Hinduism, with its enormous wealth of myths, legends and spiritual teachings, has developed over the centuries a wide variety of symbols and visual representations that embody its fundamental concepts and values. These symbols, imbued with deep meanings and connections to the divine, are an integral part of the religious practice and daily lives of its followers, serving as constant reminders of the eternal truths and spiritual goals that guide their lives.
In this article, we will explore the most important symbols of Hinduism, unraveling their origins, interpretations and roles in the lives of devotees. From the iconic Om to the auspicious swastika, each symbol reveals essential aspects of the Hindu worldview and invites us to reflect on the nature of reality and our relationship with the sacred.
Join us on this journey through the fascinating world of the symbols of Hinduism and discover how these timeless images and signs continue to inspire and guide millions of people in their search for wisdom, well-being and connection to the transcendental.
What are the most popular Symbols of Hinduism?
Om (Aum) Symbol
Om (Aum) is a sacred sound, syllable, mantra and invocation in Hinduism. Om is the main symbol of Hinduism. It is said to be the essence of the supreme Absolute, consciousness, Ātman, Brahman or the cosmic world. In Hindu traditions, Om is a sonorous representation of the divine, a standard of Vedic authority and a central aspect of soteriological doctrines and practices.
The syllable often appears at the beginning and end of chapters in the Vedas, the Upanishads and other Hindu texts.
Om arose in the Vedic corpus and is said to be an encapsulated form of Samavedic chants or songs.
It is a sacred spiritual incantation performed before and during the recitation of spiritual texts, during puja and private prayers, in rites of passage (samskara) ceremonies such as weddings, and during meditative and spiritual activities such as Pranava yoga. It is part of the iconography of ancient and medieval manuscripts, temples, monasteries and spiritual retreats in Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism.
As a syllable, it is often chanted independently or before a spiritual recitation and during meditation in Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism.
The syllable Om is also called Omkara and Pranava, among many others.
Each of these letters has a specific meaning and symbolism in the Hindu tradition and is considered to represent the three states of the human being: wakefulness, sleep and deep sleep.
- The letter “A” represents wakefulness or the state of waking consciousness. It is the beginning of the mantra and is said to represent birth or creation.
- The letter “U” represents the dream state or the subconscious. It symbolizes continuity and transition, meaning moving from one state to another.
- The letter “M” represents deep sleep or the unconscious state. It also represents death or destruction. The sound of “M” symbolizes union with the divine.
- The silence following the sound represents “thought-free consciousness.”
Together, the three letters “A”, “U” and “M” of the mantra “Om” represent the totality of existence and the entire universe.
Some uses of the Om mantra are:
- Meditation and concentration: It is used to help focus the mind during meditation and yoga practice. Repetition of the OM mantra can help calm the mind and reduce stress.
- Purification and balance: Repetition of the mantra is believed to help purify and balance the chakras (energy centers in the body).
- Spiritual connection: The OM mantra is used in many spiritual traditions as a means of connecting with the divine. Repetition of the mantra is considered a way to invoke the divine presence and raise spiritual awareness.
- Healing: In some healing practices, the OM mantra is used to help balance the body’s energy and promote healing.
- Blessings and offerings: In the Hindu tradition, the OM mantra is used to bless and offer worship to the gods and goddesses. In some rituals, the OM mantra is recited while offering water, flowers, fruits and other sacred objects to the gods.
- Chanting and music: It is often used in music and devotional singing in India and other spiritual cultures. Chanting the mantra OM is considered a way to celebrate the divine and connect with the joy and beauty of life.
- Protection and purification of space: In some spiritual traditions, the OM mantra is used to protect and purify sacred space. The sound of the mantra is believed to help dissolve negative energies and attract divine light.
- Spiritual liberation and awakening: The OM mantra is considered a key to spiritual liberation and realization of the Supreme Self. The repetition of the mantra is believed to help purify the mind and body, and awaken spiritual awareness to the ultimate truth of existence.
Bindu is a Sanskrit word meaning “point” or“drop“.
In Hindu metaphysics, Bindu is considered the point at which creation begins and can become unity. It is also described as“the sacred symbol of the cosmos in its unmanifested state“. Bindu is the point around which the mandala representing the universe is created.
In the Yogachudamani Upanishad Bindu is a duality, with a white Bindu representing shukla (pure) and a red Bindu representing maharaj (mastery). The white Bindu resides in the visarga bindu and is related to Shiva and the Moon, while the red Bindu resides in the muladhara chakra and is related to Shakti and the Sun. In yoga, the union of these two parts results in the ascension of kundalini to the sahasrara, the last of the chakras, which is the gateway to spiritual enlightenment.
In Tantra, Bindu (or Bindu visarga-“drop of the drop”) is a point located at the back of the head, where brahmins let their locks of hair grow. This point is below the sahasrara chakra and above the ajna chakra, and is represented by a crescent moon with a white drop. It represents the manifestation of creations such as consciousness.
The chakra is visualized as a lotus with 23 petals. Its symbol is the moon, which favors the growth of vegetation. Krishna said in the Bhagavad Gita XV/13: “By becoming the nectarine moon I nourish all plants“. His deity is Shiva, who is depicted with the crescent moon in his hair.
In Hatha yoga, the Bindu visarga is said to be the source of the Bindu fluid, which contains a nectar(amrita) and a poison. Bindu is identified with semen, and is controlled by techniques such as Viparita Karani and Khechari Mudra.
The fluid is released from the Bindu visarga, and can be stored in the lalana chakra and purified in the Vishuddha chakra. When the Vishuddha is inactive, the fluid flows into the Manipura chakra, where it is consumed (leading to physical deterioration). According to the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, a hatha yoga practitioner can prolong his or her life by controlling the flow of the fluid. By practicing the Khecari mudra, a practitioner can manipulate the flow of the fluid from the lalana to the Vishuddha (where it is purified into amrita).
The tilaka is a mark usually worn on the forehead, at the Ajna chakra point, or sometimes on another part of the body such as the neck, hand, chest or arm. The tilaka may be worn daily or only on rites of passage or special spiritual and religious occasions, depending on regional customs.
The term also refers to the Hindu ritual of marking someone’s forehead with a scented paste, such as sandalwood or vermilion, as a welcome and expression of honor upon arrival.
The tilaka is a mark created by applying powder or paste to the forehead. Tilakas are vertical marks worn by Vaishnavas (a sect of Hinduism). The Vaishnava tilaka consists of a long vertical mark that begins just below the hairline and reaches almost to the end of the tip of the nose, and is also known as Urdhva Pundra. In the center it is intercepted by an elongated U. This tilaka is traditionally made with sandalwood paste.
The other main variant of tilaka is usually worn by followers of Shiva, known by the names Rudra-tilaka and Tripundra. It consists of three horizontal bands across the forehead with a single vertical band or circle in the center. It is traditionally performed with sacred ash from fire sacrifices. This variant is the older of the two and shares many commonalities with similar markings worn around the world.
Shaktas, worshippers of the various forms of the Goddess (Devi), wear a large red dot of kumkum (vermilion or red turmeric) on the forehead.
A traditional Shaiva text, explains the three lines of a Tilaka as a reminder of various triads: three sacred fires, three syllables in Om, three gunas, three worlds, three types of atman (self), three powers in oneself, the first three Vedas, three times of extraction of the Vedic drink Soma.
- The first line equates to Garhapatya (the sacred fire in a domestic kitchen), the A syllable of Om, the Rajas guna, the earth, the external self, Kriyā – the power of action, the Rigveda, the morning extraction of Soma, and Maheshvara.
- The second ash stripe is a reminder of Dakshinagni (the sacred fire lit in the South for the ancestors), the U sound of Om, Sattva guna, the atmosphere, the inner self, Iccha – the power of will, the Yajurveda, the midday extraction of Soma, and Sadashiva.
- The third stripe is the Ahavaniya (the fire used for Homa), the syllable M in Om, the Tamas guna, Svarga – the sky, the Paramatman – the highest self (the ultimate reality of Brahman), Jnana – the power of knowledge, the Samaveda, the extraction of Soma at sunset, and Shiva.
These lines, represent Shiva’s threefold power of will , knowledge and action. The Tripuṇḍra described in this and other Shaiva texts also symbolizes Shiva’s trident (trishula) and the divine triad of Brahmā, Vishnu and Shiva (Trimurti).
The Vasudeva Upanishad, a text of the Vaishnava tradition, similarly explains the meaning of three vertical lines in Urdhva Pundra Tilaka to be a reminder of the trimurti Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva; the Vedic scriptures – Rigveda, Yajurveda and Samaveda; three worlds Bhu, Bhuva, Svar; the three syllables of Om – A, U, M; three states of consciousness – waking, dreamlike sleep, deep sleep; three realities – Maya, Brahman and Atman; the three bodies – Sthula, Sukshma and Karana.
The mandala is a sacred and spiritual symbol often used in meditation and worship. It is a symbolic representation of cosmology and the structure of the universe. Mandala is a Sanskrit word meaning “circle” and represents wholeness, unity and harmony.
In the Hindu tradition, mandalas are used as meditation tools to help focus the mind. They are also used in religious ceremonies to honor gods and goddesses, and can be found in temples, homes and places of worship.
Hindu mandalas are usually complex, symmetrical geometric designs, with shapes such as circles, triangles, squares and dots representing different aspects of the universe and divinity. Each element in the mandala has a symbolic meaning and is used to reflect the unity and interconnectedness of all things in the cosmos. In meditation, it is believed that contemplation of the mandala helps the mind to reach a state of balance and harmony with the universe.
Below we will describe some elements and characteristics that can be found in mandalas:
- The center: The center of the mandala is often a point or a circle, representing the unity and source of all creation. It is believed that meditating on the center of the mandala helps to connect with the inner self and divinity.
- Corners: These are usually represented by four geometric shapes, such as triangles or squares. Each corner represents an element of nature, such as water, earth, fire or air, and together they are believed to represent the totality of the universe.
- Petals: Some mandalas have petals around the center, which may be geometric shapes or representations of flowers. The petals symbolize the expansion and multiplicity of creation, and meditating on them is believed to help achieve abundance and prosperity.
- Concentric circles: Many mandalas have several concentric circles extending from the center. Each circle represents a different level of existence, such as the physical world, the emotional world or the spiritual world. Meditation on these circles helps to reach a higher level of consciousness.
- Symbols: Hindu mandalas often include symbols such as om, as well as other symbols representing different types of mantras.
- Colors: The colors of the mandala also have symbolic meanings. Red represents passion and energy, blue represents wisdom and serenity, green represents nature and harmony, yellow represents light and joy, and white represents purity and peace.
- Animals: Sometimes mandalas include animals, such as elephants, tigers or birds. Each animal has a different symbolic meaning, such as wisdom, strength or freedom.
- Symmetry: The symmetry of the mandala is important because it represents harmony and balance in the universe.
- Numbers: Often, Hindu mandalas are built around a certain number of elements or figures. For example, a mandala may have eight petals, twelve concentric circles or forty-nine triangles. Each number has a symbolic meaning in Hindu cosmology and represents a different aspect of the universe and divinity.
- The labyrinth: Some mandalas have a pattern in the form of a labyrinth or path leading to the center of the mandala. This path symbolizes the spiritual journey to enlightenment and connection with divinity.
- Balance: Hindu mandalas also represent the balance between opposites, such as light and dark, good and evil, masculine and feminine. Balance is a fundamental principle in Hindu cosmology and is believed to be essential for achieving enlightenment and harmony in life.
- Gods and goddesses: Some mandalas represent the gods and goddesses of the Hindu pantheon, such as Shiva, Vishnu, Kali or Durga. Each deity has its own symbolic meaning and represents different aspects of divinity, such as creation, destruction, protection or wisdom.
The yantras are sacred geometric diagrams used in meditation and spiritual practice in the Hindu and Buddhist traditions to channel divine energy and help the practitioner connect with divinity.
Each yantra has a specific geometric shape that represents a divine force or aspect of divinity.
The yantras are used in meditation to concentrate the mind and release divine energy. By concentrating on the yantra, the practitioner can focus his or her mind and energy on a single point, which can help achieve a state of inner calm and balance. In addition, it is believed that yantras can help release negative energy and attract positive energy to the space where they are used.
The yantras can be found in different shapes and sizes. There are very simple yantras and some truly complex ones. Some are used as talismans or amulets, while others are used in religious ceremonies and rituals.
One of the most popular yantras is the Sri Yantra.
Triangles are the most characteristic element in this yantra. In the Sri Yantra there are a total of 43 triangles originating from 9 main triangles. These triangles are divided into 5 groups, each with its own symbolism and purpose in spiritual practice. The groups of triangles are:
- Four large equilateral triangles with the points upward, representing the masculine aspects of divinity.
- Five large equilateral triangles with the points down, representing the feminine aspects of divinity.
- Ten small triangles surrounding the center of the yantra, symbolizing the mind and senses.
- Ten additional small triangles forming a second layer around the yantra, representing individual consciousness and spiritual enlightenment.
- Fourteen additional triangles that interconnect and form the structure of the yantra as a whole.
Each of these triangles has its own symbolic meaning and purpose, and they all combine to create an image of divinity and the connection between the individual and the universe.
Although the triangles are the most prominent element of this yantra and even sometimes only these triangles are used when drawing it, we can also find other elements in the Sri Yantra:
- Bindu: It is the central point of the yantra, representing the point of origin of the universe and the union of the individual consciousness and the universal consciousness.
- Intermediate circle: It is a circle that surrounds the triangles and represents the infinite space and the totality.
- Inner lotus: An eight-petaled lotus surrounding the intermediate circle, representing the eight aspects of the feminine divinity.
- Outer square: It is a square with four gates surrounding the inner lotus and represents the material world and the four directions of space.
- Outer lotus: A sixteen-petaled lotus that surrounds the outer square and represents spiritual perfection and wholeness.
The word swastika comes from the Sanskrit, romanized: svastika, meaning ‘conducive to well-being’. In Hinduism, the symbol facing to the right (clockwise) is called a swastika, symbolizing surya (‘sun’), prosperity and good luck.
Sadly, this symbol was taken by the Nazis and nowadays, due to ignorance, people associate this symbol with Hitler but the truth is that the swastika is a symbol with a totally positive meaning that is still used in India and in a large number of Asian countries.
It is a very old symbol that can be found in different cultures around the world in continents such as Asia or America.
Some of the meanings associated with the swastika are:
- Good luck: The swastika is considered a symbol of good luck and fortune in many cultures.
- Rebirth: The swastika symbolizes rebirth and regeneration.
- Harmony and Balance: The swastika is associated with harmony and balance in many cultures and spiritual traditions.
- Protection: In some cultures, the swastika is considered a protective amulet that can protect the wearer from harm and danger.
- Fertility: The swastika is associated with fertility and creation.
- Union of opposites: In some belief systems, the swastika is considered a symbol of the union of opposites, such as light and dark, good and evil, heaven and earth. It has a meaning similar to Yin and Yang.
- Spiritual transformation: It symbolizes spiritual transformation and enlightenment.
- Cosmic order: It is considered a symbol of cosmic order and the cyclical nature of the universe.
We can also find the symbol facing left (counterclockwise) called sauwastika, and symbolizes the nocturnal or tantric aspects of the goddess Kali.
The trishula is a weapon consisting of three sharp points extending from a central handle
The symbolism of the trishula is very varied. It is wielded by the god Shiva and is said to have been used to cut off the original head of Ganesha. Durga also holds a trishula, as one of his many weapons.
The three prongs have various meanings and, as usual in Hinduism, there are many stories behind them. They are said to represent various trinities: creation, preservation and destruction; past, present and future; body, mind and atman; dharma or dhamma (law and order), bliss/mutual enjoyment and emanation/created bodies; compassion, joy and love; spiritual, psychic and relative; happiness, comfort and boredom; pride, reputation and selfishness; clarity, knowledge and wisdom; heaven, mind and earth; soul, fire and earth; soul, passion and embodied soul; logic, passion and faith; prayer, manifestation and sublime; insight, serenity and bodhisattva or arhatship (anti-deception); practice, understanding and wisdom; death, ascension and resurrection; creation, order and destruction; the three gunas: satva, rajas and tama
Trishula is also associated with the destruction of ego and ignorance, which are seen as obstacles to attaining spiritual enlightenment. Some Hindu sects, such as Shaivites, consider the trishula as a sacred symbol representing the divine trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva.
In Hindu iconography, the god Shiva can be seen holding the trishula in his right hand. It is believed that Shiva uses the trishula to destroy ignorance and free his devotees from the illusion of the material world.
A lingam, sometimes called a linga or linga of Shiva, is an abstract or aniconic representation of the Hindu god Shiva in Shaivism. Usually the main murti or devotional image in Hindu temples dedicated to Shiva, it is also found in smaller shrines or as self-manifested natural objects.
It is often depicted within a disc-shaped platform, the yoni – its female counterpart, consisting of a flat, horizontal element in comparison to the vertical lingam, and designed to allow liquid offerings to drain away for collection. Together they symbolize the merging of microcosm and macrocosm, the eternal divine process of creation and regeneration, and the union of the feminine and masculine that recreates all existence.
The metaphorical creative principle of lingam-yoni, the union of the feminine and the masculine, the eternal cosmological process of creation, is also represented in the Chinese philosophy of Yin and Yang, where etymologically and semantically Yin represents the feminine, the unity-half of consciousness, and Yang denotes the masculine, the other half, symbolizing together the totality or unity-consciousness in creation. The lingam is conceptualized as both an emblem of generative and destructive power, particularly in the esoteric Kaula and Tantra practices, as well as in the Shaivism and Shaktism traditions of Hinduism.
The Shiva lingam also symbolizes the ascension of kundalini energy, which is the latent spiritual energy residing at the base of the spine. Worship of the lingam is considered a way to awaken and elevate the kundalini, which can help achieve spiritual enlightenment and union with the divine.
In the Hindu tradition, the Shiva lingam is considered a sacred object to be treated with respect and veneration. It is believed that devotees can obtain Shiva’s divine blessing and grace through proper worship of the lingam.
In addition, the is also associated with purification of the body and mind. It is believed that worship of the lingam can help release negative emotions and limiting thoughts, leading to greater mental clarity and emotional well-being.
Padma or Lotus Flower
The Padma or lotus is one of the Hindu symbols par excellence. It is a very important symbol used in many contexts, including temple decoration and meditation. Here are some of the spiritual meanings of the Padma:
- Padma is associated with purity and beauty. Although it grows in swampy and muddy waters, the lotus emerges clean and radiant, symbolizing the ability of human beings to overcome life’s challenges and adversities to attain purity and spiritual perfection.
- Itis considered a symbol of creation and fertility. According to Hindu mythology, the god Brahma emerged from the Padma, which represents the origin and source of all life
- It is associated with the heart chakra (Anahata) in yoga philosophy, which is the center of spiritual energy and compassion.
- The lotus is also associated with enlightenment and wisdom in Hinduism and other religions. In some traditions, the lotus is believed to represent the human connection to the divine and the possibility of attaining enlightenment and wisdom through spiritual practice.
- The lotus is associated with feminine divinity in Hinduism, especially with the goddess Lakshmi, who is depicted sitting on a golden lotus. The Padma is believed to be a symbol of the divine feminine energy that sustains and nurtures the universe.
What is the usefulness of Hindu Symbols?
- They help concentrate the mind and raise consciousness: Symbols are used in meditation and worship to help concentrate the mind and raise consciousness. For example, the image of the Shiva lingam is used in meditation to help focus the mind on divine energy.
- They convey teachings and values: They are used to convey important teachings and values in the Hindu religion. For example, om represents the unity and interconnectedness of all things.
- Facilitate understanding and communication: They are used to facilitate understanding and communication among followers of the religion. By using shared symbols, followers of the religion can communicate more effectively about complex spiritual ideas and concepts.
- They serve as sacred objects of worship: Hindu spiritual symbols, such as images of gods and goddesses, are used as sacred objects of worship in Hindu temples and homes. Worship of these symbols is a way to connect with the divine and receive its grace and blessings.
- They help connect with the divine: They are also used to help connect with the divine and experience the presence of the sacred. Contemplation and worship of spiritual symbols can help followers of religion experience a sense of peace, joy and spiritual wholeness.
- Express artistic creativity: Hindu symbols have been a source of inspiration for artists for centuries. Artists have used the symbols to create beautiful and meaningful works of art that reflect Hindu spirituality and culture.
- They help to understand the nature of reality: Symbols are used to represent abstract concepts and understand the nature of reality. For example, the image of the lotus represents purity and spiritual perfection that can be achieved through spiritual practice.