Hinduism is rich in symbolism. Many acts of worship,
such as puja, are symbolic, a form of visualisation in which
worshippers simulate activities normally performed on higher planes of
existence. Thus the scope of symbolism is broad and includes physical
acts such as offering pranam (obeisances) with folded hands.
Such physical gestures tend to induce the appropriate mood and awareness
within the practitioner. Many symbols are considered auspicious,
embodying the notion of inner purity. Sacred emblems are displayed in
the home or temple to invoke good fortune. The most popular symbols are
listed on the right.
Aum, also written "Om" and called pranava,
is the most important Hindu symbol. Its prolonged intonation is
associated with the primeval sound through which the universe was
created. It is thought to contain all things. It consists of three
syllables — a-u-m — which are sounded progressively from the throat to
the lips. The three sounds are considered to symbolise many items, but
perhaps most importantly the three states of consciousness – waking,
dreaming, and deep sleep. The entire symbol represents the fourth state,
which is the awareness of one's own spiritual identity. Aum is the most
important mula (root) mantra and is thus chanted at the
beginning of many prayers, mantras, and rituals.
Hindu people greet each other by placing their two
hands together and slightly bowing the head, whilst saying namaste
or a similar phrase. They adopt the same posture when greeting the
temple deity or a holy person. Thus when greeting another person, a
Hindu is offering respect to the soul within (atman) and also
to God within the heart (Paramatman).
Ten Important Symbols
Om (Aum) – the most important Hindu symbol, often
used as the emblem of Hinduism (see above).
Hands in prayer – a sign of respect for the sacred,
that which is dear to the heart (see above).
Lotus (padma) – symbol of
purity/transcendence. Growing out of the mud, it is beautiful, and
though resting on water, it does not touch it.
Conchshell – used during arati: one of the four
symbols of Vishnu. The others are the lotus, club and disc.
Swastika – an ancient solar sign considered
to invoke auspiciousnes.
- Trident (trishul) – the symbol of Shiva; often carried by
Shaivite sannyasis (renunciates).
- Kalasha – coconut circled by mango leaves on a pot. Often used in
rituals such as the fire sacrifice.
- Cow – symbol of purity, motherhood and ahimsa
- Lotus feet (of guru or deity) – touching the feet of superiors
shows an attitude of submission and service.
- Dipa/lamp – symbol of light.