Cultural Symbols of India



Abstract: Few countries in the world have such an ancient and diverse culture as India's. It has been enriched by successive waves of migration which were absorbed into the Indian way of life. It is this variety which is a special hallmark of India. Its physical, religious and racial variety is as immense as its linguistic diversity. Underneath this diversity lies the continuity of Indian civilization and social structure from the very earliest times until the present day. Modern India presents a picture of unity in diversity to which history provides no parallel. ***********

There are many cultural symbols in India. These symbols have grave meanings. Here is a catalogue of everything Indian. 
Meditation: In Indian culture the need for the development of the inner faculties of a human being is stressed. After countless years of experience and experiments, this culture has developed various special systems of exercises for increasing the strength, purity and power of all the faculties of man. Meditation is one of them. It has been claimed that God can be attained through meditation. In meditation, the performer attains a state of communion with his deity. It is said that for sublimation and evolution, every person must meditate on God at least three times a day. It has been proclaimed that the most auspicious time for meditation is 3 O’ clock in the morning every day. During this time Mother Nature is the most serene. It is called Brahma Muhurta. In order to attain spiritual progress, one must try to dissociate from worldly pleasures and attachments. The experts advocate that meditation should be performed at a predetermined place, time and location for accelerated concentration.

Yogis or Rishis: In Indian culture Yogis or Rishis receive fantastic appreciation. A “Yogi” is one who is joined to God. The path that leads to ideals is that of a yogi who consciously and deliberately progresses towards divinity, which is the purpose of creation. With yogic advance his mind gets purified and he later becomes a Siddha Saint. All those who practice meditation, concentration and purification of their mind and body senses are real Yogis.

Deepam or Lamp: From time immemorial the sacrificial fire has been an important item of Indian culture. Every function, ceremony, worship or Puja starts with the worship of the fire in some form or the other. The importance of fire worship is mentioned in all the Vedas and religious books. The Rishis of India worship FLAME or JYOTI or DEEPAM, as being the purest of the pure because it consumes all impurities but yet remains pure by itself. A lamp is an earthen saucer like container, filled with ghee or butter with a twisted cotton tape immersed in it. It is lighted in every Hindu household and temple in India. The cotton tape keeps sucking the ghee to yield a cool bright light, a flame. In nature the flame is considered to be the source of infinite energy of positive currents. Great emphasis is also placed on performing “ARTI” in India during worship of any deity. The arti flame is moved around the idol for the devotees to have a good look of the deity, and then the devotees put out their palms to receive the arti aura. The flame is also considered a good germ killer. Most of the Indian women perform a small worship of the deity in their houses with a special “Arti” of a small deepam or lamp and incense sticks.

Tree Worship: Trees are considered to be friends of man as they provide him shelter, food, fuel, and oxygen for good living. In the Rigveda and the Atharveda some trees are deified, as “Vriksha Devta” which are considered to be holy and the people ought to worship them. The Pipal, Banyan, Goolar, Amla, Vilva, Sandal, Neem, Mango, and Babool are the trees that are worshipped in India. It is said that Gods and the souls of pious ancestors rest on the branches of the Pipal tree. Married Hindu ladies worship the Banyan tree for a long and happy married life. Lord Shiva patronizes the Vilva tree as the only tree, which has three, leaves that sprout together like a trident. The fruit called bel was a favorite of Lord Shiva. Another tree is the Asoka tree which is known to relieve the worries of the persons sitting under its shade. Sita is said to have been seated under an Asoka tree in Lanka during her captivity. The Hindus also worship the Kadam tree, because Shree Krishna used to sit and play under this tree. Rishi Chyavan patronized the Amla tree for rejuvenating properties.

Tulsi Worship: In India, the Tulsi is regarded as the most sacred plant. According to scientists the place containing tulsi plant becomes pollution free. The oil of the leaves is capable of destroying bacteria and insects. The leaves have mercury traces and are hence nowadays used in cancer curing. The juice of the leaves cures bronchitis and stomach upsets. The leaves’ paste cure all skin diseases .Thick branches of Tulsi are dried and cut into beads to make rosary beads. The ancient Rishis have ordained that if a ghee lamp or incense stick or flowers are not available for performing puja then Tulsi leaves can be used and this explains the importance of the worship of tulsi in India.

Betel Leaf (Paan): During worship or rituals, leaves from some selected trees are used as essential accessories, but among them all the Betel Leaf enjoys a place of pride in India. In Hindu weddings, a betel leaf is tucked into the headgear of the bride and the groom. The use of betel leaf is considered as a noble trait and on all auspicious celebrations; betel leaf has become a symbolic item denoting freshness and prosperity. The Skanda Purana says that the Betel Leaf was obtained during the ocean- churning by the Gods. Paan has rich herbal properties.

Coconut (Nariyel): In India, for success and prosperity on all occasions, the beginning is done with the breaking of a sanctified coconut. All religious functions and rituals start with the worship of the coconut since it is regarded as the symbolic GANESH, the deity who helps in the successful completion of any work undertaken. Sage Vishwamitra is said to be the creator of coconut. Its hard kernel inspires one to do hard work for attaining success. People get strength and improved eyesight by eating the kernel. The sick and the elderly find its water nourishing and ladies apply its oil for luxurious hair. It has glucose, phosphorous and carbohydrates in good measures and so it is good for Diabetics. Germs can’t penetrate its hard kernel so it remains intact for months together. Ancient Indian doctors used to burn its outer shell to prepare tooth powder, eyebrow creams and ointments for burns. Every inch of the coconut plant is very beneficial to humans. Hence Indians consider it a good omen to receive or give coconut fruits as gifts. It is also called Shreephal because it denotes prosperity.

Lotus Flower: Lotus is a very important symbol of Indian cultural heritage. It is mentioned in all the Hindu scriptures because it is very sacred to the Gods. God Brahma and Buddha are depicted as seated on a Lotus flower. Lord Vishnu holds a lotus in one of his hands and Goddess Lakshmi also holds a Lotus flower. The Lotus is an appropriate symbol of detachment from the surroundings, be it good or bad. The Indian Poets have used the Lotus as a simile in praise of the feet of the Gods and Goddesses. All the Vedas sing in praise of the Lotus. In the Yogasastra, the six Chakras are depicted with the Lotus as the base. According to the Mahayana sect of Buddhism, all the souls originate from the Lotus. The lotus blooms with the morning light and closes its petals when the sun goes down. So the sages accepted lotus as a unique symbol of unfolding the spiritual qualities of man with the advent of light.

Aum: According to the Hindu Yogis in India, inhaling air generates SH-Sh sound while exhaling is associated with HM-HM and enunciated that SOHAM is the keynote of life. Later they discovered that sound O was guttural and sound AM touched palate and so told that AUM encompassed man’s total existence. The Aum sound is vibrating throughout the cosmos and it has three manifestations; those of creations, preservations and destruction. Every time a person utters any letter or word, he puts into operation any of these three virtues of AUM. The vibratory cosmic energy- AUM does not maintain by food alone, but man’s body battery. This invisible power flows through the human body and controls its actions when uttered properly with reverence and concentration.

Tilak or Bindi: A deep study of human anatomy reveals that the forehead is the best place for applying Tilak. Rishis declared that the junction of the nose-root and the meeting point of the eyebrows is the most sensitive part of the body. The Agya- chakra, or Wheel of wisdom, is located here and so is a vulnerable spot, which must be kept, warm and protected. The wearers are advised by the rishis to use a mixture of vermillion, lime, turmeric, saffron, musk, agar, sandal and ash for men and sindur or vermillion on their skull-center for the women, to provide warmth to the pineal and pituitary glands located near the Thalamus. The bindi is declared to be very helpful for the good health of the brain, eyes, ears and the nose because these applications maintain a fine pull on the veins and nerves underneath the forehead, nose-root and forearm’s skin to monitor proper flow of blood. The forebrain controls the decision making part of the brain. In acupressure methods it is considered to be the most sensitive part of the body responsible for alertness and hence the use of Bindi for the forehead is justified.

Swastik: The Swastik symbol is the symbol of all- round prosperity in India. So whosoever desires to have glory, prosperity, progress and success is advised to invoke the Swastika Yantra. The Aryans adopted the Swastik as a symbol for the good of humanity. Then the Hindus added some more arms to the Swastik to denote happiness in married life and worldly successes. Indian Siddhants say that the center of the Swastik represents the uterus, the origin point of the Universe, the vertical line, Shiva and the horizontal line, the female organ. Their cross forms the origin and evolution of the whole world. Certain shapes represent deities and when a devotee invokes the deity through the symbol, his thoughts are concentrated and good results are got and one such omnipotent symbol is the Swastik, which is widely used in India.

Rudraksha Mala: It is a common sight in India, to see saints and rishis wearing small ball-like seeds in a string around their neck. They are called Rudraksha Mala. Rudraksha is the seed of a fruit of a rare species of a tree found in Karnataka and in the Konkan area. It is roundish with a cellular demarcation and has a central bore. Each seed may have 1 to 21 cells and the seeds with one cell are of great sanctity value. The most common variety is the seeds with 5 cellular divisions. It has a beneficial property of attracting healthy vibrations and so saints and rishis wear them as necklaces. The Lord Shiva is also found to wear one such thing in his neck. Its aromatic property helps a devotee to get into deep meditation easily. The rudraksha thread protects the wearer from lightings, accidents and brings him good luck according to Indian saints and rishis. People with positive currents of energy should wear it on their right hand and those with negative energy current on their left hands, for good results.

Sacred Thread: In India, a tuft of hair in the back of the head, a rosary in the hand, a prominent bindi on the forehead and a sacred thread along the torso are considered to be some of the important symbols of holiness among the Hindus. The sacred thread consists of hand -spun yarn. After a sacred thread ceremony the person is given a sacredness status. He is supposed to wear it as a cross-belt on his body. The three twisted yarns represent the Trinity of God, or the three virtues of life namely; pious living, imperious living and vicious living. The threads are bright white and so they also add to the aura and moral strength.
Kalash (Sacred Pot): The Rishis wanted water all year round to quench their thirst, so they developed a container- a Kalash and they were happy that they could enshrine God Varun in the Kalash and thus the worship of Varun started with the worshipping of the Kalash. The Rishis also ordained that every ceremony should start with the worship of the Kalash. In India, on most of the ceremonial occasions, a pot filled with clean water, with fresh mango or betel leaves placed at the mouth and a coconut placed on top is kept near the entrance. It is also decorated with Swastik symbol and other ornamentations.

Ringing of Bells: In India, regular rhythmic ringing of heavy and light weight bells has been made compulsory during the time of worship in most of the temples, so as to invoke the deity’s blessings. Research has proved that the sound of a standard bell can cure physical as well as mental diseases. Loud sounds of the bell or the blowing of the conch, gets 27 cubic feet of air in an area of 1220 sq.ft, purified and it is taken to be the most economical way of purifying the environment. For worship, blowing of conch, a type of shell, bells of different dimensions, the beating of metallic-alloy plates, Jhang, Majira, etc are very common in India.

Conch Shells (Shankh): The Conch Shell or Shankh was obtained as a gift from the ocean - churning by the Gods. The spiral formation inside the conch -shell is symbolic of infinite space. All naturally occurring conch shells yield cosmic sounds, which can be heard by holding the shell close to one’s ears. God Vishnu accepted an attractive conch shell with its mouth on the right side, and another with a left-side opening adores the hand of Goddess Lakshmi. The blowing of the conch shell heralds important events and auspicious celebrations and calls all the faithful for the worship of the deity. In the battlefield of Kurushetra in the Mahabharatha, every morning the blowing of the shankh, symbolized the starting of the war. Every great King and Army- Chief had his own precious Shankh or conch shell. 

References: 
 Auboyer, Jeannine (2002). Daily Life in Ancient India, from 200 BC to 700 AD. (Originally published in French in 1961), Phoenix Press, London. 
 Basham A.L.(1954). The Wonder that was India. Sedgwick and Jackson, London. 
 Bhalla, Prem P. (2006). Hindu Rites, Rituals, Customs & Traditions. Pustak Mahal.
Kamath, Suryanath U. (2001) [1980]. A concise history of Karnataka: from pre-historic times to the present. Bangalore: Jupiter books. 
Narasimhacharya, R (1988). History of Kannada Literature. New Delhi, Madras: Asian Educational Services.
 Nilakanta Sastri, K.A. (2002) [1955]. A history of South India from prehistoric times to the fall of Vijayanagar. New Delhi: Indian Branch, Oxford University Press. 
 Tully, Mark. No Full Stops in India. 
 Ukil, Manjari Foreign Influence on Indian Culture (c.600 BC to AD 320). 
 Varma, Pavan K. Being Indian: Inside the Real India. 
 Vimalananda, Swamini; Krishnakumar, Radhika. In Indian Culture Why do We?

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