Hindu Symbols



The Hindu religion is rich with symbols and iconography, some representing individual gods or goddesses and some symbolizing universal concepts and ideas. While some of it has been tragically misused, the basic symbols and ideas are still there and still carry a great deal of resonance. There are far too many symbols to discuss all of them in a single article, but at least a few can be explained.

The Om or Aum symbol, one of the most recognizable symbols of Hinduism, is representative of the totality of the universe. The sound is meant to be extended and vibrated, as pronouncing it properly involves moving through all possible vowel sounds. The three primary sounds involved also represent three of the primary deities in Hinduism - Brahma is A, Vishnu is U, and Shiva is M. As the three gods are actually aspects of a single god, the separated-yet-connected nature of the letters in Aum is symbolic of their interweaving. Therefore, Aum is a symbol of the universe in totality, with all its permutations and underlying facets. The visual symbol, known as omkara, is a very recognizable symbol of Hinduism as a whole. Technically, Om and Aum are separate in pronunciation, but the simpler Om is symbolically linked to the more complex Aum.

The swastika is a symbol that, while well-known, is known for the wrong reasons. While the Nazis borrowed it as the symbol of their movement, its use in fact began in Hinduism in ancient times. It was used as a symbol of the sun's rays and their life-giving properties, representing the deities Vishnu and Surya, and therefore often incorporated into religious artworks and designs. It also shows a balance between the four directions and can be used as a symbol of purity and stability. The Nazis used it due to its connections to the sun and the giving of life, tarnishing the symbol somewhat, but it is still in common use in Hindu culture. The taint has not truly tarnished this symbol of holiness and life.

Sri Chakra Yantra (commonly known as just Sri Yantra) is a mandala composed of nine interlaced and interlocking triangles. Four of these triangles point upwards, representing the masculine force of Shiva, while five triangles point downwards, representing the feminine influence of Shakti. The web thus formed is a representative of the universe as a whole and also represent a womb of creation and generation. The interlacing of the masculine and the feminine means that Sri Yantra is also symbolic of non-duality and balance. Other yantras exist, all of them connecting to or deriving from Sri Yanta.

Many other symbols exist, most of them referencing specific deities or concepts - for example, the well-known lotus is primarily a symbol of Vishnu, Brahma, and Lakshmi, as well as a symbol of the origins of creation. Hindu iconography is rich and complex - for example, the god Vishnu alone has a hundred and eight symbols. The detailed, intricate imagery is often very beautiful, and understanding the deep meaning behind it only makes it all the more lovely.