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A Collection of Various Symbolisms in Indian Culture

Symbolism in Indian Culture
The Indian culture has a rich and vast history. This has led to the culture being related to many symbols. We see some of them in this SpiritualRay post.
Jay C
Last Updated: Mar 26, 2018
Did You Know?
A fully blossomed lotus flower is a symbol of enlightenment and love; hence, various gods are seen sitting in a lotus flower.
India has a rich culture that has been there for more than 5 millennia. During this time, many scholars on the Indian subcontinent had time to write scriptures, indulge in artwork, and write philosophical treatises. Most of them are religious, and in India, a majority of philosophy stems from its vast ocean of religious texts. These texts are written in Sanskrit in the Devanagari script. Although these scripts are comprehensive in teaching religion and spirituality, they are very one-dimensional to the common man. A person who is not well-versed in reading scriptures or a person not literate in Sanskrit itself cannot relish them firsthand.

Most of the text in the scriptures like the epics Mahabharata and Ramayana have thousands of stories intertwined. The same can be said of the Upanishads and the Vedas too. These stories were then pictured and visualized by the artists in the courts of kings. They would paint events out of the stories, and slowly symbols also started appearing in these paintings. Gods had to be painted, and as in the scriptures, they have a variety of symbols on their ethereal bodies. Thus, such symbols started signifying the gods, and some started signifying the qualities seen in those gods.

Since the Vedic scriptures, which form the foundation of Hinduism, are very vast and deep in their meaning and text, the same can be said of Hindu symbolism. Every symbol holds countless meanings and significances. In this article, we take a look at the most widely used symbols of India. These symbols are used throughout the country cutting through language and geographical boundaries, and drawing the same meaning. Some of the following symbols are also seen in Southeast Asian countries, and some are seen in Buddhist and Jain religious texts too.
The Swastika
Long before this religious symbol became a symbol of death and destruction under the rule of Hitler in Europe, the Swastika was used as the symbol of good fortune by the people of the Indian subcontinent.

The word originates from the Sanskrit word Svasti, where sv means well, and asti means 'is'. The word signifies good fortune or good luck.
It is very popularly seen in Indian households, where it is adorned on the doorways, rangolis, new cars, or for that matter, it is drawn on anything that is newly brought into the household. A customary puja is performed, and the new item is marked with this swastika to bring it long life. The swastika in Indian households is usually painted in red.
It signifies the four heads of Brahma―the creator of the universe. It also signifies the four aspects of life: Dharma (natural order), Kama (Desire), Artha (Wealth), and Moksha (Liberation).

It is also an emblem of Ganesha, the Hindu elephant god. This god is worshiped before any auspicious occasion, and hence, swastika is his emblem.
Aum or OM
This, with swastika, is perhaps the most significant and popular symbol in Hindu mythology and religion. The Sanskrit name for the syllable is "pranava", which means to shout or sound. This originates from the root meaning of the word pranu, which is "to make humming drone sound". This is the reason the mediators who recite this word extend it to long periods, and the chant sounds like a hum.
The word consists of the three different sounds of "aah, "uh" and "mm". The unification of this sound produces the word "aum." The vibration created by this word is said to be the fundamental vibration of the universe and is all-permeating. Letter by letter, the word also signifies the Trimurti: Brahmā, Vishnu, and Shiva.
As seen in the picture, the symbol consists of 4 curves.
• The bottommost large curve signifies jagrut or waking.
• The smaller curve attached to this signifies sushupti or deep sleep.
• The curve between these two signifies swapna or the dream state between sleeping and wakefulness.
• The semicircular curve above them signifies maya or illusion.
• The dot represents the enlightened you, which is cloaked and hidden by the maya as you sleep and wake up every day. It signifies that you are not awake truly until the final illusion of maya is broken.
Lotus or Padma as it is called in Sanskrit, is a symbol of purity. And not just for purity, it is a symbol of purity in presence of mud. Vedic philosophy states that a person in the company of a pure person can easily remain pure. But to remain pure in the company of polluted individuals is truly majestic. Hence, the lotus is a revered symbol of Hinduism.
It is the basic design of all the rangolis that are drawn in the courtyards of Indian houses. In the scriptures, it is said that Krishna, the avatar of Vishnu, is the lotus-eyed one. Lotus also signifies the origin of the universe. It is stated in the Hindu scriptures that a lotus plant grew from the navel of Vishnu, who was meditating on the causal ocean. Out of the blossomed lotus, Brahma was born, who in turn is the creator of the universe. He is said to be sitting in padmasana.
The lotus is also the symbol of the energy centers of the body, or the chakras as stated in the yogic scripts.
Lotus or Padma as it is called in Sanskrit, is a symbol of purity. And not just for purity, it is a symbol of purity in presence of mud. Vedic philosophy states that a person in the company of a pure person can easily remain pure. But to remain pure in the company of polluted individuals is truly majestic. Hence, the lotus is a revered symbol of Hinduism.
Although no special status is given to them, they are well worshiped because of the scriptures. In many Vedic writings, Krishna is shown to be affectionate towards cows and is a cow herder. This has led to people worshiping them as well. Many states in India worship cattle during the spring season when the farms are harvested.
In the olden times, cows were also a symbol of wealth, and every household used to own at least a single cow. They were given as gifts to people on special occasions and as payments too.
Trishul (Trident)
Trishul is the Indian trident. It is also very popularly seen in Indian temples. It also has a lot of mythological significance. It is the weapon of choice of lord Shiva and was used to sever lord Ganesha's head. It is also held by Goddess Durga.
As it is composed of 3 blades, there are a lot of interpretations of what the three blades signify. In Shivaite philosophy, the trident signifies the physical world, the world of forefathers, and the world of the mind. By their philosophy, these are the three worlds that keep a human bound in the cycle of life and death, and hence, when a person prays to Lord Shiva, these worlds are destroyed by His trident, and the person is liberated.
As with the Shivaite philosophy, conventional views state that the trident signifies will, action, and wisdom―the three virtues required to live a good life.
Lingam is a simple phallus which rests on the female sex organ. Although many worship the abundant lingams across the country, except for the learned, very few know that they are worshiping the male phallus. It is understandable, since the Indian society is a very conservative one. The lingam represents the creative energy of Shiva and the fertility of Parvati, his female form. It also signifies that they are inseparable, and although they are two, they are eventually one.
Many Swayambhu lingams exist in India. These are formed entirely of natural causes and have hence become popular pilgrimage centers in the country. The most popular one is in Amarnath, in the state of Uttarakhand.
When man-made, it is required to be carved out of a specific stone and should be of specific dimensions. In the temples, it is worshiped with milk, water, fruit, leaves, and rice.
The word bindi is taken from the Sanskrit word 'Bindu', which means "a drop, small particle, dot". It is very commonly seen on the foreheads of Indian women. There is a lot of symbolism attached to it.
It usually red in color and is round. The red signifies "sri" or the female form of Vishnu. The center of the forehead where it is applied is also seen as the seat of the sixth chakra in yogic scriptures. It is the penultimate stage, after which the yogi gains liberation. This place is associated with concealed wisdom.
As with "Sri", it also represents "Shakti" and the third eye―the all-seeing one. It is also seen as the abode of Brahman in all beings, and hence, it holds the plane to higher consciousness.
On a lighter note, some women say it also deters hypnotists, as the bindi blocks all forms of hypnotism. The traditional way of application was using red vermilion and making a round shape with it; nowadays, bindis come in the form of stickers. They can be easily applied and removed. And it has also become a fashion accessory, coming in various shapes and designs.