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Iconography In Hinduism

by Vidya Sury December 13, 2013 20 comments
Iconography in Hinduism om

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.

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.

Welcome, my dearest!

Iconography in Hinduism

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.

Iconography in Hinduism hindu infinity

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.

Iconography in Hinduism forehead marks

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.

Iconography in Hinduism swastik om

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.

Iconography in Hinduism vahanas

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.

Iconography in Hinduism hindu gods

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.

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Shilpa Garg December 13, 2013 at 10:10 pm

This is such an interesting and informative post, Vidur. Was not aware of the significance of various shapes and styles of Tilaks on forehead! Thanks for sharing. 🙂
Shilpa Garg recently posted…Lessons of Life

Sid December 13, 2013 at 10:30 pm

The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, does it ? Like mother, like son. Vidur – That’s the greatest “blogging” compliment, we can give you 🙂 Great informative post! And yes Vidya, we now know the reason for the gloating!

Roshan R December 13, 2013 at 11:03 pm

wow… this is amazing. I have to just ‘copy paste’ Sid’s comments at some level, I think. Informative, concise and very articulate. Indeed, mommy’s got competition now !!
Roshan R recently posted…Her happiness matters to me

Vidya Sury December 13, 2013 at 11:26 pm

Mommy’s very happy about the competition, Roshan, and wishes to be beaten by this particular contender! 😀 What really tickles me is his penchant for long posts too!
Vidya Sury recently posted…Vidur Sury Talks About Iconography In Hinduism

Obsessivemom December 14, 2013 at 12:26 am

Wow.. That was so informative. I didn’t even know the basics. Well done Vidur. Congratulations Vidya you have every reason to gloat and to feel proud. Lucky you.

Cathy Graham December 14, 2013 at 4:12 am

My goodness! So much for this naive Canadian to take in. I must read it again as it was so interesting and detailed. Nicely done, Vidur.
Cathy Graham recently posted…People Not Presents

Jairam Mohan December 14, 2013 at 4:54 am

Vidur, your mother clearly knows how much I love this post by you as it is a topic very close to my heart, Hindu Gods and Indian mythology. I know for a fact that you also love this topic quite a bit as well.

Lovely comprehensive post where you have covered most of the important details without going into too much detail as well. Like you so aptly say you have only touched the tip of the iceberg through this post.
Jairam Mohan recently posted…The Confession – Chapter 7 – Dreams

Richa Singh December 14, 2013 at 2:51 pm

So many things I did not know! Husband wears a rudraksha and I put up this question as to which god it represents he had no clue. Vidya what a talented kid you have there. All of sixteen and so much of knowledge. Bravo! Very informational and also useful in understanding various gods.

Elle December 15, 2013 at 1:35 am

Thank you Vidur and Vidya – this was fascinating. I love to learn about different cultures and mythology. So much to learn in life, I love it.
Elle recently posted…5 Reasons Happy People Are (Almost) Always Happy

vishalbheeroo December 15, 2013 at 4:49 am

Vidur is so young yet so intelligent in the way he deciphered symbols. Till I read the post, I was unaware of iconography in Hinduism and it’s a post full of information and knowledge. Thanks for sharing, Vidya:)
vishalbheeroo recently posted…Festival of Words 2: People on Day 6

Anyta December 15, 2013 at 11:10 am

Vidur and Vidya
This is an amazing and informative post.
Thank you for sharing!

Corinne Rodrigues December 15, 2013 at 12:21 pm

This is absolutely fascinating, Vidur. Thanks for sharing. I know people often pooh-pooh the need for symbols for God – saying that S/He is above all this. In my opinion, the symbols are necessary not for God, but for us to have a better appreciation of the various facets and nuances of the God/s we worship.
Need I say anything about your talent – you know you rock! 🙂
Corinne Rodrigues recently posted…Travel Wisdom

kalpana solsi December 15, 2013 at 2:23 pm

It is said that God does not have a finite shape or form but each God is represented by a certain shape and various icons. It is for the common man to identify with. The vibhuti smeared three lines on the forehead for Shivaites , white clothes for Saraswati etc. A good wrote-up of various icons of Hinduism. Vidur takes interest which boys of his age will not think of it.

Cathy Taughinbaugh December 16, 2013 at 10:21 am

Thank you Vidur. This has been wonderful to learn more about the Iconography in Hinduism. It is fascinating and all quite beautiful. Thank you for sharing the symbols and images.
Cathy Taughinbaugh recently posted…CRAFT Can Help Your Family Change: Meet Dr. Jeffrey Foote

Vishnu December 16, 2013 at 10:33 am

Thank you Vidya and Vidur.Learned quite a bit from this post including the different renditions of the tilaka and the colors of Gods/Goddesses. Although we take much of mythology, iconography and customs for granted, there is a story and reason for each item.

Thank you to Vidur for giving us a glimpse and a lesson! And for sharing his remarkable ability to write and blog at such a young age.
Vishnu recently posted…A Simple but Powerful Practice to Change your Thoughts and Increase your Self-Worth.

Suzy December 16, 2013 at 1:25 pm

Oh Wow Vidur. What an interesting and informative post. Enjoyed it immensely.Very well written. Thanks Vidya for bringing us this post.
Suzy recently posted…My Personal Journey with Dreams

Vaisakh Venugopal December 16, 2013 at 1:46 pm

This was quite fascinating. Symbology is a very interesting field. And nothing captures ones imagination better than symbols in Mythology. Thanks for this good read, Vidur 🙂

Sandi Amorim December 17, 2013 at 12:54 am

I am inspired by Vidur’s writing and knowledge, and fascinated by the subject itself. So many of these symbols have become common in western culture, but how many of us know the meanings? Thank you Vidur for sharing this knowledge so clearly!
Sandi Amorim recently posted…Day by Day Everything Changes

Proactive Indian December 22, 2013 at 4:26 pm

That was a very well-written and informative post, Vidur!

It’s great that you know so much at 16! When it comes to religious practice, most people have almost no clue about why they’re doing whatever they’re doing.
Proactive Indian recently posted…Asaram, Tejpal, Devyani and our attitude to the law

The Artless Con-noisseur - A Skit by Vidur Sury - Vidya Sury July 5, 2014 at 5:54 pm

[…] Sury is my son and has graced this blog earlier with  book reviews and a couple of posts (here and here). He’s currently in Grade 12 and pretty busy with school work and his other hobbies […]


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