An open-air Hindu Lingam from Lepakshi
The shivalingam is probably the most important Shaivite symbol. The symbol may take many forms, most usually a post with a rounded top. This form makes the pouring of sacred fluids such as milk or water easy. Though many shivalingams are man-made, some are natural. Naturally occurring oval stones from the Narmada River are often used in worship. Some temples also have natural shivalinga, among the most famous being the Amarnath temple, which has a natural ice lingam.
There are many symbolic meanings to the shivalingam. The oval shape represents the universe. The shivalinga is sometimes depicted with four faces. This form is known as the Panchamukha, or five faced shivalingam; the fifth face is said to be invisible and looks directly upward to the heavens. The panchmukha Shiva is a form of sadashiva or eternal Shiva.
Shiva's Drum, the Damaru
Shiva is often depicted with an “hourglass drum” or Damaru. The Damaru symbolises the sound of creation, the mystic ॐ, or Aum.
In the Nataraja Shiva holds a damaru in one hand to represent creation and fire in another to represent destruction. The drum beats out both the heartbeat of the smallest animal and of the aeons long cycle of the creation and destruction of the universe.
The drum, when viewed from the side has the appearance of two overlapping triangles, which like the shatkona represents the masculine and feminine aspects of God, the Shiva-Shakti.
- The Shatkona
The Shatkona is a symbol for Shiva and Shakti. It is made from two trikonas, Shiva is represented by the upward pointing triangle (△) and Shakti by the downward pointing triangle (▽). Shiva represents the masculine side of God and the parashiva, the all pervasive mysterious form of Shiva without qualities. Shakti represents the feminine side of God and the parashakti, the power of Shiva. The upward-pointing triangle can also represent purusha (the supreme being), and the downward-pointing one Prakṛti, or the world seen as mother nature.
Overlapping they remind us that all these are qualities of one God, neither male nor female but encompassing both (✡). This symbol appears in the twelve-petalled Anahata chakra, or heart chakra. In the West this symbol is more commonly associated with Judaism, where it is known as the Star of David.
Statue of Lord Shiva holding the trishula
A blog commenter recently suggested that I write about the symbols of Shaivism, the sect of Hinduism which sees Lord Shiva as God. Many of the symbols are not known or misunderstood by Westerners, so this is a good idea. In writing these posts I will also understand the symbols better myself.
I will start with the trishula (त्रिशूल), Shiva’s trident. Shiva’s trishula is the three pointed spear or trident, which Lord Shiva carries. The trishula has many symbolic meanings. As a weapon the trishula represents Shiva’s ability to destroy evil. The three points represent the acts of creation, preservation and destruction. To Shaivites, Lord Shiva fulfils all three of these roles. The three points also represent the three gunas or qualities which are exhibited in the physical world, rajas (dynamic enerjetic), tamas (negative, inactive, stagnant) and sattva (uplifting, balanced, perceiving).
The Swastika is a sacred symbol, a symbol of peace, to Hindus, Buddhists and Jains. Prior to Nazi Germany it was also a “good luck” symbol in the west.
The image to the left shows Jackie Bouvier (later Jackie Kennedy/Onassis) as a child dressed in a costume which included a swastika. More images of swastikas can be seen at the “reclaim the swastika” site. These include more pre-Nazi western swastikas, such as 1920s Coca Cola lucky key ring. Hindus still use the swastika today. The picture to the right shows a swastika symbol in a modern UK Hindu mandir. The swastika is behind a Murti of Ganesh, and the swastika is associated with Ganesh and good luck.