The prompt “People” opened up so many possibilities for posts that I ended up writing six semi-drafts. In typical style, I was in a dilemma over which one to finish when I saw something that took my breath away. The writer of the piece is someone very close to my heart. In fact, he has permanent residence in it. It is no secret that my life revolves around him and I enjoy it tremendously.
I could write a book about him…in fact I will…but I thought it would be more interesting to share something he wrote.
My dear son, Vidur who blogs at Vidur Sury is back with a fascinating post about Iconography in Hinduism. Back in April 2013 during the A to Z Challenge, he took over the alphabet F with his post Folktales From Around The World when I was ill and today, seeing me all worked up, he quietly wrote this post for me. I am blessed.
Vidur is 16 years old and has been blogging for over eight years now. He is in Grade 11. When he is not busy with school work, exams and assignments, he enjoys reading, sketching, music and travel. His special interests include temples, mythology, spirituality, folktales, cultures and traditions, costumes, Indian classical and vintage film music. He has been learning Hindustani classical music (vocal) since 7 years. He believes that God helps those who help themselves.
Iconography in Hinduism
by Vidur Sury
Good day, everyone!
Today I am going to talk about Iconography in Hinduism, which means the symbols and images associated with Hindu culture.
In Hindu mythology, one of the chief beliefs is that the universe is infinite and every object, including one’s own body, can be identified with it. This uses unification and the idea of “non-difference” of everything. Gods are often said to be without fixed form and infinite. Yet there is a fixed iconography for several things and some symbols are very famous, representing certain objects or deities.
One of the most significant marks giving an insight into a person’s background is the mark on his forehead. The mark is very important and sacred. If it is a saffron or vermillion mark it is known as a Tilaka. A U – shaped Tilaka represents Lord Vishnu, the preserver, while three horizontal lines represent Lord Shiva, the destroyer. A large circle or a vertical line represents Shakti, the mother Goddess or Lord Ganesha. When women wear this it is known as a Bindi, Bindu or Pottu. A circular mark surrounded by spokes represents Lord Surya, the sun God. Sacred ash known as Vibhuti is usually worn in three lines and represents Lord Shiva and if a U – shape is worn with it, it signifies a devotee of Harihara, the combination of Lord Shiva and Vishnu.
Rosaries represent meditation. The symbols of Om and Swastika are sacred to all Hindus. A geometric wheel shape with several triangles in an orderly manner is known as a Yantra, and usually is used to represent forms of Shakti. A mound in the shape of the energy creating part is known as a Lingam and is believed to be Lord Shiva himself.
Each deity has his or her sacred plants, trees, flowers and wildlife, including their animal vehicle in the form of attributes. A lotus represents regeneration and creation and is sacred to almost all deities.
- Worshipers of Lord Shiva also wear seeds of the Rudraksha tree
- Swans and peacocks are sacred to Brahma, Saraswati and Kartikeya
- Eagles and owls are sacred to Vishnu and Lakshmi
- Cattle and lions are sacred to Shiva and his consort, Parvati
- Mice are sacred to Ganesha
- The rooster is sacred to Lord Kartikeya
Snakes are also sacred to a majority of the Hindu deities. A Veena, a plucked stringed instrument represents art and learning, sacred to Goddess Saraswati, and the Vedas, the holiest and earliest Hindu texts represent the highest form of learning and knowledge.
Multiple limbs signify the omnipotence of the deity. Vishnu, Brahma, Ganesha, Saraswati, Lakshmi mostly have four hands. Shiva is generally two handed while Kartikeya and Shakti have eight to twenty hands.
There are certain weapons held by different deities which are described in the scriptures and special to them.
- Lord Vishnu is known to always carry the combination of a discus, a conch, a mace and a lotus.
- Goddess Lakshmi is shown with flowers and a money filled vase.
- Lord Shiva’s weapons are the trident and a drum.
- Goddess Shakti holds a variety of weapons and sometimes most of the weapons famous to ancient Indian culture.
- Goddess Saraswati carries the Veena, a rosary, the Vedas and a water pot.
- Lord Brahma holds a lotus, the Vedas, a rosary and a water pot.
- Lord Ganesha carries a lotus, a noose, a goad and a cup of Laddus, Indian dumplings.
- Lord Kartikeya holds a lance.
Colors can also represent deities, like white is used for Lord Brahma and Goddess Saraswati, blue for Lord Vishnu and Lord Shiva, red for Goddesses Lakshmi and Parvati, while a golden Sun color represents Lord Surya.
Cosmic objects like the crescent moon, sacred to Shiva and Parvati and the Sun sacred to Lord Surya also exist.
Dress codes for deities include yellow for Vishnu, red for Brahma, white for Saraswati, tiger skin color for Shiva and red for Lakshmi and Parvati. There are certain distinguishing features for each deity like a jeweled necklace, a chest mark for Lord Vishnu, a third eye for Lord Shiva, gold and riches for Goddess Lakshmi, a garland of skulls for Goddess Kali, a flute and peacock feather for Lord Krishna and a pot belly and elephant face for Lord Ganesha.
All these attributes result in the strong iconography that the religion, the country and all its temples bear today.
This post barely touches the tip of the topic, but I hope you enjoyed the glimpse into Iconography in Hinduism.
Thank you, Vidur!