Worship is a symbol of spiritualism. It represents a belief in an unseen power, the Underlying Principle of the phenomenal universe and life. This endows life with a profound meaning and with the intuitive notion that life extends beyond the physical into the spiritual. The puke beat of life from the beginning to the end is worship. It is no longer just surviving but worshipping and this is living. The spiritual aspect of life is not set aside, but attended with reverence, side by side with physical existence. In worship, illumination dawns and the spiritual becomes more important than the physical aspect of life. Icons are made and temples are erected to house them, all symbols of the emerging spiritualism. More symbols and ritual artefacts are mode to transmute into simple understandable abstract concepts. The symbols are essential and have practical applications. The abstract becomes the obvious and there arises a deeper understanding of the mystery of life.
There is more reverence, worship becomes a way of life. The symbolism of Hinduism, although exoteric and esoteric, is the key to understanding. Not only of the spiritual creed of India but of the mystery of human existence and the spiritual urge or impulse in man. It represents the doctrine that spirit is inherent in man. It is hoped that this short introductory work on Hindu symbolism, though not exhaustive, will help determine if the doctrine is valid.
Hinduism is of course no longer an unknown creed, and its symbolism is no longer completely esoteric, for it has spread throughout the whole world during this century, The symbols are no longer esoteric, but they remain only superficially known, with their real meaning or philosophical basis remaining obscure to most people. Even the significance of the most common symbols, like the swastika or the OM, is hardly known. Symbolism simplifies abstract concepts. They convey their meanings by intelligible forms in the cultural milieu from which they have evolved and developed. Symbols remain numerous and essential in the practice of external worship. Not until worshippers have become enlightened will the symbols and external form of worship disappears, to be replaced by 'Inner Worship.' The spiritual symbols ore a reminder of the Transcendental Essence, which represents the eternal aspects of human existence, and therefore are reassuring in a similar manner as the Cross is in Christendom. It is basically polymourphous monotheism. The innumerable attributes of the Absolute has made Hinduism pantheistic.
It is a product of the syncretism of the aboriginal sacrificial offerings and the Aryan Vedic ritual worship. It is not merely because their beginnings are lost in the mists of primeval time that they arrive in our time, primitive, mysterious and mystical, but because they have emerged and evolved in an entirely different environment and different concepts from those of other creeds that have cropped out of other cultural matrix.
In this short general introductory work on the sacred symbols of Hinduism, an attempt has been made to present their meaning and significance in an exhaustive but comprehensive manner. However, this is simply impossible to achieve in this small volume. Of the really important symbols, the more common or ubiquitous, though abstract or mystical, have been given in-depth treatment to make them understandable. The rest, also abstruse in concept, but essential as accessories, have been explained briefly for a quick grasp of their significance. The importance of these symbols, to one encountering them for the first time, is whether under concentrated scrutiny the fundamentals of Hinduism will stand valid when compared with any other established creed.
0n the whole the intellectual impression that Hinduism presents is that it has sprung out of the Vedic Age. But the evolution of Hinduism started long before the beginning of the Vedic Age. From the investigation of subcontinental archaeology, the linguistic studies, and the study of folk art forms - usually inspired by religion -emerges evidence of native animism, fetishism, and primitive mysticism. These must have evolved out of the native experience and observations of nature. With fear and insecurity in their surroundings, feeling that they were at the mercy of incomprehensible primal forces, people learned to placate, appease and propitiate them. Fear was the primal impulse to worship.This was the original conception of religion.
Then began the worship of 'sacred' trees, rocks, coves, and habitats of the supernatural, like the fairies, who became divinities of forests, hills, caves and rivers. They may have observed them to be beneficient, quiescent, but occasionally wrathful. It can certainly be asserted that it may have occurred to the primitive mind to appease or propitiate these supernatural forces. The natural elements and beasts they discovered possessed power and other attributes, the meanings of which were expanded until they acquired mystical significance. Prayers - the origin of mantras - were developed, with charms invented with magic designs, probably the prototype of mandalas. The oldest apparently was the triangle, symbol of the Goddess of Fertility, found in caves and ruins of prehistoric settlements.
Over the millenia a plethora of symbols of their rituals proliferated. From the elementary and primitive to the complex, abstruse and sophisticated. These were endowed with the essence of mysticism. The worship that evolved was Tantra, a mystical discipline, which antedates the Vedic Age. Thus, almost all the sacred symbols are non-Vedic. It cannot precisely be defined as aboriginal or non-Aryan, for there has been no study of the racial configuration in the subcontinent of the earliest time when worship evolved and developed. It is possible that the first batch of a small wandering pastoral Aryan tribe may have arrived, and by interbreeding with the aborigines, completely disappeared as a distinct racial group; but it is also possible that interbreeding gave impetus to the intellectual fermentation that eventually mode them have sharper and deeper insights, and thus sophisticated in their overview of the supernatural forces in their environment.
They worshipped o variety of divinities; the sun, the sky, the moon, the fire, and even the beasts, even the mysterious reproductive or generative part of the human body, and perhaps also dynamic tribal leaders who became legendary and there arose a polytheistic pantheon of gods and goddesses. They later divined, however, that there was only one Absolute Power, the Mother Goddess with millions of attributes, her emanations or transcendental manifestations in the phenomenal world. It was thus fundamentally monotheistic. The worship of the Mother Goddess is Tantric, which subordinates the Gods, who are only manifestations of her attributes and supreme power. She is everything. With the arrival of the Vedic Age, the creed of the indigenous aborigines fused with that of the new Aryan tribes who arrived later. It is noteworthy that the Vedic Age took the whole indigenous system of worship, along with the deities and ritual artefacts, practically unchanged. On the whole, indigenous symbology remained unaltered, with perhaps the underlying philosophy, complicated and abstract, undergoing some modification and improvement. The only great changes were in the transformation of superiority from female to male deities. In the masculinisation of the deities by the chauvinistic Aryan, they also acquired the symbols, attributes or qualities of the female deities.
In spite of this effort to relegate the goddesses to an inferior position, the instinctive or intuitive propensity is toworship the Mother Goddess. The symbolism of Hinduism arrives in our time amazingly primitive yet complex, abstract, even intricately designed and conceived, and therefore almost incomprehensible. Simple objects, invested with qualities unseen on the surface, do not give up their secrets with just a cursory or perfunctory interest shown in them. They have all been imbued with metaphysical masks exhibiting only the outward reality, the illusion, but hiding the inner reality. The reality, inherent in the illusion, finally bursts, and the simple concept emerges, abstract but whole and complete. The mystery is resolved.
The only endeavour left is to experience its essence - the vitality of the concept in the human heart. When a deeper curiosity focuses on it, like the lotus bud it bursts open into o beautiful flower. The whole Hindu world of phenomena becomes more intelligible. Modern day scientists claim that the original primal sound frequency of the Big Bang is still reverberating in the cosmos. And this is the OM mantra that is still resonating in the womb of the Mother Goddess.
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