What Are The Most Important Symbols of Hinduism?
By Subhamoy Das
Hinduism employs the art of symbolism with amazing effect. No religion is so replete with symbols as this ancient religion. And all Hindus are touched by this all-pervasive symbolism all through the life in some way or the other.
Basic Hindu symbolism is enunciated in the Dharmashastras, but much of it developed with the evolution of his unique ‘way of life’. On the surface, many Hindu symbols may seem to be absurd or even dumb, but discovering the deeper meaning of the such symbolism is sheer joy!
Om or Aum
As the cross is to Christians, the Omis to Hindus. It is made up of three Sanskrit letters, aa, au and ma which, when combined, make the sound Aum or Om. The most important symbol in Hinduism, it occurs in every prayer and invocation to most deities begins with it. As the symbol of piety,Om is often found at the head of letters, pendants, enshrined in every Hindu temple and family shrines.
This symbol is actually a sacred syllable representing the Brahman or the Absolute – the source of all existence. Brahman, in itself, is incomprehensible so a symbol becomes mandatory to help us realize the Unknowable. The syllableOmoccurs even in English words having a similar meaning, for instance, ‘omniscience’, ‘omnipotent’, ‘omnipresent’. ThusOmis also used to signify divinity and authority. Its similarity with the Latin ‘M’ as also to the Greek letter ‘Omega’ is discernable. Even the word ‘Amen’ used by Christians to conclude a prayer seems to be akin toOm.
Second in importance only to theOm, the Swastika, a symbol which look like the Nazi emblem, holds a great religious significance for the Hindus. Swastika is not a syllable or a letter, but a pictorial character in the shape of a cross with branches bent at right angles and facing in a clockwise direction. A must for all religious celebrations and festivals, Swastika symbolizes the eternal nature of the Brahman, for it points in all directions, thus representing the omnipresence of the Absolute.
The term ‘Swastika’ is believed to be a fusion of the two Sanskrit words ‘Su’ (good) and ‘Asati’ (to exist), which when combined means ‘May Good Prevail’. Historians say Swastika could have represented a real structure and that in ancient times forts were built for defense reasons in a shape closely resembling the Swastika. For its protective power this shape began to be sanctified.
The Saffron Color
If there is any color that can symbolize all aspects of Hinduism, it’s saffron – the color of Agni or fire, which reflects the Supreme Being. As such, the fire altar is regarded as a distinct symbol of ancient Vedic rites. The saffron color, also auspicious to the Sikhs, the Buddhists and the Jains, seems to have obtained religious significance much before these religious came into being.
Fire worship had its origin in the Vedic age. The foremost hymn in the Rig Veda glorifies fire: “Agnimile purohitam yagnasya devam rtvijam, hotaram ratna dhatamam.” When sages moved from one ashram to another, it was customary to carry fire along. The inconvenience to carry a burning substance over long distances may have given rise to the symbol of a saffron flag. Triangular and often forked saffron flags are seen fluttering atop most Sikh and Hindu temples. While Sikhs regard it as a militant color, Buddhist monks and Hindu saints wear robes of this color as a mark of renunciation of material life.
With Thanks To: Subhamoy Das