Indian Symbolism (Symbols as Sources of Our Customs and Beliefs)

Indian Symbolism (Symbols as Sources of Our Customs and Beliefs)

Item Code: IAC13
Author: Rai Govinda Chandra with a foreword by R.P.Tripathi
Publisher: Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers Pvt. Ltd.
Language: English
Edition: 1996
ISBN: 8121500818
Pages: 144 (with 320 line drawings)
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details 11.2" X 8.8"
23 years in business
23 years in business
Shipped to 153 countries
Shipped to 153 countries
More than 1M+ customers worldwide
More than 1M+ customers worldwide
Fair trade
Fair trade
Fully insured
Fully insured

About the Book:

Symbols have great significance for understanding early Indian religion, beliefs, art and culture. Of these symbols, some were widely current and continued to be in use for several centuries and are found delineated in sculpture, architecture, pottery, coins, paintings, etc. Rai Govind Chandra in his Indian Symbolism: Symbols as Sources of Our Customs and Beliefs has taken up for study twelve symbols, the Purna Kumbha or Purna Ghata, Svastika, Srivatsa, Nandipada, Cakra, Vardhamanaka, Matsya or Matsya-yugma, Bhadrasana, Caturbhuja Cinha, Triratna, Vaijaynti, and the Kalpataru and the Kalpalata. Each of these symbols is important particularly from the point of view of art and iconography. Rai Govind Chandra has discussed in great detail about the origin, meaning and diffusion of all these symbols. Having traced their occurrence in different periods and cultures as well as in different mediums, both in India and outside, the author has been able to demonstrate their primitive and naturalistic beginnings.

Rai Govind Chandra's Indian Symbolism is an extremely important contribution and is an indispensable work for scholars and researchers of Indian art, culture and religion.

About the Author:

Dr. Rai Govind Chandra (born 1906, at Varanasi City) was educated at Harishchandra High School and then at the Banaras Hindu University from where he obtained his M.A. Degree in 1932. In 1955 he obtained his Doctorate from the University of Paris. His other works include the following: The Structure of Comedy; Sri Mukul Dey's Art; Avanindra Nath Tagore; The Development of Ornaments and Jewellery in Proto-Historic India; Vaidika Kala ke Bharatiya Abhusana (Ornaments and Jewelry in Vedic Age); Pracina Bharata men Laksmi ki Pratima (Iconography of Laksmi); Hanumana (Development of the Iconography and the God-head of Hanumana); Terracottas of the Indus Valley Civilisation; Indo-Greek Jewlery, etc. He was Treasurer of the B.H.U. from 1934-45, M.L.C., U.P. 1936-37, M.L.A. 1937-45, Lecturer in Harish-chandra Degree College, 1956-60, Principal, 1960-64, Treasurer, Sanskrit University, 1960-69, Vice-Chancellor, 1970-71, Member of Numismatic Society of India. He died in August, 1983.



DR. RAI GOVIND CHANDRA is one of the few scholars of our country who could combine the worship of Laksmi with that of Sarasvati. Ever since his college days, he has been quitely carrying on his literary and artistic pursuits. His studies in France and England and direct contacts with some eminent scholars in India and abroad have proved of immense value. His talent was recognised in India and outside. He was invited to contribute to the Encyclopaedia Britannica and to the Arts Asiatique in French. To the Hindi Vishwakosha, a project of the Government of India, he has contributed several articles on subjects of his studies. So far he has already published eleven works dealing with literature, dramatic art and craft, terracotta, painting, ornaments, jewellery and iconography. Four of his works relating to Indology and modern technique of research are in the press. He has contributed a dozen of articles in English and Hindi. In spite of his scholarly pursuits he has found time to serve the Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi and Varanaseya Sanskrit Vishwavidyalaya, Varanasi as treasurer, and as a member of educational bodies including the U.P. Educational Grants Committee.

Symbols have been broadly classified under two categories. They are visible objects or sounds which represent something of which we have direct knowledge. They need not give any specific information such as national standard or sound of a conch-shell or trumpet. The others convey information about what they stand for within the experience of persons for whom they were meant. Both are important within their spheres. Religion employs both kinds, sounds, songs, gongs, bells and diagrams, icons etc. Their significance is not confined to things within the normal experience of man. They sometime take men beyond their normal horizon into realms far beyond the human ken. That is probably the only way as Plotiness said ‘to behold the archetype, as it were by means of an image’ or symbolism.

The value of symbols has been so well recognised that some of the most expressing ones have been taken over the mountains and across the deserts and oceans consciously or unconsciously like Swastika, Cross Triangle and Discs. Their study from the historical, psychological, mythological, sociological and even philosophical points of view is fascinating and is likely to reveal some basic affinities of the human pursuit to know things difficult to know by other means.

In the introduction of the present work the author has expressed his inability to see eye to eye with Prof. Stella Kramrisch who maintained that the Indian plastic sense was averse to the symbol which is a substitute for reality. He holds that a Hindu’s symbol is not a counterpart of his god; it is only a medium through which he concentrates on his god to worship him, so that he might have a vision of the formless force. It is a medium through which he tries to evoke the vision of god. Some Indian philosophers have maintained that there are at least five mediums through which god reveals Himself. A symbol is a material medium which ordinarily can be used as an easy step for higher ascent. One can choose a symbol according to one’s aptitude and liking, the spirit is one but the forms are many——material, verbal, conceptional, emotional and spiritual. He Himself is transcendent and yet imminent. The Hindu mind was flexible enough to grasp the mystery of the point and the circle. "The credit of inventing the Figure O (zero) which is the starting point in scales from which the positive and the negative quantities are reckoned" goes to him.

In the present study, Dr. Chandra has placed before us his researches on the origin of some of the symbols. Symbol according to Oxford Dictionary is ‘a thing regarded by general consent as naturally typifying or representing or recalling something by possession of analogous qualities or by association in fact or thought} Edwin Bevin in his Gifford Lectures (1955-54) defined it as ‘something presented to the senses or imagination usually to the senses—which stand for something else! Symbols are not confined to any particular field of knowledge or experience. They are found in almost all the branches of knowledge and experience. In arts, languages, mathematics, sciences, in fact almost everywhere. Broadly speaking they might be classified under two heads. First those which stand for something we already know. The second those which aim at giving information about things they symbolise. In the first kind a symbol need not have any resemblance to things symbolised. In the second kind it gives us information about the nature of something not otherwise known. In the case of the latter resemblance is essential. Both kinds of symbols occupy important place particularly in religions. They are drawn from almost all levels of creation. Earth, stone, fire, water, plants, trees, metals, pots, colours, birds, animals, reptiles, etc. Sometimes different elements are combined to represent a complete symbol of qualities.

Symbols are not confined to any particular period, place or people. They are found among the most uncivilized as well as the most civilized and sophisticated peoples. They have been traced right from the beginning of human experience down to our own times. They are found in all countries and climes of the world. It appears, therefore, that they have been found universally essential and helpful for various spheres and purposes of life and thought. Some of them have been found so vital that they were adopted by peoples living poles apart from one another. The significance of symbols is not confined to things within the normal experience of men. They are sometimes found potent enough to establish contacts between the known and unknown, the visible and the invisible. Their universality, utility, range, expressiveness and elusiveness have made their study at once engrossing and fascinating. Among all the peoples of the world the Greeks in Europe, the Egyptians in Africa, the Indians and the Chinese in Asia have shown remarkable aptitude for symbolism. Of all these symbol—loving peoples the Indians occupy the highest place for their creative genius, transcendent imagination and vision. Apart from transmuting crude symbols into refined forms and imparting lofting significance, they have created a host of new ones which make it easy for man to mentally and spiritually climb not only to Olympian heights, soar in the etherial planes even beyond the electromagnetic region, across the phenomenal to the nominal, and even beyond the regions where even speech and mind are left behind, what to talk of the intellect. Such an attitude and vision is difficult to visualise, let alone to understand and describe.

The net result of his enquiry Dr. Chandra has given in the concluding chapter. He holds that the primitive man instinctively felt a sort of unity of which every kind of existence including his own formed its components. The bond between nature and man can be followed through all the stages of symbolism. Man has tried to convey such thoughts through the medium of figures which are abbreviations of his whole train of ideas. Later sophisticated philosophers have only tried to shroud these figures by weaving around them a host of mystical thoughts which might or might not be possible to correlate to the original line of thinking of the man living in primitive society. Such a figure, for example, is the linga in the Indian art, a simple phallus combined with the vagina denoting the principle of creation. In other words Dr. Chandra finds a basic affinity between the primitve and the highly developed thoughts of subsequent generations. The germs of civilisation and culture are found in primitive society. In favourable circumstances some societies evolve higher and higher civilisation and culture while others for one reason or the other remain at low levels or even wither.

Those which advance transmute the primitive ideas and institutions into new ones, give new connotation and meaning to them. In this process the primitive significance withers and loses its original connotation and is forgotten. It changes beyond recognition. It is questionable if we could retrospectively credit the primitive mind with all the ideas and connotations which took ages to evolve in the present shape. The progressive mind does not care to look back. Maybe that diamonds have their foundation in coal and coal in vegetable or something else, but no jeweller would care to stock coal in his shop or a buyer would think of it during the transaction. Diamond has left coal in oblivion and come to exist in complete transmutation and transformation in its own right. All this is true yet it must be recognised that the first brick was laid by the primitive man on which in the course of time a gigantic and highly architectonic monument was raised connoting a highly sophisticated artistic vision and an equally imposing piece of architectural engineering. There are still groups and communities who cling to the original idea and subject it to crucial experimental examination for its psychic, psychological, emotional and spiritual contents. In the present work Indian Symbolism the author has dealt with the diffusion and origin of twelve symbols which are widely current. I am sure that his study will be welcomed not only by those who are interested in symbolism, religion and culture, but also by the modem sophisticated general readers ever-desirous of knowing how and why of things. This work should inspire other ambitious scholars and thinkers to pursue the subject further. Dr. Chandra might himself consider it worth his while to do so.



THIS WORK WAS started in 1960 when my curiosity was aroused about the significance of the symbols on the punch—marked coins. A thesis was written by a friend on the punch-marked coins, in which he had worked on the grouping of different symbols and suggested the theory that particular set of symbols suggest the place of their origin. He had, however not worked on the significance of these symbols. As I had received some training in deciphering the symbols of punch—marked coins from Sri Durga Prasad—a veteran numismatist, who was, perhaps, the first Indian to study these coins carefully, I thought of taking up this work. Here I have tried to examine twelve symbols on the basis of the material readily available. The study however, is in no way complete, but I think it opens up a new field of research, and can help the scholars to find out the origin of the various symbols of Indian arts in the primitive cultures of this country. Though the works of Walsh, Cunningham, Theobald, Vincent Smith, Durga Prasad, Coomaraswamy and others, are valuable but they only touch the fringes of the problem of origin.

I must thank Late Dr. Vasudeva Saran Agrawal, Professor of the Banaras Hindu University, who was kind enough to go through this work.

I am grateful to Dr. A K. Narain, Principal of the College of Indology,-of the Banaras Hindu University and to Dr. V.S. Pathak for giving me various suggestions about the presentation of this study.

Prof. K. De B. Codrington of the School of Oriental and African Studies and Monsieur j. Filliozat of the College de France have been good enough to read the manuscript and have given me various suggestions. I am greatly beholden to them. In the end I must thank the publishers Munshiram Manoharlal for agreeing to bring out the book, and Sri B.D. Shah for typing this work. The drawings for this work have been prepared by my daughter—in-law, Srimati Anjana Rani to whom I am grateful for she has taken great pains over them.






Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13


Add a review
Have A Question

For privacy concerns, please view our Privacy Policy