An Introduction to Hindu Symbolism

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Item Code: IDF549
Author: I.K. Taimni
Publisher: The Theosophical Publishing House Adyar, Chennai
Language: English
Edition: 2012
ISBN: 9788170593065
Pages: 132
Cover: Paperback
Other Details 7.2" X 4.9"
Weight 150 gm
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Book Description

From the Back of the Book:

The truth hidden behind the symbols are so magnificent and of such deep import that devotion should become strengthened and not weakened on understanding the inner significance of the symbols' says Dr. I. K. Taimni in his beautiful introduction to the book.

Divided into nine chapters, this book helps to attain some insight into popular literature like the Puranas that embody as an integral part of it the highest wisdom though in a veiled form.

Besides dealing with the general principles of Hindu Symbolism, the Symbology of Siva-linga, Mahesa, Trideva, are Elaborately discussed by Dr. I. K. Taimni. The stories of Hiranyakasipu and Bhasmasura, the Churning of the Ocean and the Allegory in Durga-Saptasati constitute independent chapters.



Anyone who studies Hindu scriptures is struck by the odd mixture of the highest philosophical doctrines on the one hand and crude fetish worship and myths on the other. And the most remarkable thing which strikes outsiders who have not studied these things deeply is how otherwise intelligent people can accept these things as a matter of course and even take part in ceremonies in which Divinity is worshipped in grotesque forms. You will find, for example, a professor of philosophy lecturing on Vedanta in a university and explaining to the students very carefully the subtle conception of Nirguna- Brahman. The same professor comes home and in the evening takes part most enthusiastically in the worship of Kali, the Goddess with a flaming sword and a garland of skulls round her neck. You find the same professor again, next day, offering Ganga water and bel leaves to an ellipsoid made of stone in a temple. And the strange thing about this religious life of the Hindus is that it does not occur to these people that there is any contradiction involved in their attitude to the many Gods whom they worship, sometimes in very strange forms.

Another aspect of the same phenomenon is the ready acceptance of the innumerable stories of different gods and goddesses in our scriptures, specially the puranas, which are so popular among the masses. Many of these stories are absurd in the extreme; some of them are even revolting and insulting to our intelligence. And yet, not only illiterate and unintelligent people, but also educated and highly intelligent people, read the puranas with great devotion and derive real spiritual sustenance and inspiration from them. When a learned pandit (scholar), reads a colourful account of the wedding of Siva and Sakti with great devotion, sceptics might feel amused at his credulous attitude, but he does not see any absurdity in the apparently absurd story. He knows in his heart of hearts that he is reading an allegorical account of a great occult truth. The very absurdity of the story shows that it is not to be taken literally and hides a profound truth.

It is true that many common people among the Hindus take many of these things as literally true and this has led to the growth of superstition and perverted religious ideas. But I do not think there are many people, even among those who are illiterate, in whose sub-conscious mind there is not a vague conviction that behind these apparently absurd stories there are hidden great spiritual truths even though they may not understand what they are. It is this intuitive perception or conviction which is the basis of their faith and not lack of intelligence, or credulity or superstition, as is generally supposed.

A close and careful study of the Hindu scriptures should convince anybody who has some insight into these things that it is not only the Vedas, Upanishads, the philosophical works, and such other high class literature which are the repository of the highest philosophical and religious truths, but even popular literature like the puranas contains, as an integral part of it, the highest wisdom though in a veiled form. In fact, it is this dilution of wisdom with stories and illustrations which has made it easily assimilable, and enabled it to survive the ravages of time and changing environment, and to be handed on from generation to generation almost intact. For one person who can study and understand the highly philosophical truths in their nakedness, there are a thousand who study them clothed in the popular form of stories, and that is how these truths have continued to influence and inspire the masses, generation after generation. And the fact that the wisdom and knowledge have survived and have been effective in keeping alive spiritual traditions and conceptions shows the wisdom of our rishis (sages) who devised this popular method of spreading and transmitting ideas of great value to humanity. If our spiritual culture is to survive it is necessary that these truths and traditions be kept alive among the people as a whole and not be confined to a few erudite scholars.

What has been said above with regard to the presentation of spiritual ideals through stories holds good also with regard to the presentation of spiritual and philosophical concepts in the form of symbols. The deeper truths of spiritual life are really beyond the grasp of the lower mind and are matters of direct realization in the deeper states of consciousness. But a keen and trained intellect may be able to deal with these truths, partially and indirectly, in the form of philosophical conceptions and concepts. These intellectual interpretations can give a faint glimpse into the nature of these truths, especially if the mind has been purified and the light of buddhi illuminates it to some extent. But these purely intellectual conceptions are bound to be abstract and can be grasped only by people whose higher minds are well developed. The ordinary man finds it very difficult to understand them or to take any real interest in them.

Are the masses then to be deprived completely of the benefit of knowing these truths? The art of symbolism was created to enable the ordinary man to derive at least some advantage from these ideas, to keep alive his interest in them and thus make possible the transmission of these precious ideas from generation to generation as part of the general culture and heritage. A symbol is a concrete thing which every man can see and remember. If he understands its inner significance well, the symbolic representation does not interfere with his understanding of the truth. On the other hand, it helps him to fix it more easily in his mind. If he does not understand the inner significance, he, at least, knows that it represents some inner truth and has, generally, a vague idea about it. He can thus maintain, at least, a superficial contact with the truth and derive some inspiration from it. Even the most learned philosopher can, at best, know the truth very vaguely as long as he has not realized it directly. Even if he takes the thing literally, which is hardly possible for any sane person, he carries in his mind a form which can be invested with life and meaning quite easily. In fact, it will be difficult to find an individual in India, in whose mind these symbols associated with divine life are not associated in some degree with meaning and who does not feel more or less devotion towards them. We thus see that symbols and allegories may to a certain extent step down the truths of the higher life and may even debase them, but they keep them alive and thus enable the common people to derive some measure of inspiration from them.

Most of us do not realize what an important part symbolism plays in our life. Language through which we communicate ideas is purely symbolical in character. We assign certain meanings to words and then use these words as coins or counters for the communication of ideas. There is no natural relationship between words and the ideas for which they stand except when they are used for their sound effect in Mantra Yoga. When, for example, the word prasannam is used in the dhyana-mantra of Mahesa we use a sound for representing the state of anande (bliss) in which He lives. When a smile is shown on His face in a picture we use a visual device for representing the same idea.

The expression of religious and philo- sophical ideas through symbols is not an art peculiar to Hinduism. It has been practised since time immemorial in many parts of the world but perhaps it has never been developed to such a degree or practised on such a wide scale as in Hinduism. It is a great pity that the study of this art has been completely neglected in modern times with the result that our ideas regarding religious and philosophical truths have become confused and a lot of superstition has crept into our life. This ignorance of the symbolism hidden especially behind the forms of religious worship is to a great extent responsible for the declining faith in our religious ideals and an increasing interest in materialistic pursuits. In our modern scientific age what one cannot explain, one is inclined to relegate to the realm of superstition and the modern educated Hindu is thus reduced to the necessity of either believing in these things blindly or ignoring them as products of fancy or superstition.

But decline in faith among the modern educated Hindu is not the only undesirable result of this lack of knowledge concerning the symbolical character of religious forms of worship and the religious lore of Hinduism. It has prevented the doctrines of Hindu religion receiving from the Western people the serious consideration which they deserve on account of their inherent reasonableness and highly philosophical character. It is true that Western scholars have given a lot of their time to the study of Hindu religion and done much to spread this knowledge among Western people. But they have done it in a purely academic spirit, regarding these things as relics of the phases through which the Hindu mind has passed in the past and to which it is clinging rather credulously in the present. They can study and record the customs of primitive tribes in the heart of Africa with the same care and the same detachment. For lack of the key to symbolism which lays open the inner meaning, they have not been able to take these things seriously as representing the truths of the inner life of the spirit based upon facts of experience of spiritually enlightened people.

Many devotional people are afraid to look .into these things because they think that such a study will undermine their devotion. This is obviously a mistaken attitude. The truths hidden behind the symbols are so magnificent and of such deep import that devotion should become strengthened and not weakened on under- standing the inner significance of the symbols. A new understanding dawns in our mind which not only illumines it and enriches our conception but also brings out a deeper and more intelligent kind of devotion. The understanding of the inner significance of the symbolic form does not deprive us of the form to which we may have become attached. It ensouls that form with a new life. This is a necessary step in our progressive realization of the reality hidden behind the symbol within ourselves.




One Introduction 1
Two Devis and Devatas as Powers and Functions of the One God 10
Three General Principles of Hindu Symbolism 18
Four Natural Symbolism: The Symbology of Siva-Linga 27
Five Artificial Symbolism: The Symbology of Mahesa 39
Six The Symbology of Trideva 59
Seven The stories of Hiranyakasipu and Bhasmasura 70
Eight The Churning of the Ocean 81
Nine The Allegory in Durga-Saptasati 107


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