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Koshur Music

An Introduction to Spoken Kashmiri



Our Sacred Symbols

by T.N. Dhar 'Kundan'

Recently I heard a religious discourse where the learned speaker said that ‘Dharma’ is one and that is beginning-less and unending and the divergent faiths that we see in our contemporary world are actually different ways of worshipping. How true this statement is? No doubt there are multifarious ways of worshipping the Divine. Each one of them has certain symbols to represent different aspects of their faith. The Christians have a cross, the Muslims have a crescent, the Sikhs have an iron bangle or a dagger and so on and so forth.  Traditionally we too have certain sacred symbols. Each one of them has a meaning and a certain connotation. Let us examine some of these symbols and what each one of them represents and conveys. We may also underline the importance of these in the contemporary world for us. The first and foremost is ‘AUM’ called ‘Pranavah’. The Bhagavad Gita says that ‘AUM’ connotes the Divine. ‘Pranavah sarva Vedeshu – the crux of the Vedas is ‘AUM’ and that is Me.’ This important symbol known as ‘seed syllable’ or ‘Beeja-akshra’ represents totality, completeness or fullness, manifestation of the Divine in the form of the entire creation. It covers top, bottom, centre of the cosmos denoted by the three letters and the unknown beyond that, represented by the fourth nasal sound called ‘Turiya’, fourth. The Divine is said to be beyond all these four states. This symbol also is held to be denoting four stages of human consciousness, wakeful stage, dream-stage, sleeping stage and the stage higher than the rest three. There is a belief that the Ganesha is the personification of this sacred symbol conceived by the sages of yore.

Now let us take the symbol hexagon. It is actually a juxtaposition of two triangles, one inverted into the other. This not only shows the six dimensions of the universe but also symbolizes union of the two opposites like the Chinese yung and yen, Upanishadic ‘Pran’ and ‘Rayi’, Vaishnavite’s ‘Purusha’ and ‘Prakriti’ and Shaivite’s ‘Shiva’ and ‘Shakti’ or the Matter and Force of the Sciences. Our mythologies have conceived of certain multi-faceted entities like four-faced Brahma and Ganesha, five-faced Shiva or six-faced Kumara. This shows that our sages were aware of multiple dimensions at a time when the world was ignorant of the astronomical and scientific facts of the universe.     

The next symbol is called ‘Swastik’ or the symbol of well-being. It is the mathematical sign of plus with all the four arms extended. It denotes not only the union of various elements but also suggests infinite nature of the existence through its open-ended extremities. We use this symbol on festive occasions and during religious rituals. Now let us take the mark that we put on our foreheads called ‘Tilaka’. We make a paste of sandalwood, saffron or vermilion. Then a mark either round or oval or straight is made with this paste on the forehead in the centre between the two eyebrows. We all know that this place is a nerve centre and controls various parts of the body intellectually and through awareness. These holy pastes keep this place poised in a balanced equilibrium. It keeps the temperature of this most important epicentre controlled and properly checked. Some people apply white ashes called ‘Vibhuti’ on the whole of the forehead. In certain areas of our country the pattern of this mark additionally indicates the school of philosophy to which a person owes allegiance. If the mark has threefold horizontal lines made of sandal paste, the person is a ‘Shaivite’, believing in non-dualism of Adi Shankara. If the mark is round and red, made of vermilion, the person is a ‘Shakhta’, worshipper of Mother Goddess. If it is vertical U-shaped mark, the person is a ‘Vaishnavaite’ subscribing to dualism of Madhvacharya or qualified monism of Ramanujacharya.

There are multifarious symbols prescribed in different treatises. These are all graphic and geometrical and are called ‘Yantras’. In fact there is a close connection between ‘Mantras’ and ‘Yantras’. For every ‘Mantra’ there is a specific ‘Yantra’. Of these ‘Shree Yantra’ or ‘Shree Chakra’ are the most commonly used for rituals and worshipping. We have had an abode of ‘Shree Chakra’ at the hillock Hari Parbat in Srinagar for centuries. The place is called ‘Chakreshwara’ and devotees worship at this place with conviction and abundant faith. While the ‘Mantra’ is used for chanting and recitation of the names, attributes and praises of the chosen deity, the ‘Yantras’ help in concentration, meditation and ritualistic practices. Often these symbols are written on paper or metal sheets and made into a talisman to be worn round the neck, as upper armbands or on the wrists. A coloured red and yellow thread called ‘Narivan’ is also worn round the wrist. This is a symbol of the pledge we take in front of our deity to lead a life of righteousness, piety and purity. This is a symbol, which is with us all the time and inspires us to be noble and divine in thought, word and deed. This is tied and worn at the beginning of every ritual and at the commencement of the sacrificial fire.   

There are many other symbols prescribed in different schools of philosophy and each one of them has a meaning, a connotation and has its relevance in the course of spiritual practice. Those who follow ‘Tantra’ have a number of symbols with different usage.

T. N. Dhar Kundan's Articles


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