Dan Brown, even while writing his master pieces like ‘Angels and Demons’ and ‘Da Vinci Code’ couldn’t have imagined that his books would kindle the kind of response they did, towards the Christian institutions. The sheer notion of the ‘Grail’ as well as the ostracization of the church has aroused a deep interest in the hidden symbols of Christianity. It has also sparked an interest in the hidden symbolism of Hinduism. I can safely assume that when an Indian reader read Brown’s book, he/she must have given some thought to symbols in Hinduism.
Though all religions have symbols and designs but their meanings and connotations keep changing with time, just like the weapon of Poseidon, the Greek sea lord became the weapon of the Devil in the Christian era. In the same way symbols in Hinduism have meanings that have changed with time. One of the famous and well known symbols of Hinduism is the Shiva Lingam. Many readers may be aware that the lingam is nothing but the male copulating organ and the yoni is the female copulating organ, but what is more interesting is the fact that the extent of penetration depicted in the Shiva Lingam ensures the virginity of the yoni is not breached. It is the ‘Yin-Yang’ or in more Indian terms ‘purusa-prakriti’ relation which is bereft of sexual connotations and yet is the reason behind the harmony in nature. The erect organ also depicts the superiority of the male in the union. One of the most debatable aspects of this interpretation is the presence of jar of milk over the linga,.the milk is said to be the semen of the aroused linga. However many historians have rejected this idea as far fetched. Then the question arises as to why the milk isn’t poured continuously on other male deities. Mythologically, Shiva is depicted as a sexually charged manifestation of the human male, the linga is thus seen as a symbol of fertility as well as the harmony between male and female.
One of the important aspects of a Hindu wedding is the ‘Kanyadaan’ – the giving away of the daughter by the father. In the ceremony the father of the bride gives her away in the presence of Agni. This ceremony has lasted since the Rig Vedic time when Usas, the ‘Goddess of Dawn’ was given away in a similar fashion. However what is interesting is the fact that the father first bestows his daughter to Agni, then Indra, then Narayana and then to the groom. This is because the early Vedic period was a society of androgamy wherein a woman took more than one husband. The woman was considered to be like a creeper tree and thus had to be tied to the groom before shelet go of the support of her father. This tradition is still carried on where the end of the bride’s sarree is tied to the end of the groom’s dress.
Another symbol which many of us may have seen but whose relevance may be unknown to us, is the ‘sindoor’. The Sindoor has been worn by married Hindu woman since time immemorial signifying her marital status. Yet the meaning of sindoor is far deeper than one can expect. It signifies the blood that oozes out due to the breaching of hymen in other words; the loss of the woman’s virginity when she enters a union. The sindoor is a symbol of a fertile woman whose sexuality and purity are in the hands of her husband. After the death of her husband the sindoor was wiped off first as an indication of the end of her sexual life.
The above given examples are just the tip of the iceberg of symbols, in the ocean that is Hinduism. Almost all the religious activities and idols have not one but several meanings which though in the past signified something but today, the lack of awareness about their real meanings has made them mere residual rituals and practices. We may not always embrace or forward the idea that is manifested in a practice or symbol, but ignorance is no excuse for disregard.