, and are most representative of its general ethos:
Main article: Om
Om (or Aum, ॐ) is the sacred sound symbol that represents the universe; the ultimate reality (Brahman). It is prefixed and sometimes suffixed to all Vedic mantras and prayers. Aum is often said to represent God in the three aspects of Brahman (A), Vishnu (U) and Shiva (M). As the divine primordial vibration, it represents the one ultimate reality underlying and encompassing all of nature and all of existence. The written syllable ॐ called omkara serves as a deeply significant and distinctly recognizable symbol for Hinduism. The pronunciation of Aum moves through all possible human linguistic vowel sounds and is different from the pronunciation of Om. Both are often symbolically equated, although they are sonically distinct.
Swastika is a symbol connoting general auspiciousness. It may represent purity of soul, truth, and stability or, alternatively, Surya, the sun. Its rotation in four directions has been used to represent many ideas, but primarily describes the four directions, the four Vedas and their harmonious whole. Its use in Hinduism dates back to ancient times, however the earliest records of swastikas were imprinted on pottery from central Mesopotamia and at Susa in western Iran in 4000 B.C.
The Sri Chakra Yantra of Tripura Sundari (commonly referred to as Sri Yantra) is a mandala formed by nine interlocking triangles. Four of these triangles are oriented upright, representing Shiva or the masculine principle. Five of these triangles are inverted triangles representing Shakti, the feminine principle. Together, the nine triangles form a web symbolic of the entire cosmos, a womb symbolic of creation, and together express Advaita Vedanta or non-duality. All other yantras are said to be derivatives of this supreme yantra.
Several symbols (animals, flora, instruments, weapons, or even color) in Hindu iconography are associated with particular devas, and vice versa. In certain cases the deities themselves are personifications of natural forces, for instance Agni (fire), Vayu (wind), Surya (Sun) and Prithvi (Earth). In other instances, the associations arise from specific incidents or characteristics related in Hindu theology. The iconography serve to identify the particular deity in their pictorial or sculptural representations. The symbolism also often links the deities with a particular natural or human attribute, or profession.
It is important to understand the symbolism, in order to appreciate the allegorical references in not only Hindu scriptures (for instance, Puranic tales), but also in both ancient and modern secular works of authors from the Indian subcontinent. The art and science of designing temples includes the study of sculpture and the ornamentation of religious significance as described in sacred texts (shilpa shaastra aagamas). In Ancient India twelve years of theoretical and practical training used to be given to the student by an able experienced teacher.
The Shiva Lingam represents the deity Shiva, and is used as an icon of strength and fertility due to its sexual symbolism. Shivalinga (Sivalinga) is the most important and a popular symbolic representation of Shiva in Hinduism. It represents Shiva in his aspects of the creator, protector, and the destroyer in Shaiva traditions
The word ‘Shivalinga’ is a combination of the words ‘Shiva’ (auspiciousness) and linga (sign or symbol). Thus ‘Shivalinga’ is a representation of Shiva in His all-auspicious aspect. Linga has been translated as phallus, which refers to his aspect of the masculine principle. ‘Linga’ also means the place of dissolution of the disintegrated universe.
Based on the mobility of the object of worship, Shivalingas are broadly divided into two categories – ‘Cala’ and ‘Acala’
These are made of stone, crystal, metals, clay, rice, dough, etc. These can be moved from one place to another.
The sacred texts describe many types of the lingas based on variations in the proportion
Shivalingas are installed in temples and are fixed to ground or a base. They are usually made of stones or metals. The sacred texts suggest that the shiva linga must have three parts. A bottom most 1/3rd part that is in the earth - Brahma bhagam (represents Brahma, the Creator of the World) it is rectangular in cross section. A middle 1/3rd part is called Vishnu bhagam or Vishnu Bhaga (it represents Vishnu, the Protector and sustainer of the world; it is octagonal in cross section. Both the Brahma bhagam and Vishnu bhagam are embedded in peetham (the ornamental pedestal). A visible 1/3rd Shiva Pooja bhagam or Pooja bhaga (also known as Rudra bhagam or Rudra bhaga) which is top most part which is worshiped. It is circular in cross section and cylindrical in shape. It represents Rudra (Shiva), the destroyer of the world. It is known as Pooja bhagam because this part is worshipped. Brahmasutras: These are certain essential lines present on the Rudra bhagam (Rudra bhaga). Without them a Shivlinga is unfit to be worshipped. The Shiva linga is at the level of ground and easily accessible to the worshipers irrespective of their caste, social or economic status.
See also: Padma (Vishnu)
The lotus is associated with the creation theology as well as the gods Vishnu, Brahma, and Lakshmi. It is the symbol of beauty and fertility. "In the Bhagavad Gita, a human is adjured to be like the lotus; they should work without attachment, dedicating their actions to God, untouched by sin like water on a lotus leaf, like a beautiful flower standing high above the mud and water."
The musical instrument Veena is associated with the Hindu goddess Saraswati and the sage Narada. Its origin lies in south India as it was used in Carnatic classical music. Furthermore its a symbol of arts and learning.
Main article: Shankha
A Hindu pundit (priest) blowing the conch during puja.
The conch shell is a major Hindu article of prayer, used as a trumpeting announcement of all sorts. The God of Preservation, Vishnu, is said to hold a special conch, Panchajanya, that represents life as it has come out of life-giving waters. In the story of Dhruva the divine conch plays a special part. The warriors of ancient India would blow conch shells to announce battle, such as is famously represented in the beginning of the war of Kurukshetra in the Mahabharata, a famous Hindu epic. The conch shell is also a deep part of Hindu symbolic and religious tradition. Today most Hindus use the conch as a part of their religious practices, blowing it during worship at specific points, accompanied by ceremonial bells. Shankha also symbolizes the sound that created the universe and stands for knowledge.
The Chakra or disc-like weapon of Vishnu is often found mounted on the top of Vaishnava temples or incorporated into architectural designs. Images depicting Vishnu's four-armed Narayana form almost always include the Chakra in one of his hands. It is a general symbol for protection. Chakra is also known to symbolize the need to follow dharma and to condemn adharma.
An array of Hindu, Buddhist, and some Jain deities are often depicted with multiple heads, arms, and other body parts, creating what one author refers to as a "multiplicity convention" in religious iconography. Such multiple body parts represent the divine omnipresence and immanence (ability to be in many places at once and simultaneously exist in all places at once), and thereby the ability to influence many things at once. The specific meanings attributed to the multiple body parts of an image are symbolic, not literal in context. In such depictions, the visual effect of an array of multiple arms is to create a kinetic energy showing that ability. Several Hindu deities are depicted in their Panchamukha (five-faced) aspect, as well as their Chaturbhuja (four-armed) aspect.
Main article: Vāhana
Vāhana or vehicle, sometimes called a mount, is an animal or mythical entity closely associated with a particular deity in Hindu theology. Sometimes the deity is iconographically depicted riding and/or mounted on the vahana; other times, the vahana is depicted at the deity's side or symbolically represented as a divine attribute.
Vishnu is the Protector-God, also the God of Destruction. Of the three gods of the Hindu Triad, Vishnu, being the Preserver, appears most human. The Rig Vedic Vishnu is conceived as the sun in three stages - rising, zenith and setting. The Vedic Vishnu strides through the heavens in three steps. This is Vishnu's great deed and constitutes his great glory. With these three steps Vishnu, a solar deity, courses through the three divisions of the universe, "the god being manifest in a threefold form, as Agni on earth, Indra or Vayu in the atmosphere and Surya in the sky". He is said to have taken these three steps for the preservation and benefit of mortals. The zenith is appropriately called Vishnu's place. His third step cannot be seen with human eyes. It is here that Indra dwells.
|God or deity
|Chariot (Ratha) of seven lions, Sri Chakra
|Supreme goddess in Shaktism
|Lotus, swan (hamsa), Vedas, garland of beads (akshamala)
|Shesha, shankha, chakra, gada, lotus, Garuda, color blue
|Shiva Linga, Nandi, third eye, trishula (trident), crescent-moon, rudraksha, cobra, drum, tiger skin, vibhuti
|White lotus, swan, peacock, veena, color white
|Goddess of learning, music, and art
|Red lotus, elephant, shower of gold, kumbha, owl, peacock feather
|Goddess of prosperity, wealth, love, and fortune
|Lion, Nandi, trident, chakra, gada, padam, couch, cross bow, khadag
|Goddess of courage, fertility, and power
|Thunderbolt (vajra), rainbow, clouds
|King of the devas and Svarga
|God of duty and contracts
King of the waters
|Noose (pasha), danda (rod), buffalo
|King of the netherworld, God of death
|Chariot, sun-rays, the colour of gold
|The god of the sun
|Garland of severed human heads, scimitar, khanda, khapar, khadag, trident
|Fierce manifestation of Parvati
|Bow and arrow, the colour blue, royal panoply
|Embodiment of Righteousness
|The colour blue, cow, flute, Sudarshana Chakra, milk, peacock feather
|God of Compassion, love, yoga, Svayam Bhagavan
|Aṅkuśa, mouse, modak, Aum
|God of wisdom, auspiciosness, good fortune
|Peacock, vel, rooster flag
|God of war and commander-in-chief of the gods
|God of strength, courage, and devotion
It is the tower that was built on the wall of entrance. It was many storied building, up to one storied to sixteen storied. It contains many portico like kudaivarai, prasthra, karnakuta, sala, panchara, kudu. It can be seen mainly in south Indian temples with Dravidian architecture.
The Met notes that with sculptural depictions of multiple-armed deities viewed by the flicker of oil lamps in a dimly lit shrine, the visual kinetic energy of their many arms are no doubt made the more powerful to the viewer by the movement of light upon the sculpture