Adi Shakti is First Mother, the dynamic force of Brahman and source of all power and consciousness. Adi Shakti is Mother of all that is divine and mortal. See also; Shakti.
Lord of Yoga
Shiva as Adiyogi is the first yogi or guru who "teaches in silence the oneness of one's innermost self (Atman) with the ultimate reality (Brahman).” Stella Kramrisch, “Manifestations of Shiva”. See also; Yoga, Brahman and Atman.
Tamil Vaishnava poet saints
Alvars were Tamil saint-poets who, between the 6th and 9th centuries, wandered south India expressing deep personal devotion (Bhakti) to Vishnu through poems and songs of longing and ecstasy. The Bhakti Movement quickly spread throughout the rest of India as worshippers rejected formal ritual, caste and theosophy to express their devotion in sensual mysticism. Some of Bhakti’s most active proponents were women, such as the saint Mirabai and the poetess, Andal. Their Saivite counterparts are known as Nayanars. See also; Bhakti, Nayanars and Bhakti.
Dance of Bliss
As Nataraja, Shiva performs Anandatava (tr; bliss dance) dancing a weary world into extinction in preparation for Brahma the Creator to fulfill his role. This is all part of the Hindu cyclical nature of the cosmos and everything in it.
Anantha is a serpent floating upon the ocean of the changing world forming a bed for Vishnu. Five, seven, but more commonly a thousand-headed serpent, often with each head ornately crowned. Anantha is also known as Sesha - endless - as he is believed to remain in existence even after the end of the Kalpa when Nataraja destroys the world.
dwarf of ignorance
Apasmara (also known as Mushalagan) is a dwarf-demon manifesting spiritual ignorance. Shiva as Nataraja manifests spiritual knowledge and the two are locked in a neverending struggle. Nataraja will forever suppress Apasarma for if the dwarf (ignorance) is slain, knowledge becomes devalued. In iconography, Apasmara is portrayed offering the anjalimudra of adoration as he is trampled by Nataraja’s right foot.
One of the 63 Nayanars, or Saivite saints, who wandered south India in the 7th to the 9th centuries singing hymns dedicated to Shiva and Uma. From that time forward the sensual metaphors of their hymns influenced how the divine couple are portrayed in bronze. See also; Alvars, Sambandar and Sundarar.
Arjuna is the mortal charioteer who receives Krishna’s divine guidance in the epic, Bhagavad Gita.
Vedic gods responsible for moral principles. Mitra (contracts), Aryaman (guardian of guest, friendship and marriage), Bhaga (sharing) or Varuna, the supreme Asura (or Aditya). In later Vedic texts the asuras became demons. See also; Devas.
Ayyanar, or Shasta, is a guardian folk deity common to villages of Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Sri Lanka. Some believe he is the son of Shiva and Mohini, a lesser known female avatar of Vishnu. Ayyannar is often depicted riding a horse, white elephant or tiger, upon which he patrols at night. Ayyannar is a Dravidian term meaning; respected elder.
The Supreme Beggar
Shiva’s in his role as Supreme Renouncer. In a rage, Shiva had severed the fifth head from Brahma’s shoulders and to atone he wandered as a beggar for a time. He is depicted nude with four arms, while cobras writhing about his hair and waist. The front right holds grass (kusaa) for the deer leaping playfully at his side, while his front right holds a skull cap (kapala) made of Brahma’s skull used as a begging bowl. His back hands hold traditional Shiva attributes, a drum (damaru) in his right, his trident (trishula) in his left. Unique in Hindu iconography he wears wooden sandals (paduka). Bhikshatana is often depicted as being followed by love-sick women, many of whom let slip their clothing in their lust for him.
Bhu Devi is the Earth Goddess and, along with Lakshmi, wife and consort to Vishnu. When Bhu Devi was abducted by the demon, Hiranyaksha, Vishnu took on the form of Varaha, his boar avatar, and dove into the cosmic ocean to save her. After lifting her on his tusks, Varaha vanquished the demon with his disc-weapon (chakra). See also; Lakshmi, Vishnu and Varaha.
Brahma, as Creator of all living beings, emerged as the first differentiated consciousness from Brahman, The Ultimate Reality. In this role it is his consort Saraswati, Goddess of Knowledge who brought order to Brahma’s formless creation. Although Brahma is equal in status with Shiva, Vishnu or Shakti, he isn’t worshipped with their devotional ardour. It is believed Brahma’s work is done and it is Shiva, Vishnu and Shakti with the power to change our world now. See also; Saraswati, Shiva and Vishnu.
One of the Hindu goddesses representing a destructive aspect of Devi, The Great Goddess
Dakshinamurti is Shiva’s manifestation as teacher of yoga, music and the wisdom found in the sacred texts. Especially popular in south India.
Devas are ancient Vedic gods controlling the forces of nature, such as fire, air, wind, trees, water, etc. For example, Indra (weather), Agni (fire), Apa (water), Vayu (winds), and Naksatra (stars). See also; Asuras.
A sculptural group when God and Goddess are together.
Shiva as Slayer of Elephant Demon
Shiva’s aspect as slayer of the elephant demon, Gajasura. There are several Puranic myths about Gajasura’s origins but they all agree that a demon transformed into an elephant, Shiva as Gajasurasamhara, many armed and filled with rage, appears and slays the demon, flays the skin and wears it as he performs his victory dance. Uma and Murugan are commonly portrayed looking on.
In northern Indian mythology Gana is a member of Shiva’s ghost entourage.
Remover of Obstacles
Ganesha, or Pillai as he was/is known in south India, is the son of Shiva and Uma though his origins may be much older than the Puranic myths indicate. Ganesha is well-loved by Hindus as he quietly listens with his elephant ears to every prayer before passing it on to other dieites and their respective spheres of influence. He was blessed by his father giving him all the knowledge and power to remove all obstacles (material and spiritual), fear or self-doubt from our minds, and worshipped before beginning of any important task. Ganesha is also known as Ganapati and Vinayaka. See also; Shiva, Uma, and Murugan.
The River Ganges personified
The divine personification of the Ganges River. Bathing in the Ganges washes away sin and facilitates Moksha. Incarnation of Mother Goddess. Sister of Uma. See also; Mari Amma.
Garuḍa is depicted as the mortal enemy of snakes and thus symbolizes courage. Snakes represent factors such as ignorance obstructing the spiritual path. See also; Unnati and Naga.
embodiment of the Gayatri Mantra
The Gayatri Mantra, dedicated to Savitri, god of the five elements, is the most widely known and possibly the most ancient of Hinduism’s sacred chants. It is so important the mantra embodies as the goddess, Gayatri. This YouTube video by Deva Premal is our favourite interpretation; https://youtu.be/yQjHSIHPJfw
young cowherding women
Typically girls and young women tasked with herding cows.
white swan or goose
The swan vahana of Saraswati, Goddess of Knowledge and Music.
Rama’s devoted friend
Hanuman, the monkey-general, is the Hindu ideal of loyalty and service. He demonstrates these qualities in the Hindu epic, The Ramayana, when he works unfailingly to help Rama defeat his demon enemy, Ravana, and rescue Sita from the clutches of the demon king.
avatar of Vishnu
From Wikipedia In Hinduism, Lord Hayagriva is an avatar of Lord Vishnu. He is worshipped as the god of knowledge and wisdom, with a human body and a horse's head, brilliant white in color, with white garments and seated on a white lotus. Symbolically, the story represents the triumph of pure knowledge, guided by the hand of God, over the demonic forces of passion and darkness.
King of Heaven
The foremost diety of early Vedic belief, Indra was the god of the monsoon, in the form of rain and wind, and war. All concerns very important to the early Hindu society. His weapons is the vajra, or thunderbolt. His vahana, or mount, is the cow Kamadhenu.
Kali is both a maternal figure and a fearsome destroyer. According to some Hindu stories, She was born of the wrath of Durga and Uma, embodying the most frightening aspects of destruction. To many of her devotees, Kali is a beloved mother goddess who initiates the natural process of death and renewal.
The Bhagavata Purana (Chapter 16, Canto 10) tells a story of Krishna subduing Kaliya a giant poisonous naga, or snake, who had been bothering the gopis, or cowherds, along the banks of the Yamuna River. See Krishna Kaliya for more detail.
Vishnu’s 10th incarnation, Kalki is expected to arrive at the end of Kaliyuga, the twilight of this age of strife, "when all kings will be thieves." He will be riding a white horse and brandishing a flaming sword, to root out all the evil of the present dark age. Kalki heralds a new golden age will begin when only pure souls exist.
God of Love and Desire
Kama is the god of love and desire, represented as a young, handsome green-skinned man carrying a bow and quiver of arrows. His bow is a stalk of sugarcane with a string of honeybees, and his arrows are decorated with five kinds of fragrant flowers; ashoka, white and blue lotus, jasmine and Mango tree. Kamadeva’s vahanas and attributes are a cuckoo, a parrot, humming bees, the season of spring, and gentle breezes. All symbols of spring, when his festival is celebrated as Holi, Holika or Vasanta.
A swallowing fierce monster face with huge fangs, and gaping mouth, quite common in the iconography of south India. 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.
The Philosopher King
Vishnu’s 8th and most popular incarnation; Vishnu descended to be born as Krishna, a cowherd who later killed several demons. As a youth, Krishna loved to play the flute and seduce the village girls, but as he grew older he had one particular favourite, Radha. Their relationship has come to symbolise the ideal bond of love between the gods and humans known as bhakti. Later he helped the Pandavas in the Mahabharata war against their evil cousins. On the battlefield he revealed divine knowledge in the form of the Bhagavad Gita to his friend, Arjuna. Krishna is well loved by all Hindus as the conduit between gods and mortals. See also; VIshnu, Radha,
Vishnu’s 2nd incarnation assumed the form of a tortoise who held the Mandhara mountain from beneath as the gods and demons used it to churn the oceans for the sake of amrit, the elixir of life.
A quality, characteristic or identifying mark. An example would be the triangular birthmark upon Vishnu’s chest.
Goddess of Wealth and Happiness
Also known as Sri or Sri Devi, Lakshmi embodies Shaktic energy as the Goddess of Wealth and Happiness. Lakshmi is a Mahadevi, a Great Goddess. Hindus ask blessings of Lakshmi for the health of their families and success in their business ventures. She, along with Bhu Devi, The Earth Goddess, is consort to Vishnu and his creative force. See also; Vishnu and Bhu Devi.
Shiva’s third eye is a powerful source of fiery energy. For examplte, Kama, the god of human love, is sent by the gods to gently wake Shiva from one of his long mediations. Shiv is startled when struck by one of Kama’s love-arrows and while his two eyes remain closed, his third eye hits Kama with its fiery energy, instantly incineratiing Kama. Kama’s grieving wife begs Shiva to restore Kama back to life, but rather restore Kama to corporeal form, disperses Kama’s love throughout the universe.
A mythological crocodile-like creature, auspicious symbol of abundance, life-giving waters and the primal energy of life. Commonly featured as the source of fire on the Nataraja prabhamandala. The vahana of Ganga.
A south Indian folk manifestation of Shakti as Mother, Mari Amma, or Durga as she is known outside of south India, is the warrior aspect of the Great Goddess Devi. She is slayer of demons, protector of the village, and curer of diseases. See also; Shakti, Devi, Uma and Kali.
Vishnu’s 1st incarnation assumed the form of a fish to recover the The Vedas from a demon and return them to Brahma for their completion. Matsya also rescued Manu (the primal man) from a flood that inundated the whole earth by carrying his boat to the top of a mountain.
peacock vahana of Murugan
Mayura is the peacock vahana of Murugan, representing pride, arrogance and notions of superiority, all of which which need to be controlled to maintain the spiritual path of darshan. See also; Murugan and Darshan. .
necklace of skulls
The transient nature of all phenomenon in the material world, the false personalities we assume for creating identity and the myriad forms that egoism (ahaṅkāra) takes.
Ganesha, like the rat, penetrates even the most secret places.
Symbolises all those factors such as ignorance that obstruct the spiritual path. Mortal enemy of Garuda, whose weapon against ignorance is Vedic knowledge.
Shiva's vahana, or transport, is Nandi, a white bull and symbol of happiness and strength. Nandi is the source of the term; 'sacred cow’. Saivite temples typically have a sculpture of Nandi in the courtyard facing the sanctum containing the Shivalingam and represents Nandi’s eternal devotion to his master.
Vishnu’s fourth incarnation and a man-lion. Vishnu helped his young devotee Prahlada when he was tortured by his demon father, Hiranyakasipu for intense devotion. Listening to the calls of his young devotee, Vishnu sprang out of the pillar of a building as Narasimha and slew the demon.
Each planet has it’s own diety with appropriate qualities, attributes and characteristics. The Cholas were very accomplished astronomers and kept close watch on the heavens. Naturally they were looking at the night sky hrough the lens of Hinduism.
Tamil Saivite saints
The Nayanars were sixty-three Saivite poet-saints of south India who lived between the 6th and 9th centuries CE. They are best known for expressing deep personal devotion (bhakti) to Shiva through poems and songs of longing and ecstasy. Their ten, perhaps twelve, Vaishnava counterparts are known as Alvars. The Bhakti Movement quickly spread throughout India, and in the 14th to 17th centuries, a bhakti resurgence swept through central and northern India as worshippers rejected ritual, caste and philosophy to express their devotion for their chosen deity in erotic mysticism. See also; Alvars and Bhakti.
Vishnu’s 6th incarnation. A forest dwelling hermit armed with an axe, connotes completion of the basic development of humankind. In another story Parasurama, again with his axe, saves Brahmins from the tyranny of arrogant Khastriyas (warrior caste) who grew wicked and tyrannical, neglecting the upholding of the Dharma and protecting the people.
Lord of Animals
Shiva as Lord of Animals dates from about 3500 BC.
Point of divine femail energy.
Geographic points where divine female energy (or Shakti) is particularly concentrated. See also; Shakti
The life giving element for all living things in the material world. The spiritual essence within the bodies of the gods and goddesses. In iconography the smooth rounded aspect of their bodies is an example of their prana. See also; Caitanya.
Vishnu’s 7th incarnation and central figure in the historical epic, Ramayana, an allegorical tale of Dharma and dharmic living though model characters; Rama, Sita and Hanuman.
The giver” of bliss, of peace, of happiness.
The rhythms of the sacrificial ritual performed by Vishnu. See also; Sama and Yajus.
breaking a branch of sala tree
Originally an ancient tribal belief that young women had the ability to bring a tree to flower by touch or song. The term now applies to a sculptural temple figure of a young woman under a stylized tree in various poses, such as dancing, grooming herself or playing a musical instrument. Her female physical characteristics, such as breasts and hips, are often exaggerated. Images of salabhanjika are positioned in both Hindu and Buddhist temples at points of transition from the secular to the sacred space. As auspicious guardians they bless the worshipper’s journey to the central shrine of the temple. See also; Dohada and Yakshi.
The sounds of the sacrificial ritual performed by Vishnu. See also; Rik and Yajus
Sambandar is one of the 63 Alvars, Saivite saints who wandered south India in the 7th to the 9th centuries singing hymns dedicated to Shiva and Uma. From that time forward the imagery invoked by their hymns and poems influenced how The Divine Couple have been depicted in Chola Bronzes. See also; Alvars, Appar and Sundarar.
Goddess of Knowledge and Music
Saraswati is Goddess of Knowledge and Music and embodies those qualities in her role as embodiment of Shaktic energy. Her Vedic origins are the banks of the extinct Saraswati River in the Thar Desert where she is believed to be the keeper of the river of knowledge that flows from her consort, Brahma. Saraswati personifies civilized behavior, refined tastes and artistic talent. She is wife to Brahma and as such created the knowledge and wisdom which brought order to Brahma’s formless creation. See also; Brahma.
Symbolises the sexual energy latent within the lowest chakra (muladhara) at the base of the spine. Also the control of anger, the worst of all negative emotions.
A massive coiled serpent symbolizing the sleeping universe.
Lord of the Auspicious Neck
Shiva’s role as savior of the world when he consumed the lethal Halahala poison released when the oceans were churned by the serpent Vasuki. Shiva drankd the poison and held it in his throat thereby allowing the nectar of immortality to rise and save the world.
Like the kirttimukha the Simhamukha is often carved into the lintel of temple doorways and gates but while kirttimukha is a swallower, simhamukha leads worshippers to Brahman, The Immensity. Simhamukha is also associated with solar and lunar eclipses. The prabhamandala on icons such as Shiva as Nataraja may include a simhamukha. See also; kirttimukha.
As powerful predators lions instill fear and therefore used to symbolise fierce power. Most commonly seen as Narasimha and Yalis. See also; Narasimha and Yali.
The Holy Family
Somaskanda is a Tamil concept of the Holy Family found in south India. Originating with the pre-Chola Pallava culture it depicts Shiva, Uma and a young Murugan (Skanda). Occassionally they are joined by his elder brother, Ganesha.
Symbolizes the way things are; endless and complex. Without beginning and end.
Symbolizes teaching The Truth. A parrot repeats exactly what it hears without clarifying, modifying or distorting.
One of the 63 Alvars, or Saivite saints, who wandered south India in the 7th to the 9th centuries singing hymns dedicated to Shiva and Uma. From that time forward the imagery from their hymns influenced how the Great God and Goddess are depicted in the arts, particularly icons. See also; Alvars, Appar and Sambandar.
A temple sculpture depicting a young woman embodying feminine beauty and sensual grace. They normally embody thirteen specific types, such as tree goddess (Salabhanjika), and celestial dancer, (Apsara). As temple figures their spiritual function is to represent a creative aspect of Shakti, The Divine Feminine. See also; Prakriti and Shakti.
Daughter of the Mountain
Uma, or Parvati as she is known outside of south India, is a principal manifestation of Shaktic creative energy. She represents the divine feminine, embodying beauty, grace and wisdom. In pre-Aryan Vedic times she was venerated as ascetic Himalayan goddess but over time she was absorbed into the Vedic pantheon as the primary manifestation of Shaktic spiritual power in her new role as Shiva’s consort. She is the interdependent feminine prakriti principle to Shiva’s male purusha principle. Uma was born to lure Shiva from the life of the ascetic into the more active realm of husband and father. She represents the ideal wife and mother, a perfect balance of purity and sensuality. See also; Shakti and Shiva.
Queen of Knowledge
Unnati is Garuda’s wife and helpmate in the battles against the evils of ignorance.
Vishnu’s 5th incarnation took birth as a dwarf to slay the demon Bali and restore the heavenly kingdom of Indra back to him (note; Vamana is Vishnu’s first human form). With one step he covered the whole earth. With another he covered all of heaven and with his third he pushed Bali's head deep into the nether world.
Vishnu’s 3rd incarnation assumed the form of a boar and slew the demon Hiranyaksha when he carried away Bhu Devi, Mother Earth, to the nether worlds. See also; Bhu Devi.
Ashes are the diverted power of procreation. Kama was destroyed and turned into ashes by the ray from the third-eye of Shiva. Symbolizes the Ultimate Metaphysical transience of everything not divine.
Known to the Cholas as Mayon, the Dark One, Vishnu is preserver and protector of dharmic stability and order. It is said that whenever there is imbalance between good and evil on earth, Vishnu as the preserver will reestablish the balance. One of the ways he does this is to incarnate himself here on earth, something which lessens his power not at all. He has incarnated (with Lakshmi by his side) nine times with the tenth to come. See also; Lakshmi, Matsya, Kurma, Varaha, Narasimha, Vamana, Parasurma, Rama, Krishna, Buddha and Kalki.
Shiva as Rider of The Bull
Shiva as a common farmer (albeit a farmer wearing princely jewellery) resting his elbow on a (missing) Nandi. Usually accompanied by Uma. According to tradition, the ultimate boon sought by a Shiva devotee is that he be set free from the shackles of life and allowed to remain forever in the presence of Shiva. While granting this boon Shiva assumes the form of Vrishabhavana.
The methodology of the sacrificial ritual performed by Vishnu. See also; Rik and Sama.
ancient forest spirit
Yaksha, mythical nature spirits of early indigenous origin. Generally benevolent and known for their beauty and charm, yakshas could be mischievous, capricious, sexually rapacious, sometimes murderous subterranean guardians of treasures hidden in the earth. They are also powerful magicians and shape-shifters, and often worshipped as guardians of villages, and water sources such as springs and wells. Their worship, together with popular belief in serpent deities, or nagas, feminine fertility deities, and mother goddesses (female yakshas are known as yakshis), predates the The Vedas, although yaksha worship coexisted with priestly Vedic practice. They were also prototypes for the attendants of gods and kings in later Hindu and Buddhist mythology and art. See also; Salabhanjika.
A yali is a grotesque temple ornament similar in purpose and meaning as a gargoyle in that it serves as a demonic symbol of the ugly and imperfect; a counterpoint to the beauty and perfection of the divinities inside the temple. There are no specific references to yalis in mythology, rather they represent the darker side of human nature against which the devotee must struggle. They usually serve as a cornice bracket with their back to the temple as its protectors. The body of a yali is usually a lion or tiger but is often portrayed with the torso or head of an elephant or bird. We have a Yali sculpture on offer but it is not shown in Our Gallery.
Lord of Yoga
Those who believe Krishna alone is Supreme Being believe it was Krishna, not Shiva, who created yogic philosophy and techniques and therefore referred to as Yogeshwara. The practice of Yoga is central to experiencing the divine through deep meditation, therefore its importance requires that Krishna be credited with its creation.
Glossary of Terms – Hindu MythologyTerry Curell2019-11-07T17:49:00-08:00
The Agamas are a Tantric collection of Tamil and later Sanskrit scriptures defining proper standards and techniques for temple construction, symbology, modes of worship, philosophical doctrine, meditative practice, attainment of sixfold desires, the four types of yoga, and the creation of bronze and stone icons (murtis). The Agamas insist each sacred icon ought to be as beautiful as possible out of respect for the deity depicted. This Agamic instruction is also Mantra Sacred Sculpture’s mission statement. See also; Shilpa Shastra and Tantra.
Hindu Sacred Texts
The Forest Books
The Aranyakas are the books of the Rig Veda dealing with the philosophy behind Vedic ritual. See also; Rig Veda, Samhita, Brahmanas and Upanishads.
Hindu Sacred Texts
political and military science
A discussion and guide to statecraft, waging war, economics and social welfare.
Hindu Sacred Texts
Song of God
The Bhagavad Gita (lit; The Song of God) is a question and answer discussion between Krishna, eighth incarnation of Vishnu, and his friend, Prince Arjuna, on the eve of a great battle between different factions of Arjuna’s family. Arjuna is racked by the ethical questions arising from his involvement and Krishna offers his counsel on issues of duty, selfless service, devotion and meditation. Krishna’s thoughts and advice to his friend are considered by most Hindus as a uniquely powerful influence upon how they conduct their daily lives. The Bhagavad Gita is found in Chapters 23 to 40 of Book Six of the epic Mahabarata. See also; Krishna and Arjuna.
Hindu Sacred Texts
A general term used to describe a schollarly commentary or expansion upon a sacred text.
Hindu Sacred Texts
A foundational text of the Vedanta school of thought. The Brahma Sutra discusses the nature of Brahman, reviews alternates to Vedic thought such as Buddhism, offers the means to achieve moksha and the benefits of spiritual knowledge. See also; Upanishads, Vedanta, Brahman, Atman and moksha.
Hindu Sacred Texts
mantras and hymns
The section of The Vedas teaching rituals as they pertain to Mantras and hymns. See also; Vedas and Samhita
Hindu Sacred Texts
Glory of The Goddess
The foundational text of Shaktism which describes the Goddess as the supreme power and creator of the Universe. It contains 700 verses arranged into three episodes; the first depicting Devi as the Shaktic power behind the creation myths of Vishnu and Brahma; the second concerns the origins myth of Mari Amman, or Durga; and the third is the origins of Kali. All are allegorical tales symbolizing Devi in all her aspects vanquishing ego, pursuit of power and possesions, and arrogance, all human frailties in the form of demons. Commonly recited in its entirety during the festival of Durga Puja in October or November. See also; Durga, Shakti, Mahadevi.
Hindu Sacred Texts
Rooted in Vedic scholarship, the Dharma Shastras discuss the role of Dharma in terms of duties and responsibilities to oneself, one’s family and one’s community in general. Interestingly, the colonial British used the Dharma Shastras as a basis for civil law in India for non-Muslims, who were governed by Shariah law.
Hindu Sacred Texts
The source and inspiration for the Dharma Shastras, they are far older and few have survived. They deal with civil and criminal law as well as marriage and inheritance. They, and particularly the Dharma Shastras are a life’s guide to purusartha, spiritual goals, the stages of one’s spiritual life (ashrama), and principles of non-violence (ahimsa) and other ethical issues. For example; “Practise righteousness (dharma), not unrighteousness.
Speak the truth, not an untruth. Look at what is distant, not what's near at hand.
Look at the highest, not at what's less than highest.”
- Vasishtha Dharma Sutra 30.1
Hindu Sacred Texts
so indeed it was
The Itihasa is the historical mythology of the gods and goddesses told through the great epic tales of the Mahabharata (which includes the Bhagavad Gita) and Ramayana. These stories, and those of the Puranas are also known as the Fifth Veda for their importance in inspiring the faith of ordinary Hindus. See also; Puranas.
Hindu Sacred Texts
The Kama Sutra discusses the philosophy and theory of love, what triggers desire, what sustains it, how and when it is good or bad. Contrary to the perception in the west, the Kama Sutra is not exclusively a sex manual, in fact only about a fifth concerns sexuality. Kama is one of four goals of Hindu life and translates as desire, including sexual desire. The writing of the Kama Sutra in the 2nd century CE is attributed to Vatsyayana. See also; Vatsyayana.
Hindu Sacred Texts
epic allegorical poem
At 1.8 million words and 200,000 lines the Mahabarata is possibly the longest epic ever written and comprised of 18 books, or parvas, one of which is the Bhagavad Gita, as well as other philosophical and theosophical treatises. The Mahabarata is an accretion of many stories within stories with an account of the the dynastic history of the Bharata clan as its overarching theme. See also; Bhagavad Gita, Krishna and Arjuna.
Hindu Sacred Texts
the science of dance
An ancient foundational treatise defining the guiding principles of classic temple dance, as well as its theory, body poses (hastas), gestures (mudras), expressions, symbolism and standards. Codified some two thousand years ago it remains virtually unchanged from when it was written by scholar Bharata Muni. See also; hastas, mudras and Shastriya Nritya
Hindu Sacred Texts
Written literature (as opposed to oral) whose themes are history, tradition and religion and usually written in the form of stories told by one person to another. There are eighteen major Puranas, each dedicated to; various stories of the gods and goddesses, hymns, an outline of ancient history, cosmology, rules of life, rituals, and spiritual knowledge. Most Puranas originated in oral form from about 1500 BCE, reaching their final written form around 500 CE. The Puranas, together with the Itihasas are jointly referred as the Panchama Veda or the fifth Veda for their importance in sustaining Hindu faith. See also; Smriti.
Hindu Sacred Texts
what is heard
The oldest and therefore the most authoritative of the Vedic sacred texts. Dating from 2100 to 1700 BC, they consist of Samhita, hymns of praise to the gods and goddesses, Brahmanas, commentariies on the hymns, Aranyaka, the philosophy underlying Vedic ritual and the Upanishads, treatises on spirituality and theosophy. Mantras and chants found in the Rig Veda are still in use today for events such as weddings, making the Rig Veda the world’s oldest religioust text in continuous use. See also; Samhita, Upanishads,Vedas and Sanskrit.
Hindu Sacred Texts
The Samhita section of the Rig Veda is dedicated to Mantra, benedictions and hymns to to deities of the Hindu pantheon. See also; Rig Veda, Vedas, Sruti.
Hindu Sacred Texts
The root term used for Hindu science. Hinduism reveres truth above all and see no conflict between science and spiritual belief. Example; the Shilpa Shastra
Hindu Sacred Texts
science of arts and crafts
Shilpa Shastras are sacred texts dealing with arts and crafts such as the creation of icons in stone or bronze, painting, carpentry, pottery, jewellery, dyeing, textiles and others. The term used for the instructional guide defining the design, rules, principles and standards of sculptural art, temple architecture and 62 other traditional art forms. The Shilpa Shastra guidance is spread out over many ancient texts rather than one definitive volume. See also; Talamana.
Hindu Sacred Texts
For many centuries the sacred texts of Hinduism were committed to memory and shared orally. It was found that a poetic style known as shloka was effective as a device to ensure accurate recollection. Much of Mahabharata/Bhagavad Gita, for instance, is in the shloka style and could be sung as well as recited.
Hindu Sacred Texts
Smriti and Sruthi
what is heard and what is remembered
Smriti are sacred text remembered as what was heard from the sages (rishi) after they had received the Sruthi and passed them on to their followers. Smriti is human knowledge and can therefore be debated or edited, while Sruthi is divine knowledge and must be accepted in its entirety. In any disagreement the divine Sruthi overules. Smriti sacred texts are fluid and have been freely edited according to ancient and medieval tradition.Bhasyas (reviews and commentaries on Sruthi and Smriti texts), and numerous Nibandhas (digests) covering politics, ethics (Nitishastras), medicine, culture, arts and society. See also; Vedas, Upanishads.
Hindu Sacred Texts
Tamil is a distinct language from Sanskrit, with its own set of sacred literature very nearly as ancient as The Vedas. Traditionally the creator of the Tamil language was the mythic Rig Vedic rishi, Agastya. While Vedic Hinduism in north India was influenced by Muslim culture over almost a millennia, Vedic Hinduism in the south, with Tamil as its lingua franca, remained much closer to ancient Vedic traditions.
Hindu Sacred Texts
The Vedic source of spiritual belief for Hinduism. The Upanishads expound upon the nature of Brahman, The Immensity, and Atman (the individual soul) which are the spiritual core of Hindu belief. There are 200 Upanishads in number but the oldest 12 or so are considered the most important; dating from roughly 3000 BP and extracted from The Vedas over time. Addendums to the Upanishads continue into the present time, and widely known as the Vedanta. See also; Vedanta.
Hindu Sacred Texts
A Vedic philosopher believed to have lived in India 2200 BP. Best known as the author of the Kama Sutra.
Hindu Sacred Texts
A guide to understanding Vedic literature through the application of linguistics to archaic Vedic texts. The Vedangas also guide rituals and ceremonies and formed the foundational basis for the Dharmasutra’s concepts of civil law.
Hindu Sacred Texts
end of The Vedas
A collection of ideas derived from The Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita and Brahma Sutras concerning the nature of Brahman, Atman and Maya, the illusional world. The Vedanta is the distillation of Hindu theology. See also; Brahman, Atman, Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita and Brahma Sutra.
Hindu Sacred Texts
The Vedas’ are Hinduism’s sacred literature. They are the unwritten language of the Gods both revealed (sruti) and remembered (smurti) written in human language. (In mythology it is believed Brahma, with significant assistance from Saraswati, created The Vedas, and Ganesha was the scribe who wrote them down). There are four Vedas, each consisting of four parts; Mantras, rituals, theology and philosophy. The Upanishads are the distillation of The Vedas and were writthen towards the end of the Vedic Period from 3750 to 2500 BP. See also; Rig Veda, Sruti, Smriti and Upanishads.
Hindu Sacred Texts
Hindu sage and author
Vyasa is arguably the most significant scholar in the development of Hinduism. He lived about 3500 years ago and credited with categorizing The Vedas and for authoring the epic Mahabarata, dictating it, according legend, to his scribe, Ganesha. Popular tradition says there was only one Vyasa, but in Sanskrit the word vyasa simply means compiler, so debate continues whether there is in fact one Vyasa or many vyasas.
Glossary of Terms – Hindu Sacred TextsTerry Curell2019-11-06T18:02:38-08:00
Normally the conclusion of ritual worship, or puja, aarti is the offering of light, usually oil lamps, to one or more deities. Aarti may also be an offering of song or chant. See also; Puja and Mantra.
Ananda is the blissful state reached upon completion of moksha, oneness with Brahman. Ananda is deemed many hundreds of times stronger than any ecstasy experienced in our mortal existence. See also; Moksha.
formal temple ritual
Puja performed by a priest in a temple.
opening of the eyes
A Chola Bronze is only able to fulfill its role as a spiritual image when its eyes are ritually opened in the ritual known as Chaksunmilan. Initially it is the last task to be completed by the craftsman before it is considered finished. It is also the final ritual when the piece is consecrated in the temple or home. Once chaksunmilan is complete the sculpture is believed able to receive divine worship and bestow grace in return. See also; Pranapratishta.
When proper rituals are performed the deity, which normally exists in a Brahmanic formless state, descends into the icon, bringing the bronze to life. Cold sculpture becomes sacred icon. On the part of the deity, this is an act of grace and allows direct and dynamic connection between the worshipper and the deity. Eye contact may be only momentary but when connection is made, the believer receives the god’s blessing in a moment of ecstasy. See also; Pranapratishtha, Puja, Bhakti and Nyasa.
An autumn festival where craftsmen worship their tools with incense, flowers and unhusked rice. In ancient times carpenters offered prayers and sought forgiveness of a tree before cutting it for wood. The tree was considered to be a living being and the axe used to cut the tree would be rubbed with honey and butter to minimise the hurt to it.
servant to the gods
A woman attendant in the temple whose duties were to serve the gods, either in a housekeeping role or as part of ritual worship. From a young age girls were taught classical dance, hymns or poetry. The position brought high status and they often married well, their daughters would often following their mother in temple service. Devadasis were banned from temples by the Indian government in 1988.
festival of lights
Diwali is the Festival of Light, a celebration renewing the allegiance of us mortals to the gods rather than demons. It’s a time for family and friends, new relationships, fresh possibilities and opportunities. According to tradition people put small oil lamps outside their door on Diwali, guiding Lakshmi, the goddess of material and spiritual wealth, into their home to bless them. See also; Lakshmi.
feminine force of fertility
A belief in the blooming of trees and flowers through contact with a young woman through the touch of her hand or foot, or the sound of her voice in song. The young women are known as salabhanjika and over time images of them became ornamental carvings, often as a bracket figures. See also; Salabhanjika and Yakshis.
The Gayatri Mantra is the most widely known of the Hinduism’s sacred chants and for most Hindus, the only Sanskrit prayer they know. Translated to English; “Aum Bhuh Bhuvah Svah Tat Savitur Varenyam Bhargo Devasya Dheemahi Dhiyo Yo nah Prachodayat”
"O thou existence Absolute, Creator of the three dimensions, we contemplate upon thy divine light. May He stimulate our intellect and bestow upon us true knowledge.” Click here to listen to our favourite interpretation; https://youtu.be/yQjHSIHPJfw
Whether chanted, whispered or thought, Mantras are syllables, words, phrases or sentences charged with metaphysical energy. Tantric in origin, Mantras are used in ritual and spiritual practice to carry the thoughts and prayers of devotees to the deities. In Tantrism, Mantric energy is guided by yantras, deity-specific geometric shapes. A favourite for Shailja and I is the Gayatri Mantra sung by Deva Premal; https://youtu.be/yQjHSIHPJfw See also; Yantra, Tantra.
establishing a deity’s presence
The ritual of establishing the presence of one’s chosen deity by touching the limb of sacred image then touching one’s own limb in turn, one by one. See also; Bhakti, darshan and pranapratishta.
The ritual of putting the deity, in the form of an icon (murti), to sleep for the evening.
Prana means ‘life giving element’ and pratishta means ‘installed’ or ‘consecrated’. Pranapratishta is a ritual where the soul-less metal icon becomes the literal embodiment of the divine. When the worshipper comes before the statue and begins to pray, faith activates the divine energy within every object, and at that moment, the god or goddess is present. The worshipper sees the divine and is seen in return, in the belief known as . See also; Upasana,
Food or other offerings, which after being presented to God, are considered sanctified, reflecting the recognition that when human beings make offerings to deities, the initiative is not really theirs. They are actually responding to the generosity that bore them into a world fecund with life and possibility. The divine personality installed as a home or temple image receives prasada, tasting it (Hindus differ as to whether this is a real or symbolic act, gross or subtle) and offering the remains to worshipers. Some Hindus also believe that prasada is infused with the grace of the deity to whom it is offered. Consuming these leftovers, worshipers accept their status as beings inferior to and dependent upon the divine. An element of tension arises because the logic of puja and prasada seems to accord all humans an equal status with respect to God, yet exclusionary rules have sometimes been sanctified rather than challenged by prasada-based ritual.
Puja is the act of showing reverence to a god, a spirit, or another aspect of the divine through invocations, prayers, songs, and rituals.The purpose of the puja ritual is an offering to the divine and the granting of a blessing in return. Puja can be a simple daily devotion in the home where the icon is treated as an honoured guest and offered refreshments and sweets, flowers or coconut milk, or puja could be a complex many-layered temple ritual undertaken over many days. The focus of the ritual can be a sacred symbol, such as a lingam and yoni, or an icon representing the deity. See also; Bhakti and Darshan.
Every art form in India is meant to arouse rasa in the beholder or listener. According to the Natya Sastra, entertainment is a desired effect of performance arts but not the primary goal. The primary goal is to transport the individual in the audience into another parallel reality, full of wonder and bliss, where he experiences the essence of his own consciousness, and reflects on spiritual and moral questions.
ritual hallucinogenic drink
A Vedic ritual drink conferring immortality. A great favourite of the deities for its hallucinogenic properties.
A festival where icons of gods and goddesses, usually housed in the temples, are borne in procession outside the temple walls to be worshipped directly by ordinary citizens.
The essential element of Vedic ritual is sacrifice to the divine fire (Agni) of offerings such as cooked food, grain, fruit, ghee, oil, water, milk, honey, wood of varous kinds, incense, leaves, kusa grass, prayers, chants, etc. Everything sacrificed to the sacred fire (Agni) is believed to be distributed by Agni the god equally to the other deities. While important Vedic rituals must strictly follow the scriptures, simple daily sacrifice (puja) is performed by individuals without diminishment. See also; Devas, Vedas.
Glossary of Terms – Hindu RitualTerry Curell2019-11-07T16:35:44-08:00
The nature of Brahman is acintya, beyond the limit of human comprehension, which presents a problem for those wishing to connect with God. The solution is to focus worship upon a comprehensible aspect of Brahman in the form of a god or goddess. See also; Puja and Murti.
An ethical code of non-violence toward all living beings, Ahimsa’s premise that all living beings have the spark of the divine spiritual energy. Early Vedas (ca 1000 BCE) applied Ahimsa to other humans, but by 800 BC the code was also applied to animals. Ahimsa is a fundamental principle of Jainism and to a lesser extent, Hinduism and Buddhism. The Mahabharata states several times Ahimsa is the highest moral value.
nature as divine
The indigenous belief the natural world and human beings are of equal value. Animist values are local, and beliefs vary between clans and tribes, though some, such as a sun god or fertility goddess, are common to all. Particularly in the rural areas of south India prayers are still being offered to animals, trees, springs, rivers, rocks and forest spirits, while animist elements live on within Hinduism in the form of Shiva's deer (mrga) and Buddha's bodhi tree. See also; Dohada and Mrga.
Securing wealth and comfort for the welfare of the world. One of Purusharthas’ four aims in life. The focus of arthic devotion is Vishnu as the source of all duty and Lakshmi as the source of all wealth. See also; Purusharthas, Dharma (spiritual path), kama (desire) and moksha (Oneness).
stages of life
The Ashrama System divide’s one’s life into four stages; student (brahmacharya), householder (grihastha), retired (vanaprastha) and renunciation (sannyasa). Ashrama, along with Purusartha, or the four goals of life, are very important elements of Indian philosophy and believed to lead to fulfilment, happiness and eventual liberation (moksha). See also; Purusartha and Dharma.
Atman is the inner essence, the soul, of every plant, animal, human or god. If the sun is Brahman, then Atman is a photon of light and eternal; unaffected by the cycle of birth, death and rebirth. When one’s Atman takes physical form, awareness of its true nature is obscured and veiled by the illusion of the body as the self. One’s spiritual path, therefore, is to strip away illusion and rediscover the true nature of one’s Atman as one with Brahman. “It could be said that in this world…the atman has a human experience rather than a human being having a spiritual experience”. Gavin Flood. See also; Brahman, moksha and samadhi.
The appearance or incarnation of a deity on earth. Most often associated with the ten avatars of Vishnu. Sometimes used to refer to a particularly respected mortal such as a guru.
Bhakti is salvation through personal love and devotion to God. The focus of the worshipper's daily home puja ritual is often an icon of the deity, created on a smaller scale to the stone icons within their local temple. In Tami, bhakti is known as Anbu. The meaning and function of these sacred bronzes in bhakti involve a number of important ritual concepts, including, in Sanskrit: utsavas (festivals), puja (worship), darshana (seeing [god]), abhisheka (anointment), alamkara (embellishment), and avatara (divine descent). See also; Achala, Murti, Utsavamurti, Upasana, Atman, Moksha, Darshan, Ishta Deva, Alwar.
Any attempt to define a concept as vast and complex as Brahman is bound to fail, but here goes; Brahman is eternal, infinite, formless, all-embracing, everything that ever was, is now, and ever will be. It is The Great Soul and Ultimate Reality.
Hinduism’s priestly class charged with the duties of Vedic learning, teaching, and invoking the power of Brahman by performing rites and sacrifices.
Spirit, life-force, vitality. See also; Prana.
Psychic energy centres of the subtle body. Central to the Kundalini system of yogic practice. In Hindu belief there are seven chakras, in Buddhism four.
Dharma is a complex code of ritual, social and ethical behaviour which maintains the order of society and in the larger sense, the cosmos. For the Hindus of south India, dharma is the dutiful pathway leading to oneness with Brahman. For Buddhists, dharma is following the path of the Buddha's teachings. For Jains, dharma is righteous conduct. See also; Sanatana Dharma, Ashrama, Purusharthas.
A gana is an anarchic cosmic element and unwittingly created when Brahma created the universe out of the formless Brahman. Ganesha, as Remover of Obstacles assisted Brahma and Saraswati to bring order out of gana chaos, hence his name.
The yogic discipline dedicated to physical exercise in order to help the mind to relax and improve concentration while enhancing the body’s strength and flexibility. The technique is coordinating a number of asanas in fluid movement with controlled breathing. Hatha yoga dates as far back as Hinduism’s Vedic roots in the 1st millennium BCE.
beyond the Indus
Anyone who self-indentifies as Hindu. The term didn’t exist until the 13th century when medieval Persians coined the word to describe the land “beyond the Indus (River)”. Until “Hindu” came into popular usage during the early part of the colonial era, its spiritual beliefs were known simply as Sanatana Dharma, The Eternal Way. See also; Sanatana Dharma
A total experience of reality as opposed to the illusory of Maya. Jnana in it’s highest form sets the soul, atman, free of samsara. Ajnana, or avidya, is the illusion that keeps the soul from liberation, or moksha. See also; Maya, Atman, Samsara, and Moksha.
One of Hinduism’s four aims in life; erotic or aesthetic pleasure. The personification of this desire is the Divine Couple; Shiva, as Lord of mind, body and senses, and Shakti as Mother Goddess; source of creation and fertility. See also; Purusharthas, Dharma (spiritual path), artha (material wealth) and moksha (Oneness).
Karma means action or intent. An individual’s action will cause an effect, influencing the individual’s life, either in the present life, or in one’s future reincarnated lives, or in heaven or hell. Karma is independent of any deity or divine judgement and a fundamental concept in Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism, though its scope and specifics vary. For instance, in Budhhist thought, in addition to a person’s action, even a person’s word or thought will affect their future life.
end of the world
The end of the world. Deities endure but mankind is lost.
loosely translated as play
A broad term for everything from Krishna playing with his friends to Brahma creating the universe spontaneously rather than intentionally.
Maithuna is a Tantric term for ritual union, physical or metaphysical, of a male/female couple. Just as neither spirit (male principle) nor matter (female principle) by themselves are effective only when working together in harmony, maithuna is effective only then when the union is consecrated. In union the couple become divine: Shakti and Shiva. An orthodox Hindu point of view is that unless this spiritual transformation occurs the union is carnal and sinful. Maithuna is best known illustrated in the Lakshmana temple structures of Khajuraho in Madhya Pradesh.
The illusory nature of the world perceived as reality. Maya is the play (lila) of God enacted through Shakti, his creative and dynamic energy or force. Maya is our illusion that our physical selves and the world we experience are separate and apart from Brahman.
For Hindus in south India moksha is the essential goal of their spiritual experience. It is attaining a permanent state of oneness with Brahman thus breaking the endless and painful cycle of birth and rebirth (samsara). Over time disciplines and esoteric practices evolved to reach moksha; meditation (particularly yoga), trance, breath control, and the repetition of words or phrases of divine power (Mantras). See also; Darshan, Purusharthas, Smartism,
The transcendental realm. See also; Acintya.
revered son of Shiva and Uma
In south India at the time of the Chola Empire, Ganesh became known as Pillaiyar. In what has become the state of Tamil Nadu, Ganesha is still known by that name.
The four chief aims of human life. They are, from lowest to highest: sensual pleasure (kama), worldly status and security (artha), personal righteousness and social morality (Dharma), and liberation from the cycle of reincarnation (moksha). See also; Ashrama, Dharma.
All that is eternal, indestructible and all pervasive; the cosmic cognitive male principle. Purusha exists only when unified with the female principle of Shakti, the cosmic dynamic and creative force of life. Purusha and Shakti are interdependent, equivalent and each principle is ineffective without the other. See also; Shakti.
Shiva as Supreme Deity
Saivites worship Shiva as supreme over all other gods and goddesses. They believe Shiva alone is the personification of Brahman. Saivites are more inclined toward asceticism than adherents of other Hindu sects and may be found wandering India with a tilak of three horizontal stripes on their foreheads performing self-purification rituals. They worship in the temple and practice yoga, striving to be one with the Shiva within. See also; Vaishnavism, Shaktism, Tantrism and Smartism.
Possibly pre-Vedic, the Samkhya philosophy is closely related to yoga in that it is believed through deep meditation the mind may rationally attain sacred truths through deductive reasoning rather than direct experience of the divine, aka Bhakti.
The endless, painful cycle of death and rebirth undergone by living beings and ruled by the laws of karma. All Indian religions share a belief in some form of samsara. See also; Karma.
The Eternal Way
The Hindu system of belief and practice as it was known before medieval Persians used the term “Hindu” to describe “The country beyond the Indus River“.
The literary and sacred language of ancient India. An Indo-European language related to ancient Greek, Latin, and the modern languages of Europe - including English.
The all pervading nature of Brahman. Brahman is in all things and in all places. See also; Acintya.
energy and power
Shakti is the life force of Brahman, The Ultimate Reality. Shaktic energy is interdependent and co-equal with Purusha, the male cognitive principle. To understand the difference a metaphor might be that if Purusha is the book then Shaki is the book’s meaning. In mythology, Shakti manifests as the Divine Female, goddesses such as Uma, Durga, Kali, Lakshmi and Saraswati, as well as other lesser goddesses such as Ganga. See also; Adi Shakti, Shaktism, Purusha and Acintya.
Devi as Supreme Deity
Followers of Shaktism believe Shakti is the supreme power and creative energy in the Universe. Shaktism’s foundational text is the Deva Mahatmya, The Glory of The Goddess. Shaktism is closely related with Tantric Hinduism, which teaches rituals and practices for purification of the mind and body. Shaktas may use chants, real magic, holy diagrams, yoga and rituals to call forth cosmic forces. Shakti as Devi in her many forms is worshipped throughout India but most popular in eastern India. See also; Deva Mahatmya, Tantrism and Smartism.
Smartism, unlike sectarian Shaivism, Vaishnavism and Shaktism, believe more than one god represents various aspects and principles of one supreme entity, Brahman, The Immensity. Where a Saivite, for example, believes Shiva to be the Supreme Deity over all other gods, a Smartist recognises Brahman as the highest principle in the universe and worships Brahman in one of six forms: Ganesha, Shiva, Shakti, Vishnu, Surya and Skanda. Smartism is a relatively modern Hindu tradition and, generally speaking, popular with contemporary Hindus. See also; moksha, darshan,
what is heard
Sruthi are sacred texts which make up the central canon of Hinduism. They span most of the history of Hinduism, beginning with some of the earliest known Vedas and ending with the early modern era Upanishads. Sruthi are transcendent and authoritative scripture over anything written by humans. They are believed to have come from the gods to ancient sages (rishis) who then translated what they heard into human language, ie Sanskrit. Sruthi existed in the mind of the gods before the beginning of time. The core Sruthii are; Rig Veda, hymns recited by the chief priest (hotr); the Yajur Veda (hymns recited by the chief priest’s assistant (adhvaryu), Sama Veda (hymns sung by the udgatr), and Atharva Veda (a Brahmin priest overseeing the ritual). See also; Vedas and Sruti.
The chief solar deity in Hinduism. Surya is the chief of the nine planets and important elements of Hindu astrology. He is often depicted riding a chariot harnessed by seven horses which may represent the seven colours of the rainbow or the seven chakras in the body. Surya’s origins lie in pre-Vedic Aryan spiritual belief although other indigenous groups also worshipped the sun under different names and personifications.
thread or line
A thread or line that holds things together (think suture), usually in the form of a manual. See also; Kamasutra
Tantrism is an ancient accumulation of stringent rituals, practices and ideas which has had a profound influence upon Hindu, Buddhist and Jain ritual. In theory Tantras are concerned with: Yoga, temple architecture, icon creation, and religious practices; in reality, they tend to deal with such aspects of popular Hinduism as spells, rituals, and symbols. They are distinguished along Hindu sectarian lines between the Shaiva Agamas, the Vaishnava Samhitas, and the Shakta. Outside of Asia the sexual aspect of Tantric ritual has been grossly exaggerated, as the union of female and male principles has far greater depth and meaning when their union is metaphysical. After suppression first by medieval Mughals in India and modern Chinese in Tibet, very little orthodox Tantric knowledge exists. See also; moksha, Mantra, mudra, yoga, Shaivism, Vaishnavism, Shaktism and Smartism.
Followers of Vaishnavism worship Vishnu and all his aspects and incarnations as the Supreme Deity and the personification of Brahman, The Immensity. Followers are generally non-ascetic, monastic and devoted to meditative practice and ecstatic chanting. They also wear a U shaped mark on the forehead with a long stripe between the two arms of U. Vishnu is worshipped throughout India but most popular in northern India. See also; Shaivism, Shaktism, Tantrism and Smartism.
The world we experience through our senses, therefore distorted by our desires, perceptions and expectations. See also; Prakriti and Maya.
Yoga is as old, complex, diverse and inclusive as Hinduism itself and central to all of its major Hindu traditions. Yoga and Hinduism are very powerful either on their own or practiced together. Central to Hindu theology is the belief that yogic philosophy and techniques began with Shiva, although followers of Vishnu or Krishna attribute them to be the originators. Modern yogic practice originated with the sutras of Patanjali in the 2nd century CE and later medieval Tantric yoga practices. Swami Vivekananda in the late 19th century is credited with bringing yogic practice to the West. See also; Adiyogi, Tantra and Yogeshwara.
Unit of Time
A yuga is a unit of cyclic time believed to be 432,000 mortal years in length. A dvapana is twice the time of a single yuga), a treta (thrice) and a satya quadruple) for a total of 4.32 million years, a yurgic cycle repeating itself endlessly. Each yuga has its own characteristics involving levels of spirtuality and spans of life. Our current yuga, the Kali, began 5000 years ago and is the worst of times, a time of quarrel and deceit. Morality and spirituality is at its lowest ebb and the maximum span of life one can expect is only 100 years. For more see; http://sanskrit.org/time-in-hinduism-the-yuga/
Glossary of Terms – Hindu TheologyTerry Curell2019-11-07T16:15:14-08:00
Glossary of Terms – Iconography, Adornment, Attributes, Bhangas, Asanas and Mudras
Immovable stone icon
Before 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.
Bestower of a Blessing
The 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.
A icon’s base featuring a square base below a round base. One shape denotes one specific aspect, while two shapes indicate multiple aspects.
The curving of the body and a standing pose defined by how the figure supports their weight.
A 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.
A wall niche for sheltering a sacred sculpture. See also; koshta
A 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
Face of Glory
A 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.
sacred geometric pattern
Kolams 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.
The 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.
A 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
A 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
Subsidiary deities when other gods and goddesses are depicted as a group.
A 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.
One 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.
Symbolises the way things are; endless and complex, without beginning or end.
The 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
symmetrical geometric cross
A 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.
The unit of measurement of the talamana system used to define sacred beauty in icons. Based on the hand
Derived from the Shilpa Sastra, talamana is the system which defines measurement, proportion and geometry as it applies to the creation of icons.
The 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.
symbolic image of god
A 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).
double lotus pitha
High status gods and goddesses are often seated upon the double lotus base, vishvapadma.
sacred geometric pattern
Yantra 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.
A cirucular yoga meditation band worn around the waist and around one or both knees. See also; Aiyanar, Narasimha Yoga and Yogeshwara.
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.
Armband coiling around the upper arm.
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.
Unpleated, diaphanous fine cotton or silk, knee-length, lower body covering. See also; See also: Antariya, Dhoti, Dukula, Kaccha, Lungi and Veshti.
Jewellery worn over the ears but not supported by the earlobes.
Jewellery worn draped over the right shoulder, falling outwards towards the bicep. See also; Keyura.
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.
Symbolizes the prosperity of the wearer.
Goddess’ topknot lower or off the side. Symbolizes deference to accompanying deity.
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.
A pleated, diaphanous, close fitting, fine cotton or silk leg covering worn by goddesses. See also: Antariya, Ardhoruka, Dhoti, Kaccha, Lungi and Veshti.
A necklace or amulet. See also; mala.
Dreadlocks representing an ascetic aspect.
Goddess’ topknot of braided hair decorated with jewels.
Large mass of braids tied up on the side. Shiva as Daksina Murti.
crown of hair
A crown of lavishly decorated dreadlocks similar to Kiritamukuta. Shiva but not as ascetic with skull or crescent. Brahma’s jatamakuta is jewelled.
Symbolizes terrifying aspect.
Worn straight up or around the head like flames. Commonly seen in Kali iconography.Agni and Kali.
A pleated, diaphanous, close fitting, fine cotton or silk, leg covering. See also; Antariya, Ardhoruka, Dhoti, Dukula, Lungi and Veshti..
Shiva’s penitential matted dreadlocks wound around his head like a snail’s shell. Often decorated with snakes.
Conical crown in the shape of a mountain.
More of a hipband than a functioning belt. Often decorated with images of lion’s heads and snakes.
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.
Goddess’ topknot of unbraided hair decorated with jewels.