Glossary of Terms – Iconography, Adornment, Attributes, Bhangas, Asanas and Mudras

TermTranslationCategoryDescription
AchalaImmovable stone iconIconographyBefore the creation of bronze icons portable enough to be carried in procession, sacred sculptures - Achala - were carved in stone and fixed in place within temple grounds. See also; Mulamurti, Utsavamurti.
AnugrahaBestower of a BlessingIconographyThe generic term used in iconography when a deity, usually Shiva, is portrayed bestowing a direct blessing upon an individual. The deity’s hand is placed on the head of the recipient while another gestures abhayamudra. See also; Abhayamudra.
BhadrapithapedestalIconographyA icon’s base featuring a square base below a round base. One shape denotes one specific aspect, while two shapes indicate multiple aspects.
Bhangastanding postureIconographyThe curving of the body and a standing pose defined by how the figure supports their weight.
Chakra (Hinduism)discusIconographyA solar symbol and wheel, a symbol of the Dharma rotating and spinning its beneficial influence outward in all directions. Also symbolises the cycle of Samsara; repeated birth and death turning endlessly and from which we desire to be liberated. As a weapon of Vishnu, it cuts through ignorance and when thrown it cuts through demons. It's speed is faster than the speed of the mind, thus representing the cosmic mind which destroys our enemies in the form of the afflictive emotions.
DevakoshtasnicheIconographyA wall niche for sheltering a sacred sculpture. See also; koshta
Iconsacred artIconographyA sacred symbol in the form of a painting or sculpture embodying a spiritual truth worthy of veneration and contemplation. “It is impossible for the human being to worship, meditate or praise a deity without form. Therefore the Lord should be worshipped through an icon” Parama Samhita 3:7
KirttimukhaFace of GloryIconographyA swallowing fierce monster face with huge fangs, and gaping mouth, quite common in the iconography of south India. Symbolic of Time and a reminder that everything is impermanent and subject to constant change. Time is the great destroyer and takes from us all that is precious and separates us from our loved ones. As a decorative element on the lintel of temple doorways or gates they symbolize the reabsorption of entering a temple. Not to be confused with Simhamukha, or Lion Face, which leads the worshipper to Brahman.
Kolamsacred geometric patternIconographyKolams are symbolic, symmetrical, line drawing patterns made from white rice flour or other powders. They are re-created each morning by homemakers outside homes throughout the Chola homeland and believed to repel evil and welcome Lakshmi, Goddess of Wealth and Happiness.
LingamsignIconographyThe iconic pillarlike form of Shiva predates figurative imagery to a time when symbols alone were used to represent Hindu deities or the Buddha. Lingam actually means; 'sign', 'mark' or 'symbol. It is Shiva’s pillar of light at the center of the world rooted in the dark netherworld and reaching towards the infinite cosmos. As such the lingam in part represents fertility but the phallus aspect has been overdone by western scholars. The same limitation applies to the yoni, which in truth symbolises transcendent feminine divinity. The yoni is commonly adjoined with the lingam as an object of veneration, symbolic of the duality of Hindu theological principles. See also; Shiva and Svayambhu.
Mulamurtifixed iconIconographyA fixed icon in a temple’s central sanctum, usually carved in stone. The tradition began within cave temples before transitioning to free standing temples under the Pallavas and Cholas. See also; Dhruvabera
Padmapithalotus pedestalIconographyA sacred sculpture’s plinth or base representing the origin of all life, including that of the gods. A double lotus (vishvpadma) indicates high status, representing the heavens with petals point upwards, while our mortal realm is represented by lotus petals facing down. See also; Vishvapadma
ParivaradevataentourageIconographySubsidiary deities when other gods and goddesses are depicted as a group.
Pavailakkutemple ornamentIconographyA bronze lamp donated to the temple crafted with the likeness of a young girl from the donor's family. By making such a gift the donors and their families gain a permanent place in the temple.
PithapedestalIconographyOne shape denotes one specific aspect. Two shapes multiple aspects. Octagonal - initiation ritual. Hexagonal - God is relaxed and being entertained. Round - meditation throne. Square - intended for bathing. See also; Bhadrapitha.
Srivatsaendless knotIconographySymbolises the way things are; endless and complex, without beginning or end.
Svayambhuspontaneous generationIconographyThe principle of spontaneous regeneration, wherein an object is not created by another agency but is ‘self-born’. Some lingamms are believed to be Svayambhu. See also; Padma
Swastikasymmetrical geometric crossIconographyA sacred and auspicious symbol in first the Indus Valley Civilization, then Mesopotamia, Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Byzantine, early Christian artwork and even North American indigenous cultures. The swastika’s sacred symbolism endures despite its having been co-opted by the Nazi party in 1920.
Talameasurement unitIconographyThe unit of measurement of the talamana system used to define sacred beauty in icons. Based on the hand
Talamanameasurement systemIconographyDerived from the Shilpa Sastra, talamana is the system which defines measurement, proportion and geometry as it applies to the creation of icons.
Upasanasitting nearIconographyThe Upanishads tell us of the importance of meditation on our spiritual path. Upasana (upa + asana) means ‘sitting near’ and refers to the act of meditation. Upasana can also be translated as worship, contemplation, devotion (bhakti), puja, etc. Upasana is also a term applied to the image of a Devi positioned near an image of a Deva. See also; Bhakti and Puja.
Utsavamurtisymbolic image of godIconographyA consecrated processional icon, usually in bronze, specifically created as transportable as opposed to a fixed immobile temple figure of a mulamurti. Early utsavamurti were wooden and later bronze when casting techniques were advanced enough for monumental sizes. See also; Achala, Darshan, Mulamurti (fixed).
Vishvapadmadouble lotus pithaIconographyHigh status gods and goddesses are often seated upon the double lotus base, vishvapadma.
Yantrasacred geometric patternIconographyYantra is a geometric shape, often drawn on the floor with powder, specific to a deity and treated and worshipped as that diety. Yantras are charged with the power of a Mantra and the yantra directs that energy. Tantra is the written philosophy and practice for directing and channeling mantric energy to guide the devotee’s spiritual path. Yantra, Mantra and Tantra are interconnected. While similar in shape and purpose, mandalas represent the entire universe rather than a specific deity. See also; Kolam, Mandala and Mantra.
Yogapattammeditation aidIconographyA cirucular yoga meditation band worn around the waist and around one or both knees. See also; Aiyanar, Narasimha Yoga and Yogeshwara.
AlankaraadornmentAlankara (adornment)Sculpture and paintings representing divine and semi-divine figures are adorned with the lavish jewelry, clothing, and hairstyles of their creator’s royal court. Alankara enchants and pleases the eyes of the beholder as it enhances the subject’s inherent grace and exquisite nature. An unadorned figure is considered diminished and unworthy of veneration. Complete nudity is considered unforgivably vulgar, with the exception of ascetics or Jain ‘skyclad’ figures.
AnantajewelleryAlankara (adornment)Armband coiling around the upper arm.
Antariyalower garmentAlankara (adornment)A long white or coloured strip of fine cotton or silk worn through the legs, tucked at the back and loosely covering the legs, then flowing into long pleats at front of the legs. When worn by a deity or royalty, the antariya is richly patterned or pleated, and usually accompanied by an intricate jewelled gold belt and a lion headed buckle. See also: Ardhoruka, Dhoti, Dukula, Kaccha, Lungi and Veshti.
Ardhorukalower garmentAlankara (adornment)Unpleated, diaphanous fine cotton or silk, knee-length, lower body covering. See also; See also: Antariya, Dhoti, Dukula, Kaccha, Lungi and Veshti.
AvatansajewelleryAlankara (adornment)Jewellery worn over the ears but not supported by the earlobes.
BahuvalayajewelleryAlankara (adornment)Jewellery worn draped over the right shoulder, falling outwards towards the bicep. See also; Keyura.
BindicosmeticsAlankara (adornment)Married Hindu women commonly wear a decorative and auspicious vermilion dot or bindī denoting Shakti on the forehead. See also; pottu (or bottu) and tilaka.
Channaviracross beltAlankara (adornment)Symbolizes the prosperity of the wearer.
Dhammillahair styleAlankara (adornment)Goddess’ topknot lower or off the side. Symbolizes deference to accompanying deity.
Dhotilower garmentAlankara (adornment)Worn by both men and women the dhoti, or veshti, is usually around 4.5 metres (15 ft) long, wrapped around the waist, passed between the legs, and tucked at the base of the back. Can be cotton of various quality or silk, richly patterned or pleated, and may be accompanied by an intricate jewelled gold belt and a lion headed buckle if worn by a deity or royalty. Derived from the older antariya. See also: Antariya, Ardhoruka, Dukula, Kaccha, Lungi, Veshti, or Mekhala.
Dukulalower garmentAlankara (adornment)A pleated, diaphanous, close fitting, fine cotton or silk leg covering worn by goddesses. See also: Antariya, Ardhoruka, Dhoti, Kaccha, Lungi and Veshti.
HarajewelleryAlankara (adornment)A necklace or amulet. See also; mala.
Jatahair styleAlankara (adornment)Dreadlocks representing an ascetic aspect.
Jatabandhahair styleAlankara (adornment)Goddess’ topknot of braided hair decorated with jewels.
Jatabharahair styleAlankara (adornment)Large mass of braids tied up on the side. Shiva as Daksina Murti.
Jatamakutacrown of hairAlankara (adornment)A crown of lavishly decorated dreadlocks similar to Kiritamukuta. Shiva but not as ascetic with skull or crescent. Brahma’s jatamakuta is jewelled.
Jatamandalahair styleAlankara (adornment)Symbolizes terrifying aspect.
Jvalakeshahair styleAlankara (adornment)Worn straight up or around the head like flames. Commonly seen in Kali iconography.Agni and Kali.
Kacchalower garmentAlankara (adornment)A pleated, diaphanous, close fitting, fine cotton or silk, leg covering. See also; Antariya, Ardhoruka, Dhoti, Dukula, Lungi and Veshti..
KankanajewelleryAlankara (adornment)Bracelet
Kapardahair styleAlankara (adornment)Shiva’s penitential matted dreadlocks wound around his head like a snail’s shell. Often decorated with snakes.
KarandamukatacrownAlankara (adornment)Conical crown in the shape of a mountain.
KatibandhabeltAlankara (adornment)More of a hipband than a functioning belt. Often decorated with images of lion’s heads and snakes.
Katisutralower garmentAlankara (adornment)An elaborate and complex arrangement of lower sashes. Part of the waistband drops in front of the knees and is knotted at the sides, showing both a a loop and the sash end. The long ends of a second sash fall down the sides of the body. A katisutra also refers to single banded sash or belt worn by female deities.
Keshabandhahair styleAlankara (adornment)Goddess’ topknot of unbraided hair decorated with jewels.
KeyurajewelleryAlankara (adornment)shoulder jewellery. See also; Bahuvalaya
KiritamakutacrownAlankara (adornment)Highest of crowns, literally and metaphorically. Conical cylinder topped with a knot or point. When worn by a goddess she is of equal rank as the highest gods at that moment.
Kuchabandhabreast bandAlankara (adornment)A breastband, often supported by a necklace. Goddesses dwelling on the heavenly plane are typically portrayed bare breasted, while Bhu Devi, as Goddess of the Earth exists within the Earth. She and Lakshmi are often depicted together and to differentiate the two, Bhu Devi wears a kuchabandha.
KundalajewelleryAlankara (adornment)Earrings shaped like mythical sea monsters symbolizing the tow methods of pursuing knowledge; intellectually (sankhya) and intuitively (yoga). See also; makala, and yoga.
Lungilower garmentAlankara (adornment)Lungis are a long lower garment sometimes sewn into a tube shape like a skirt and tied to the left. Made of various qualities of cotton or silk. Aso known as kaili, charam or saaram. Evolved from from the longer antariya. Rarely worn by women. See also; See also: Antariya, Ardhoruka, Dukula, Kaccha, Veshti, Mekhala.
MakatacrownAlankara (adornment)Symbolizes royalty.
Makutahair styleAlankara (adornment)
MalajewelleryAlankara (adornment)A necklace or amulet. Also hara.
ManjirajewelleryAlankara (adornment)Ankle jewellery, often with bells, and an important element in temple dance.
MekhalabeltAlankara (adornment)An eight strand belt worn by female goddesses. Signifies protection and fertility. Used in special rituals either calling for rain or to prevent flooding.
PadasarasjewelleryAlankara (adornment)Anklets
PadvalayajewelleryAlankara (adornment)Ankle bracelet.
PatrakundalajewelleryAlankara (adornment)Simple circular or leaf shaped earring
Pitambaragolden garmentAlankara (adornment)Worn by Vishnu, his light shines through this golden garment just as the Veda’s light of truth radiates through their holy words.
Pottu (or Bottu)cosmeticsAlankara (adornment)Similar to a bindi, a pottu is worn by married Hindu women in south India. Usually between the eyebrows rather than further up toward the hairline as in the north. See also; bindi
RatnamalajewelleryAlankara (adornment)A necklace of precious stones
RudrakshajewelleryAlankara (adornment)Worn as a necklace (mala), rudraksha are believed to protect the wearer, functioning much the same way as a Christian rosary. Composed of the seeds of the rudraksha tree (elaeocarpus ganitreus), they are associated primarily with Shiva, less so with Brahma and Saraswati. Rudraksha are believed to retain a Mantra’s energy after it’s recited. See also; Mantra.
SankhyajewelleryAlankara (adornment)Earrings shaped like mythical sea-monsters (makara) representing the two methods of pursuing knowledge; intellectually (sankhya) and intuitively (yoga).
ShirastrakaturbanAlankara (adornment)Turban of cloth or braided hair tied in a knot on the front. Worn by subsidiary deities, demons and celestials.
Siraschakradisc of feathersAlankara (adornment)