Hinduism is rich in symbolism. Many acts of worship, such as puja, are symbolic, a form of visualisation in which worshippers simulate activities normally performed on higher planes of existence. Thus the scope of symbolism is broad and includes physical acts such as offering pranam (obeisances) with folded hands. Such physical gestures tend to induce the appropriate mood and awareness within the practitioner. Many symbols are considered auspicious, embodying the notion of inner purity. Sacred emblems are displayed in the home or temple to invoke good fortune.
Basic Hindu symbolism is enunciated in the Dharmashastras, but much of it developed with the evolution of his unique ‘way of life’. On the surface, many Hindu symbols may seem to be absurd or even dumb, but discovering the deeper meaning of the symbolism is sheer joy.
Hindus greet each other by placing their two hands together and slightly bowing the head, whilst saying namaste or a similar phrase. They adopt the same posture when greeting the temple deity or a holy person. Thus when greeting another person, a Hindu is offering respect to the soul within (atman) and also to God within the heart (Paramatman).
Many Hindus consider that religious symbols embody the divine, and are in themselves sacred. Hence the symbolic murti (sacred image) or prasada (sanctified food) not only point to transcendence but become that transcendence (Brahman) if invoked with love and devotion (see also Bhagavad-gita 4.24).
One benefit of Hindu symbolism is that it communicates the multiplicity of the faith. Devout Hindus believe that the divine comes in many forms, rather than resembling the God-like figure traditional in Christianity. In essence, Hindu deities are formless and transcend human comprehension. Hindu symbols are used to convey the concept of the divine to humankind, because it is thought that they require a visual language for understanding faith and supreme beings.
Every division, every belief has some symbols and these representations overlap one another. According to the Hindus there is one ultimate reality—Brahman. That ultimate reality in relation to the world is Isvara. He has the three functions of creation, maintenance and destruction of the universe and then He is represented by Brahma, Vishnu and Siva.
Two types of symbology may be noticed in Hinduism. First, the sound symbols found in the mantras and secondly, the form symbols of different types of figures, revealed by conceptions of deities, the anthropomorphic forms of which are often worshipped. The images are built according to the dhyana-slokas (meditation verses) of the particular deities. The images of the deities as well as the mantras referring to them are embodiments of consciousness, through which God may be communed with. They are based upon the idea of the Mantra Sastra, which points out that every form has a corresponding sound at the back of it and every sound must have a form.
‘Mantras’ are mystic sounds which produce certain type of energies. ‘Mananath Trayathe Ithi Mantraha’- Mantra protects the person who recites it. This means Mantras are primarily invented by great seers for the welfare of the society.
The cosmic energy we always receive contains different energies coming from different celestial bodies. Because we are part of our solar system, the energies coming from the Planets in this solar system always fall on us, and absorbed by our body. These energies are much needed by every one of us. They drive our daily activities and decisions. Our life force is indeed combined with these energies. When there is a deficit of any of these energies, the related problems will arise. For example, when there is a deficit of energy coming from Sun, health problems like headache, bad eye sight, weakness of heart etc will occur. Also there will be problems with one’s boss or government officials. There will be obstacles in acquiring paternal property. We can overcome all these problems by increasing the Sun’s energy in the individual by adopting various techniques. Recitation of Sun’s Mantra is the most effective technique. What happens when a Mantra is recited?
When we repeatedly utter a Mantra we are tuning to a particular frequency and this frequency establishes a contact with the cosmic energy and drags it into our body and surroundings. Thus we can balance the energies and also increase the level of a certain type of energy, which promote certain actions and events. For example, if we increase the Mercury’s energy level, it promotes us to take intelligent steps in business.
As the Cross is to Christians, so is Om to Hindus. It is made up of three Sanskrit letters, aa, au and ma which, when combined, make the sound Aum or Om. This most important symbol in Hinduism, is chanted in every prayer and invocation to deities. As the symbol of piety, Om is often found at the head of letters, pendants, and displayed in Hindu temples and family shrines.
The Sound of Om: Om is not a word but rather an intonation, which, like music, transcends the barriers of age, race, and culture. It is made up of three Sanskrit letters, aa, au and ma which, when combined together, make the sound Aum or Om, as mentioned above. It is believed to be the primeval sound of the world and contains all other sounds. It is a mantra or prayer by itself. If repeated with the correct intonation, it can resonate throughout the body so that the sound penetrates to the centre of one’s being, the atman or soul.
There is harmony, peace and bliss in this simple but deeply significant sound. By uttering the sacred syllable Om, the supreme combination of letters, if one thinks of the Ultimate Personality of Godhead and quits his body, he will certainly reach the highest state of “stateless” eternity”, states the Bhagavad Gita.
The Power of Om: During meditation, when we chant Om, we create within ourselves a vibration that synchronises with the cosmic vibration and we start thinking of universality. The momentary silence between each chant becomes palpable. The mind moves between the opposites of sound and silence until, at last, the sound ceases. In the silence, the single thought, Om, is entrenched and there is no thought. This is the state of trance, where the mind and the intellect are transcended as the individual self merges with the Infinite Self in the pious moment of realization. It is a moment when the petty worldly affairs are lost in the desire for the universal. Such is the immeasurable power of Om.
Why do we chant Om?
Om is one of the most commonly chanted sound symbols in India. It has a profound effect on the body and mind of the one who chants and also on the surroundings. Most mantras and Vedic prayers start with Om. All auspicious actions begin with Om. It is even used as a greeting – Om, Hari Om etc. It is repeated as a mantra or meditated upon. Its form is worshipped, contemplated upon or used as an auspicious sign. Om is the universal name of the Lord. It is made up of the letters A (phonetically as in “around”), U (phonetically as in “put”) and M (phonetically as in “mum”). The sound emerging from the vocal chords starts from the base of the throat as “A”. With the coming together of the lips, “U” is formed and when the lips are closed, all sounds end in “M”. The three letters symbolize the three states (waking, dream and deep sleep), the three deities (Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva), the three Vedas (Rig, Yajur and Sama) the three worlds (Bhuh, Bhuvah, Suvah) etc. The Lord is all these and beyond. The formless, attribute-less Lord (Brahman) is represented by the silence between two Om Chants. Om is also called pranava that means, “that (symbol or sound) by which the Lord is praised”. The entire essence of the Vedas is enshrined in the word Om. It is said that the Lord started creating the world after chanting Om. Hence its sound is considered to create an auspicious beginning for any task that we undertake. The Om chant should have the resounding sound of a bell (aaooommm). Thus, Om symbolizes everything – the means and the goal of life, the world and the Truth behind it, the material and the Sacred, all form and the Formless.
Yantra is the visual form of mantra, a prayer. A tantric text states, ‘Yantra has mantra as its soul. The deity is the soul of the mantra. The difference between mantra and deity is similar to that between a body and its soul’. Though two— dimensional, yantras are conceived of as having depth and full dimension. Yantras may be drawn or painted on any material, out of any substance. However, the human body is often called by tantrics the best of all yantras. There is no parallel for the term in English, but yantra may be summarized as a two- dimensional diagram where visualized energies are concentrated, or simply, a field of energy.
With its mantra, a yantra is a complex of stored imagery of sight and sound and psychic and mystical content. Many yantras seem to be nothing more than an interwoven complex of geometrical designs centred upon a point (bindu). Triangles, sign of the ‘you’, may predominate, enclosing the point. The whole may be enclosed by a square, signifying the cosmic dynamics and the four corners of the universe. Yantras are thus worshipped as containing the divine presence. The yantra is often confused with a mandala but the former is appropriate to a specific deity only, while the latter may enclose an infinite number of deities. It is an image of the universe, a receptacle of the gods.
A Bija-Akshara is a seed-letter. It is a very powerful Mantra. Every Devata has his or her own Bija-Akshara. The greatest of all Bija-Aksharas is OM or Pranava, for it is the symbol of the Para-Brahman or the Paramatman Himself. OM contains within itself all the other Bija-Aksharas. OM is the general source or the common seed from which all the particular sounds or secondary seeds precede. The letters of the alphabet are only emanations from OM which is the root of all sounds and letters. There is no Mantra superior to or greater than OM. OM, as it is pronounced ordinarily, is an outward gross form of the real subtle inaudible state of sound which is called the Amatra or the immeasurable fourth transcendental state. As the various Devatas are the aspects or forms of the One Supreme Being, so the various Bija-Aksharas or Bija-Mantras are so many aspects or forms of the Supreme Bija or Mantra, viz., OM.
“Om Bhur Bhuvah Swah, Tat Savitur Varenyam.
Bhargo Devasya Dheemahi, Dhiyo Yo Nah Prachodayat.”
Gayatri Mantra is the supreme mantra of the Vedas. Gayatri is the mother of universe, the Shakti itself. There is nothing she cannot do. Her mantra purifies the mind, destroys pain, sin and ignorance, brings liberation, and bestows health, beauty, strength, vitality, power intelligence and magnetic aura. Modern system of treatment is bereft of religion. Anybody who chants the Gayatri Mantra everyday can never be affected by diseases. Mahatma Gandhi believed that it protects both your body as well as soul.
Mantra is the matrix of existence
Sparkling in the sunrise and clinging to the fields, the morning dew appears by mantra. Then again it disappears by mantra, in the heat of the noonday sun. Everything that appears and disappears, in all of existence, does so by the power of precise sound vibration, pitch, length and tone, by a mantra.
The Gayatri Mantra is a vibration that sets up a condition of subtle receptivity and opens our way to the unconditional Truth. Like the buzzing of a bee contributes to the full web of experience, so too, the chanting of the mantra contributes to the full matrix of existence.
1: Not only the well-known chakra system but all energy and rejuvenating centers are activated by the sound of the Gayatri.
2: The mantra works in a multitude of ways, which align the energies, magnetic currents, biochemistry and brainwave patterns on a very subtle level. Immediately or in time, one will notice the wonderful effect.
3: According to Wilhelm Reich (1897-1957) the universe is permeated by a primal, mass free phenomenon that is called ‘orgone energy’.