35 Hinduism Symbols and Meanings Every Hindu Should Know
Hinduism is a great religion and in last few articles, we focused on publishing interesting articles on Hinduism. We discussed what the Amazing facts about Hinduism are and what the Core Beliefs of Hinduism are. Although facts about Hinduism have been covered in our previous articles, we haven’t covered one topic in detail i.e. Hinduism Symbols and Meanings. All the religions of the world have symbols. Some are sacred, some points to the historical significance and some are used for worship. The amazing thing about Hinduism symbols is that they are not only used in prayers but also have scientific and spiritual importance. For example, a simple red dot worn on the forehead is both a mark of Religious Heritage and a personal reminder that we must see the world not only with our physical eyes but with the mind’s eye i.e. the eye of the soul. There are many symbols used in Hinduism and in this article we would discuss Hinduism symbols and meanings, what is the historical significance of symbols in Hinduism and Hindu mythology associated with these symbols.
Read Also: What is the Greatest Thing about Being Hindu
List of Hinduism Symbols and Meanings
- Swastika: Swastika is a sacred and auspicious symbol in Hinduism. The name Swastika comes from the Sanskrit word Swastik meaning “lucky or auspicious object”. The use of Swastika can be dated back to 2nd century BCE. The swastika is in form of an equilateral cross and its four legs bent at 90 degrees. It is not only a sacred symbol in Hinduism but also in Buddhism and Jainism.
- The Banyan Tree or the Vat Vriskha: The Vat or the Banyan tree is most venerated tree in Hinduism as well as in India. The ability of Banyan tree to grow for centuries and survive is often compared to the shelter given by God to his devotees. One can find Banyan Tree planted in front of many temples. The Rishis and Munis (sages) of Hinduism sat under the shade of this tree to seek enlightenment, held discourses and conducted Vedic rituals. In Hindu mythology, the tree is called Kalpavriksha i.e. the tree that provides fulfillment of wishes. According to the Agni Purana, it symbolizes fertility and is worshipped by those who want children. It is due to this reason the tree is never cut.
- Tripundra: Tripundra is a Sanskrit word which means “Three marks”. Tripundra is a type of tilak worn by followers of Shaivism (Followers of Lord Shiva). Tripundra consists of three horizontal lines on the forehead and a dot/line made from sacred ash in the center. These three lines represent Lord Shiva’s threefold power of will, knowledge, and action. The holy ash is usually produced from burnt cow dung. The ash signifies that body and material things will become ash one day and only Mukti (Salvation) should be the aim of Human life.
- Urdhva Pundra: Urdhva Pundra is another type of tilak worn by followers of Vaishnavism (Followers of Lord Vishnu). The tilak pattern in Urdhva Pundra consist of two or more vertical lines resembling the letter U and it is believed that it represents the foot of Lord Vishnu. It is generally worn on the forehead but many Hindus worn on other parts of the body too. The three vertical lines in Urdhva Pundra reminds Lord Brahma, Lord Vishnu, and Lord Shiva. It also represents the three syllables of Om – A, U, M, the three states of consciousness – awake, dream sleep and the three ultimate realities i.e. Maya, Brahman, and Atman.
- OM or Aum: Om is one of the most important spiritual symbols in Hinduism. According to Hinduism Aum is the root mantra and primal sound from which all creations issues forth. It also refers to Atman (soul or the self within) and Brahman (ultimate reality). Om is also considered as the “cosmic sound” or “mystical syllable” in India or simply as “affirmation to something divine“.
- Nataraja: Nataraja means “King of Dance” and it is a depiction of Lord Shiva as the cosmic dancer. It is believed Lord Shiva performs his divine dance (Tandava) to destroy the universe and initiate the process of creation of the new universe. There are two main types of Tandava one performed with joy is called The Ananda Tandava. If the dance is performed in a violent mood then it is called The Rudra Tandava. Natraja is also the prime deity in the famous Thillai Nataraja Temple at Chidambaram.
- Peacock and Peacock Feather: Peacock is Lord Kartikeya’s (Murugan in South India) mount. Lord Kartikeya is the son of Lord Shiva and Hindu god of war. The proud display of the dancing peacock symbolizes religion in full unfolded glory. It is also believed that peacock was created from one of the feathers of Garuda (another mythical bird in Hind mythology, the carrier of Lord Vishnu). Peacock is also national Bird of India. Peacock is able to foretell rain by dancing and opening all its feathers and rain is very important in India as India is an agricultural dependent country. Peacock Feathers (Moor Pankh) is another auspicious symbol in Hinduism. It is believed that keeping peacock feathers in the home brings good luck and prosperity. Lord Krishna (8th incarnation of Lord Vishnu) had a peacock feather on his crown. Students in India also keep peacock feather in their books as it symbolizes Goddess Saraswati (Goddess of Knowledge) will help them to excel in their studies.
- Nandi Bull: Nandi bull is a mount of Lord Shiva and he is also the gatekeeper for Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati. The word Nandi is a Sanskrit word which means “who brings Joy”. Temples dedicated to Lord Shiva have an idol of Nandi Bull in a seated position. In Hinduism, it is important to seek the blessings of Nandi before proceeding to worship Lord Shiva. There are many temples in India dedicated solely to Nandi Bull.
- Ankusha: Ankush is derived from the Sanskrit word Ankusha meaning elephant goad. It is used for handling and training of elephants. In Hinduism Lord Ganesh is depicted as holding Ankush in one of his hand. Ankush symbolizes that a small weapon can control giant animal like elephant similarly Human can also control their mind with smaller things. It is also assumed that Ankush is used to remove obstacles from the path of Dharma. Ankush is also the force by which all wrongful things are repelled from a human being.
- Anjali Mudra: Anjali is a Sanskrit word meaning “to honor or celebrate” and the word Mudra means “sign”. In Hinduism, it also means “I bow to the divine in you“. Basically, Anjali Mudra is a hand gesture which both the hands are pressed together, palms touching and fingers pointing upwards, and thumbs close to the chest. Anjali mudra has the same meaning as the Sanskrit greeting Namaste and can be performed while saying Namaste.
- The Padma or the Lotus Flower: The Padma or the Lotus is another important symbol in Hinduism. The Padma in Hinduism is revered with Lord Vishnu, Lord Brahma, Goddess Lakshmi and Goddess Sarasvati. The Padma symbolizes purity and beauty regardless of the good or bad circumstances where it grows. It is a reminder that good and prosperity can bloom and not be affected by evil in one’s surrounding. Lord Vishnu is often described as the “Lotus-Eyed One”.
- Bilva or the Bael Leaves: Bilva leaves and the tree is a sacred tree in Hinduism and especially in the Shivaism sect of Hinduism. It is found in all Shiva temples throughout India and its fruits, flowers, and leaves all are offered to Lord Siva. The tri-foliate form of Bilva leaves symbolizes the trident that Shiva holds in his right hand. It also represents the Trinity i.e. Brahma, Vishnu, and Mahesh.
MahaShiv Purana States:
“Those who meditate upon Lord Mahadeva in his form of Lingam at the root of Bilva will obtain Moksha and become a purified soul by attaining Lord Shiva”.
- Shatkona or the Six-Pointed Star: Shatkona (meaning Six) is a sacred Hindu symbol which is formed by the interlocking of triangles. These two triangles represent Lord Shiva (masculine form) and Goddess Parvati (feminine form). The upper three edges stand for Lord Siva, Purusha and fire. The lower three edges for Shakti, Prakriti, and Water. The upward-pointing triangle also represents Purusha (the Supreme Being) and the downward-pointing represents Prakṛti or The Mother Nature.
- Konnai or Cassia fistula: Konnai is another important tree in Hinduism. The flowers of Konnai is used in the temples of Lord Shiva. It is believed that the blossoms of the Konnai are the symbol of Lord Shiva’s honeyed grace on Human Life. It is the national tree of Thailand and its flower is Thailand’s national flower. It is also the state flower of Kerala in India used during the celebration of festival Vishu.
- Sivalinga or Shiv Lingam: The Shivlinga (purush) is a very sacred symbol in Hinduism and it is believed to be a symbolic representation of Lord Shiva himself. The Shivlinga can be found in almost all the temples dedicated to Lord Shiva. According to Hindu mythology, Lord Shiva himself manifested in the Linga form to allow devotees to worship him. This is because Lord Shiva is present everywhere on earth and heaven, yet he is formless and invisible to the naked eye. Therefore Shivlinga is a materialistic representation of Lord Shiva, which can be seen, touched and worshipped. Devotees are assured that they can connect to Lord Shiva through the worship of the Linga. The Shivlinga is often represented alongside the Yoni (meaning womb or Prakriti). This represents the oneness of male and female or Purush and Prakriti which leads to the creation of Universe.
- Homakunda or Hawan Kunda: HomaKunda is better known as Hawan Kunda in Hinduism. It is a fire altar generally made of bricks, stones or a copper vessel. The Kunda is usually square in Shape and in ancient times it was used for performing the Vedic rites. The altar and the ritual is a symbolic representation of the Hindu cosmology, a link between the world of Gods and living. The ritual is an asymmetric exchange, where human offer something to the Gods through the medium of fire and in return expect that the Gods will reciprocate with strength.
- Kalasha or Kalash: Kalash is a Sanskrit word which means “pitcher” or “pot”. The Kalash is made up of a metal usually (brass, copper, silver or gold) with a large base and smallmouth. In Hindu rites, the pot is filled with water and topped with a coronet of mango leaves and a coconut. The coronet of mango leaves is placed in such a way that the tips of the leaves touch the water in the Kalasha and the coconut is wrapped with a red cloth or a red thread. Kalasha is worshipped in all Hindu festivities and occasions related to marriage and childbirth. The coconut is a cash crop and it represents prosperity. The water in the pot represents the life-giving ability of Nature. The Kalash is also the official state emblem of the state of Andhra Pradesh in India.
- Paduka or Tiruvadi: The Paduka or the Tiruvadi is the sandals worn by Gods, Saints and Sages in Hinduism. The Paduka represents the holy feet. The Paduka consist of a sole and a knob which is engaged between the big and second toe. Paduka also represents the footprints of Gods such as Lord Vishnu, Lord Shiva, and other religious icons. The Tiruvadi is significant in Hindu Epic Ramayana where Bharat (Brother of Lord Rama) requested for Lord Rama’s Paduka. Bharat carried Rama’s golden Padukas with great reverence by placing them on his head as a mark of his obedience to his elder brother. In Gaya, Bihar there is a temple dedicated to Vishnupada or Vishnu’s feet.
- Kamandalu or Kamandal: The Kamandal is a water pot made of a coconut shell, metal or from clay with a handle. The Kamandal is carried by the Hindu Sages and it represents a simple and self-contained life. The water in a Kamandal represents a symbol of fertility, life and wealth. The Kamandal is often depicted in hands of Hindu Gods who appear as ascetics.
- Rudraksha Seeds: The Rudraksha is a Sanskrit word which consists of Rudra (“Lord Shiva”) and Akṣa (“Teardrops”). Rudraksha symbolizes the tears of Lord Siva shed for mankind’s suffering. The Rudraksha seeds are strung together and wore as a garland by Hindus. It is believed that the number of beads used should be 108 plus one. The extra bead is called “The Guru Bead”. Rudraksha is never cut or polished like a gemstone and it is preferably worn in a way that it does not involve metal.
- Trishula: Trishul is trident of Lord Shiva and it is also carried by other Gods in Hinduism as well as various sages and saints. The three prongs of Trishula represents The Trinity (Lord Brahma, Lord Vishnu, and Lord Mahesh) The Three Modes of Nature (creation, maintenance and destruction) The Three Kala (past, present and future) The Three Gunas (Sattva, Rajas and Tamas), Three Powers (will, action and wisdom) and three type of Miseries (physical, mental and spiritual).
- Damaru: Damaru is known as the instrument of Lord Shiva. It is a small two-headed drum and beads are fastened to each of its ends with a leather cord around the waist of the Damaru. In Hinduism, it is believed that Lord Shiva creates and destroy the whole universe by the spiritual sound produced by the Damaru. The sound of Damaru is believed to generate spiritual energy. It also symbolizes the process of recreation.
- Vel or the Holy Lance: Vel is a divine spear which is generally associated with Lord Karthikeya (Hindu God of War). Goddess Parvati presented the Vel to Lord Kartikeya as an embodiment of her Power to kill the evil demon. The tip of Vel is wide, long and sharp and it is also a symbol of divinity and an object of worship in the temples dedicated to Lord Karthikeya.
- Pasha or the Loop: Pasha is a Sanskrit word which means “knot” or “loop”. In Hinduism deities such as Lord Ganesha, Lord Yama and Lord Varuna are depicted with the pasha in their hand. Pasha represents worldly attachment as well as the power of a deity to capture and bind evil and ignorance. Lord Ganesha uses the Pasha to remove the obstacle whereas Lord Yama (the god of death) uses Pasha to extract a soul from the body at the time of death.
- Sudarshana Chakra: The Sudarshana Chakra is a disk-like weapon with 108 jagged edges and it is used by the Lord Vishnu. The word Sudarshana means “vision which is auspicious” and the word Chakra means the one which is mobile. According to Hindu Mythology, the Sudarshana Chakra is the only mobile weapon as well as the most powerful weapon. Sudarshana Chakra is used for the ultimate destruction of the enemy. Hindus usually worship Sudarshana during Homas (Hawans) to ward off negative powers or vibrations. There are many temples in India where the main deity is Sudarshana Chakra.
- Dhwaja or the Saffron Flag: The Saffron Flag in Hinduism symbolizes the “Sanatana Dharma” or the Hindu Culture. The Flag stands for Wealth, Dharma, Advancement, Glory, knowledge and detachment. Hinduism believes that fire is the ultimate purifier and therefore the flag in Hinduism has an orange color. Unlike the usual flags which are rectangular in shape, the Dhwaja is in a triangular shape. In ancient time Hindu sages used to move from one ashram to other and it was standard to carry fire along. The inconvenience to carry a burning object may have given birth to the symbol of a saffron flag. The Saffron Flag is also seen rippling on most of the Hindu Temples and can be seen at festivals and in religious processions.
- Deepalakshmi or the Oil Lamp: Oil lamps are commonly used in Hindu temples as well as in the home. The lamp is usually made of bronze or brass and cotton wicks are doused in oil or ghee which in turn are used for lighting the lamp. In general, only one wick is lit and during the festive occasions, all the five wicks are lit. The Oil Lamp is also used in the Hindu ritual of Aarti. The Oil Lamp symbolizes the dispelling of ignorance and awakening of the divine. Its soft glow illumines the temple keeping the atmosphere pure. They are also known as “Nilavilakku”, “Kutthuvilakku” and “Thookkuvilakku” in the Southern States of India.
- Ghanta or Bell: The bell is used in Hindu religious practices. The bell is generally made of brass and a clapper is attached. When it is rung the bell makes a high pitched sound. The ringing of bell summons the Gods and it also stimulates the inner ear. It also reminds us that like the sound the world may be perceived but not possessed. Hindu temples generally have one metal bell hanging at the entrance and devotees ring the bell while entering the temple. Priests and devotees also ring bells during the Puja.
- Shankha or the Conch: The Shankha is a sacred Hindu symbol and it is associated with Lord Vishnu. According to Hindu Scriptures, the Shankha is a giver of fame, longevity, and prosperity. In ancient days the Shankha was used to start and stop gathering like war, voyage, meeting. The sound produced by Shankha was called Shankanad. Today Shankha is blown at the time of worship in Hindu temples and in homes. It is also blown at the time of Aarti when the light is offered to the deities. The Shankha is also used to bathe images of deities, especially Lord Vishnu.
- Gada or the Mace: Gada is a traditional Indian weapon made from either wood or metal. It consists of a spherical head mounted on a shaft and a spike on the top. The Gada is the main weapon of the Lord Hanuman. Lord Hanuman is known for his strength so as the Gada is known for its destructive capacity. Lord Vishnu is also depicted carrying a Gada named Kaumodaki in one of his four hands. In the Mahabharata Epic, Bhima, Duryodhana, Jarasandha, Lord Balarama all were said to be masters of the Gada.
- Chandra or The Moon Chandra or the Moon is one of the God in Hinduism. He is also the God of fertility in Hinduism. During the Vedic Period, he was one of the important God, described as a God who rides a chariot pulled by ten white horses and moves around the sky at night. It also symbolizes many aspects of Hinduism like The Vedic Deities, the dream state, the ancestral world, a planetary god, the life and mortal existence, a king and a jewel adorning Lord Shiva. The moon on the forehead of Lord Shiva also represents that Lord Shiva is the master of time and is himself limitless.
- The Symbol Sri: Sri is a Sanskrit word which is commonly used in India as a polite form of addressing someone. It is equivalent to the English “Mr.” Sri is also used as a title to show respect to deities in Hinduism. Sri is also transliterated as Shree and Shri. If Sri is used alone and not followed by any name then it refers to the supreme consciousness. Hindus use the prefix Sri for many Gods and Goddess like Sri Ganesh, Sri Lakshmi, and Sri Vishnu. Most of the Hindu mantras have the word Sri in the beginning or in between the lines of mantra. Sri followed by 108 or 1008 is used by spiritual leaders in Hinduism. Countries like Sri Lanka and cities like Sri Nagar also have Sri embedded in their names.
- Cow or Gaae: In Hinduism, the cow is considered as a sacred animal and it is deeply respected. Hindus do not worship cows but it is respected in almost all parts of India. Although in Hinduism almost all the animals are sacred but Cow has greater esteem in comparison to other animals. The cow gives milk and cream, yogurt and cheese, butter and ghee. The milk of a cow is believed to refine a person. Cow dung is used as fertilizer, as a fuel and as a disinfectant in homes. It is because of above qualities that the cow is equivalent to Mother Earth, the nourisher, the ever-giving, undemanding provider.
- Hansa or the Swan: Swans are one of the revered animals in Hinduism. The Sanskrit word for Swan is Hansa and it is also the mount of Goddess Sarasvati. Vedic literature states if persons have attained great spiritual capabilities then he is called Paramahansa. Swan symbolizes knowledge and self-realization. According to Vedas, the Hansa resides on Lake Manasarovar and they have the ability to eat pearls. Hindu text says that as a swan’s feather does not get wet although it is in water, similarly a saintly person’s chief characteristic is to be in the world without getting attached to it. Sanskrit verse says “if a Hansa is offered a mixture of milk and water, then Hansa is able to drink the milk alone”.
“The swan is white, the crane is white, so how to differentiate between them?
With the milk-water test, the swan is proven swan, the crane is proven crane!”