Art is a way to express our feelings, emotions, and creativity. This world would have been a boring place if art hadn’t been there in our life. Art can be in many forms. You can draw, paint, sculpt, carve, sing, dance, and even build. Our ancestors used primitive tools to draw sketches and signs. Over a period, these drawings became symbols and started appearing in many art forms. For thousands of years, the art of symbolism is being used in religions, cultures, and traditions to represent civilizations, sects, and communities. Modern art is also not untouched by symbolism and many artists have incorporated symbolism in their creations.
Indian is a land of many art forms. The land boasts such diversity in the art that you may require many births to see a few of them, let alone master. These art forms are mainly inspired by nature, devotion, and astrology. Like any other civilizations, Indian art forms also use symbolism to represent religion and culture of the specific period. You can see the symbolism mainly in ancient structures like temples, palaces, and monuments. These structures and buildings are testimony to Indian symbolism and art.
Some symbols of Indian culture have become part of the daily life of the people, and they are revered and worshiped. Whether you are visiting a temple or wandering the streets of Indian cities and villages, you are bound to see these symbols. They became even more visible in festivals, ceremonies, and celebrations. Each symbol carries a different philosophy, story, and meaning. It would be fascinating to know more about these symbols.
Symbolism in Indian Art
When you visit a temple in India, especially the ones having historical and architectural significance, you are going to see several symbols. These symbols are either hidden in the sculptures and murals carved on the walls of the temples. Some symbols are also placed at specific places to attract blessings of the gods and goddesses. You might even see the main deity of the temple carrying the symbol in his hand. The symbols are considered to bring wealth, health, and prosperity.
Om, Sri Chakra Yantra, and Swastika are among the popular symbols used in Indian art forms. The significance they carry is immense and demands a lot of respect, attention, and devotion. Apart from these symbols, several other symbols are equally considered to be holy and sacred.
Let’s briefly see 8 symbolism used in Indian art.
Om symbol is the most revered and respected symbol in Hinduism and Indian culture. It is a sound symbol and considered representing the entire universe. It is said that before the birth of the universe, there was only the sound of Om. The vibrations of the sound gradually created the universe. Due to this reason, Om is considered the ultimate reality representing the highest universal principle- The Brahman. The Om is pronounced as AUM and each alphabet represents God in three forms – Brahman (A), Vishnu (U), and Shiva (M). Om has been widely used in Indian ancient text and hymns and it is part of most of the devotional activities like chanting, singing, and meditating. The written form of Om in Sanskrit text is the holiest symbol in Hindu dharma.
Most people associate Swastika with Nazis and Hitler. It reminds them of the genocide he carried out and the lives lost in the Second World War. The Swastika is not even closer to violence or bloodshed. It carries auspicious meaning and it is a symbol of prosperity. The symbolism of Swastika is being used since ancient times in India. Vedas and myths have used Swastika in their texts and stories. The Swastika represents stability, truth, and purity of the soul. The four sides of Swastika represent the sun with the four limbs representing the rays of the sun. Since it looks the same on the sides, it is also a symbol of balance and strength.
The spinning pattern of Swastika in four directions has given rise to many thoughts and ideas in the ancient text. But in reality, it represents four directions and four ancient Vedas. You will find the Swastika drawn on the walls of most of the newly built Indian homes since it is considered to be auspicious.
We all know lotus is a beautiful flower. It grows in muddy waters where it can spread roots deep into the sediment. It remains afloat on the water as if it has no roots at all. This property of the lotus has been used to represent non-attachment in the ancient Indian text. The three important gods of Hindus, Brahma, Vishnu, and Lakshmi use flowers in one or the forms making it sacred and holy. The intricate design of lotus petals is compared with the unfolding of the mind’s complexities and attaining nirvana. It also represents fertility due to its growth in muddy waters. The Bhagavad Gita preaches that a person should be like lotus without attachments and untouched by impurities and sins like the drops of water stand on the leaves of the flower.
Sri Chakra or Sri Chakra Yantra or Sri Yantra is a commonly found intricate design or Mandala in India. Sri Chakra and its variants are used in auspicious occasions like marriage, housewarming ceremony, and Yajna (burning of holy fire). The sacred illustration includes nine triangles interlocked with each other. The four upright triangles represent masculine (Shiva) and the other five feminine (Shakti). It symbolically represents the entire cosmos, a womb, and non-duality (Advaita Vedanta). There are other variants of Sri Chakra, which are meant for a specific season, occasion, and time. The Mandala is considered very powerful and used in some occult practices too.
Trishula is the weapon of Shiva, the God of destruction. It is also used by Goddess Shakti. Even though Shiva is mainly the God of destruction, the three prongs of the trident represent creation, preservation, and destruction. Besides, they also symbolize three major characteristics of Goddess Shakti – wisdom, action, and will.
The Conch or commonly known in India as Shankha is a shell mainly used during worship of God. It has been described in various myths and Vedas, including Mahabharata (Hindu Epic) where it was used to announce the commencement and end of the particular day’s war. Apart from worship, the conch is also used in other religious practices with ceremonial bells to perform pooja and Yajna. The sound emanating from the conch is considered to be the sound of the universe. Since the sound has similarities with the sound of Om, it is said that the sound of the conch created the universe.
Snakes are feared creatures across the world, including India. But they are also the most worshipped species across India. This is due to the ancient culture that has given special significance to snakes in several sacred texts. The two main gods of Hindus, Shiva, and Vishnu, have given snakes an important place in their abode. Shiva wears a snake around his neck while Vishnu sleeps on a huge serpent called Anant. A snake represents Kundalini, the latent energy present in human beings when it is coiled. They also said to protect all the directions and treasures of the earth.
Veena is a musical instrument used in Indian traditional and classical music. Since it is the instrument of the Hindu goddess Saraswati, Veena is considered to represent knowledge, wisdom, and learning. There are other variants of Veena called Saraswati Veena, Rudra Veena, and Vichitra Veena. Though they all are musical instruments, they symbolize sounds of the universe that contain an abundance of knowledge.