In Hindu dharma the symbolism and depiction of gods are given great importance. Because God’s took various avatara on earth, in some they conquered evil by fighting with the asura, in some gods were born as humble, pious humans…
These depictions with the stories of origin of these forms of God always emphasizes on importance of knowledge, moral, and various aspects of dharma.
Ganesha has elephant head, Shiva with three eyes, Brahma is with four heads, Vishnu with four hands, these representation of gods can be seen in various Puranas. Let us see what do they signify,
Brahma is depicted with four heads, HD is Hamsa vahana, and Devi Sri Saraswathi is his consort.
Brahma is the reason for creation. There are four veda and four purushurartha to be achieved by the body which shelters the Atma.
The four heads of Brahma signifies this number. There are four veda, each head represents one.
‘Hamsa Ksheera nyaya’ states that Hamsa can seperate milk from the water, even if both are mixed together. This is a symbolic way of explaining that creation is full of good and the bad, it is upto us to choose what does good, and bring happiness and peace.
Hamsa with Brahma signifies, if a person manages to learn the true meaning if the vedas represented by Brahma, one can easily float through the ‘Bhava sagara’ like a Hamsa with ease and can reach the ultimate goal of life.
Vishnu is often depicted with four hands each carrying either a weapon or a symbol such as Shankha, Chakra, Gadaa, and Padma.
The sound that emerges from the Shankha is the basic wave(naada), from which the whole universe is believed to have taken form. The sound is ‘Om’ this is the reason it is also called Pranava- the beginning.
Chakra literally means the one which seperates or which is in constant motion. Vishnu seperate his devotees from the sorrows of the world, and cuts the evil from their life. And also chakra symbolizes that a devotee must go through a constant ups and downs but never stop from trying to achieve the ultimate knowledge about oneself.
Gadaa represents the punishment. When an individual involve in unjust activities god himself will punish him. So to be in path of dharma should be the lesson for all living beings.
Padma is representation of constant effort that lifts oneself from the mud of worldly pleasure, then the knowledge blooms. Even though a lotus flower can be seen floating on the water it never actually in contact with the same.
Hence one must indulge in Artha and Kama, just like a lotus flower. Indulge but never let it take control of one’s life.
Probably the most iconic representation of any God in Hindu culture is that of Shiva.
He is one among Trimurti, known as Mahadeva yet he is a hermit, always in Samadhi. He has renounced every worldly pleasure and has taken Smashana as his dwelling place.
Trishula represents three types of pain(shula) that a human being suffers from.
Adidaivika, Adibhoutika and Adhyatmika. Pain related to the deeds of the previous life, related to the body carried in the previous life, and the Atma which has taken re birth. And Shiva is the solution to liberate on self from all three of these.
Shankarabharana is a snake, around Shiva’s neck. Snake is what fear, poison and death is symbolized as. To keep things which can harm us near to us yet having complete control over them is what the snake around Shiva’neck represents.
The third eye of the Shiva is form of pure ultimate knowledge. Shiva when opens his third eye whole creation case to exist. Because once a living being attains the knowledge of Parabrahma it is liberated from all the attachments of past and present and the future is nothing but Moksha.
Bhasma which Shiva wears signifies however rich one might be, how much ever knowledge one possess, the final thing which is left when the body is burnt in Smashana is nothing but Bhasma. Everything is going to become dust hence never to carry pride or ego, always be humble and have humility.
Chandra on Shiva’s head signify two things,
First, Shiva carried him on his head when chandra was cursed and had lost all his glory. Shiva never leaves his devotee in suffering. He is always there for rescue.
Second, the waxing and winning if moon signifies never ending changes occurring in our life. We should have courage when darkness takes over hoping to shine like full moon when time comes.
Damaru is the source of all the energy in the creation. Shiva is ‘Naada brahma’ without him there is no sound or music in this world.
Our gods have been conceptualize and symbolized in these ways because understanding the supreme power is nit in the limits of a lesser mortals like human beings. Hence Hindu Dharma always sings praises of Gods for their qualities rather than their appearance. This liberty we have with our idea of God has what united Hindus even when there are million ways of depiction.
The scholars, rishis had knowledge of how the divine power influence the life of a common man. Hence through various stories they have brought God nearer to a devotee by giving liberty to give him a form, give him a name, to worship as one wishes.
Hindu dharma is the embodiment of Unity. Understanding the basics of our Dharmic principles will make us respect the Sanatana Dharma even more.
Dr Sindhu Prashanth