More Than Just a Sign : Decoding Hinduism With These 5 Major Symbols

You must have come across these symbols in your everyday life. But ever wondered if they held any deeper connotations?

In India, the term dharma is preferred.
Hindusim employs the art of symbolism to amazinf effect. Pixabay

Hinduism is swarming with symbolism, and a person cannot deny being introduced to any of its symbols in one form or the other, at some point in their lives. These symbols, that represent philosophies, teachings and the various gods and goddess are contemporary representatives of a pulsating culture, with more and more people from the western countries adopting them in their lives in some form.

While on the surface, many of these symbols may seem absurd, they all carry deeper symbolic meanings that are bound to draw attention to the rich cultural lineage of Hinduism.

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  1. OM or AUM

Three Sanskrit letters – aa, au, and ma, when combined make the sound Om or Aum.  The first syllable in every prayer, it symbolizes the universe and the ultimate reality – the Brahman or the Absolute. It is perceived as the root of the universe that continues to hold everything together.

Om s a sacren, spiritual sound in Hinduism.
Om or Aum is also referred to as Omkara, Aumkara, and Pranava. Pixabay

Om represents various important triads:

  • The three aspects of God: the Brahma (A), the Vishnu (U), and the Shiva (M)
  • The three worlds: Earth, Atmosphere, and heaven
  • The three sacred Vedic scriptures – the Rig Ved, the Yajur Ved, and the Sama Ved

Just like the cross is to Christians, the ‘Om’ is considered as the universal Hindu symbol. Even the word ‘Amen’ used by Christians to conclude a prayer seems akin to the Hindu Om. It also incorporated in English words with similar meanings, like ‘omnipotent’ or ‘omnipresent’. Thus, the sacred symbol Om or Aum represents divinity and authority.

Symbol of piety, Om is found at the head of letters, pendants and enshrined in every Hindu temple and family shrines.


The term Swastika is a fusion of two Sanskrit words Su (good) and Asati (to exist), which together stand for “may the good prevail”.

The symbol has been adopted by various religions and cultures across the world.
Swastika is a Hindu symbol of spiritual principles and values. Wikimedia Commons

Although the symbol has a negative connotation in some parts of the world because of its striking resemblance to the Nazi emblem, the Swastika symbolizes the perpetual nature of Brahman (universe)- it’s pointing in all directions represent the omnipresence of the Absolute.

A sign of luck and fortune, it is used to represent truth, honesty, purity, and stability. It’s four points, or angles are also believed to represent the four directions or the Hindu Vedas.

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A color that represents Hinduism in its entirety, Saffron is the shade of the Supreme Being represented by Agni or fire. Fire burns away the darkness, symbolic of knowledge smoldering away ignorance and dispensing radiance.

Saffron flags are often seen atop Hindu temples.
Saffron is considered a holy color in multi cultures. Wikimedia Commons

With its origin in the Vedas, the foremost hymn in the Rig Veda glorifies fire worship- it mentions when sages moved from one ashram to the next, it was standard to carry fire along. The inconvenience of carrying a burning object is believed to have given birth to the symbol of a saffron flag. For this reason, saffron flags flutter on top of Hindu temples.

Also auspicious to the Buddhists, the Jains, and the Sikhs, Buddhists monks, and Hindu saints are often seen wearing saffron robes as a mark of purity, abstinence, and renunciation of material life.


Tilak is one of the most common symbols in Hinduism which is visible and is seen on the forehead from where one can channel divinity.  The word Tilak comes from the Sanskrit word ’til’ (sesame seed) which is of great significance in yagnas and charity.

Tilak is among the most viable symbols of Hinduism.
A flute player from India with a tilak on his forehead. Wikimedia Commons

While its origin is unclear, it is believed that at the time of the Varna system, people applied tilak to represent their Varna,

  • Brahmins wore a white Chandan mark to imply purity
  • Kshatriyas wore a red tilak for their valour
  • Vaishyas applied a yellow (turmeric) tilak to denote prosperity
  • The Shudhras applied a black tilak to represent their service to all others

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The Tilak also denotes fidelity to different gods – the commitment to Vishnu is denoted by a U-shaped Tilak while horizontal lines symbolize devotion to Shiva.


The term is a culmination of two words- ‘Rudra’ (another name for Lord Shiva) and ‘Aksha’ (eyes).

Rudraksha seeds hold pious significance in Hindusim.
Rosemary made out of Rudraksha seeds. Wikimedia Commons

Rudraksha is essentially a tree with blue seeds, found in Southeast Asia, the Himalayas, New Guinea and Australia. The unusually colored seeds are said to represent the tears of Lord Shiva, the destroyer.

Legend has it that Shiva she’s a tear upon seeing the sorry state of his people, which turned into the Rudraksha tree.

Rudraksha seeds are commonly used to make rosaries.

– prepared by Soha Kala. Twitter @SohaKala

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