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Pratika In Hinduism – Religious Symbols

In Hinduism, pratika means religious symbols. The maximum use of the pratikas is found in the Vedic and post-Vedic Hindu religion literature. Every sentiment, every ideal, every institution associated with the religion subsists in the atmosphere of symbols. Religions survive through symbols, and it is through symbols alone that we have access to the religious life of ancient cultures.

Vedic people are always firm about the existence of correlations between the visible and the invisible world, between ritual acts and natural phenomena or divine agency, between the celestial sphere and human existence. All murtis or vigrahas or bimbams, totems and fetishes are symbols. Wise persons see an invisible substance or reality in these objects. The image or symbol serves to provide a suitable form for reverence or worship which the naked eye is able to grasp.

References to murtis begin to appear in the later part of Brahmanas and Kalpa Sutras. The Shringa (horn0 embodies the idea of strength (Rig Veda 8.86.5). The most important symbols are those of Brahman, the indefinable and unknowable source and origin of the existence.

For Brahman, only signs and types can be employed, the primeval source and sustainer of this universe is beyond thought or expression. Some of the epithets of Brahman are symbolic – like hiranyagarbha, the golden egg; swayambhu, the self existent one; vishwakarma, the maker of all things, etc.

The prana (breath) is Brahman, manas or akasha, under which Brahman is to be meditated on or worshipped (Chandogya Upanishad 3.13.1); Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 4.1.6). The sacred syllable om is the highest Brahman and its utterance fulfills all desires (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 5.1.1; Katha Upanishad 1.2.16). Om is also the symbol of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. The compound expression sachidananda represent, sat (being), cit (consciousness), and ananda (bliss) (Chandogya Upanishad 6.2.1); 8.2.14; Taittiriya Upanishad 2.1; 3.4-6). In this term, any implication concerning Brahman could reside. Brahman transcends all symbols and assertions, comprehends both sat (being) and asat (non-being).

The chakra (wheel) is employed as a symbol of the sun. In Hindu scriptures, Sudarshana Chakra is one of the weapons of Bhagavan Vishnu. Pieces of gold also symbolize the sun. While drawing water (from the well) after sunset, gold is employed as a symbol of the sun (Satapatha Brahmana; at the time of the piling up of the fire-altar, a disc of gold is placed on it to represent the sun (Satapatha Brahmana

In the expression sisna devah (who have phallus for their deity), the sisna (phallus) symbolizes the generative power (Rig Veda 7.21.5); 10.99.3).

In Puranas, the Shivling became a symbol of Shiva’s form and is worship is widely accepted in all parts of India.

The Shaligrama is also a very important mystical symbol for the worship of Bhagavan Vishnu. The panda, or ball of cooked rice, symbolically represents the share which the departed fathers still have in the family life.

Many Hindu cons and seals also bear symbols which are numerous and diversified. Many plants and trees serve as the sacred symbols or epiphanies of certain deities. Bhagavan Vishnu is identified with the ashvattha tree (Mahabharata 13.135.101). Shiva is identified with the nyagrodha tree, and Brahma is identified with the palasha tree (Padma Purana 6.117.2). The Bhagavad Gita (10.26) clearly states that Sri Krishna is ashvattha among the trees. There are many images of symbols of the grama devatas under sacred trees in the vicinity of villages; these deities are believed to guard inhabitants of the village.

Symbolism is the very breath of religion. Religious language is more symbolic, as it endeavors to represent a mystery, a reality too deep for words. These pratikas have special importance and value so far as their metaphors are concerned.