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Sacred Symbols

Endearing Icons of Hindu Art & Culture


Sacred Symbols

Image Gallery of Hindu Symbols

Endearing images embodying intuitions of the spirit that adorn Hindu art, architecture and iconography symbols adorn our world and mind at every turn -- in our spiritual, social and political experience. A ring or gold pendant serves to silently attest to and strengthen wedded love. On a mountainous road in any country, a sign with a truck silhouette on a steeply angled line warns drivers of dropping grades ahead. The red cross signals aid and comfort in crises. Golden arches tell the vegan to beware. Among the best known symbols in the world are the simple numerals: 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9. They originated in ancient India as characters of the Brahmi script. Now and then, historic images or happenings are supercharged into symbols. The awesome mushroom cloud of the terrifying specter of nuclear destruction.

It is humanity's sacred symbols, its icons of Divinity and Reality, that wield the greatest power to inform and transform consciousness. Taoists gazing upon a yin-yang symbol, Navajo Indians delicately pouring a feather symbol in a sand painting, Muslims embroidering the crescent moon and star, Tibetan Buddhists contemplating an intricate mandala, Christians kneeling before the cross, Hindus meditating upon the Aum, Pagans parading the ankh at Stonehenge -- all these images, and hundreds more, communicate cosmic belief structures and function as gateways to inner truths.

To the societies of prehistory (ca 7000-4000 BCE), living fully in the raw splendor and power of nature, symbols and icons represented supernatural states and beings -- as they still do for us today. A stylized image of a snake coiled around the top of a clay vase communicated a complex and abstract idea, interpreted by anthropologist Marija Gimbutas as cosmic life force and regeneration.

Wielded by mystic priests, or shamans, symbols serve as psychic tools for invoking invisible cosmic beings and shaping the forces of nature. Thus, to conjure power, a medieval alchemist would enclose himself in a magic circle (a worldwide symbol) filled with geometric pictograms symbolizing astral-plane realities.

Today, as in prehistoric epochs, religious symbols often draw on the forces of nature. The sun flares into prominence among these symbols, appearing in a spectrum of motifs across cultures from Mexico to Mongolia. Hinduism developed dozens of solar symbols, including the swastika and the wheel of the sun, which was adopted by the Buddhists as their eight-spoked dharma wheel.

Hinduism has amassed a range of didactic icons from thousands of years back. Coins found in the Indus Valley have carried the symbols of the cow and of the yogi seated in meditation across a 6,000-year corridor of time. Many images from the Vedic age have become popular motifs in Kashmiri carpets and Chidambaram saris. These serve, significantly, to identify and distinguish members of a sect or community. The simple red dot worn on the forehead of many devout Hindus is both the mark of our dharmic heritage and the personal reminder to all who wear it that we must see things not only with our physical eyes, but with the mind's eye, the third eye.

India's adepts and seers have excelled at symbolic imagery, transforming mudras (hand gestures) into instantly recognized emblems and transmitters of a Deity's power or a particular frequency of energy. Each accoutrement of the dozens of Deities in the Hindu pantheon conveys a cosmic function, force or capacity. Today this ancient magic is carried forward in a multitude of ways, from the temple priest's invocation to the Indian housewife's drawing of multi-colored designs, called kolams or rangoli, on the ground as auspicious auguries, household blessings and greetings.

Pranava Aum

Pranava, 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. Aum. View Image


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. Aum. View Image


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. Aum. View Image

More Symbols on the Next Page: Tripundra, Nataraja, Peacock, Bilva, Lotus, Swastika, Mahalaka, Ankusa, Anjali, Cow…

Reproduced with permission from Himalayan Academy Publications. 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.

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