Have you ever contemplated the deeper meaning of rituals and ritual offerings in your religious and spiritual traditions? Do you understand how the symbols in your external rituals relate to the inner depths of your spirit? If not, it is time for you to do so. This article, though centered around some of the Hindu Symbology, may provide you the needed impetus to delve into deeper meaning of the external rituals you perform in your own religious and spiritual traditions.
Every religion incorporates ritual worship as part of the tradition and all of those rituals involve offering some items that are considered sacred to the object of our worship. Each of these items point to a deeper meaning. When this is understood in proper light, it will help you to go beyond the rituals and deeper into your spirit. By gaining a deeper understanding you will be able to let go of external rituals and focus more on the internal rituals.
In this article, I will discuss some of the Hindu symbology such as offering Coconuts, Flowers and Fruits to one’s chosen personal deity during prayer rituals, wearing of the red-dot, red vertical line, ash or other symbols on the forehead, and the significance of the greeting “Namaste!” (pronounced namastE) Though this is only a short list of thousands, if not millions, of symbols in Hindu rituals, I hope that this article will provide a starting point for you to contemplate on the deeper meaning of symbols from your own spiritual and religious traditions, and help you to dive deeper to realize the divine within.
Don’t go empty handed!
While growing up I have heard my elders say, “When you go to a temple you should not go empty handed. You should always take a Coconut, Flower and Fruit as offering.” When I questioned, “Why?” I usually never got a satisfactory answer. My father once told me, “It is because everything in this creation belongs to God, and so we symbolically offer it back.” Though I was satisfied a little, it still left me with wanting a clearer answer. At other times, the question was why I should wear the red-dot/line on my forehead. 🙂
C’mon! Wrathful God!?
Many Hindus, who visit temples regularly, do not know the significance of the items they take with them for a ritual offering, or why they are doing what they are doing in a prayer. They are probably doing those things because their family priest or some elder in the family told them to do as they were told, or threatened them that if they didn’t, then god might become angry with them and that they would accumulate bad karma. If you are one of those people, I hope that the following explanation will give you some peace of mind and give you a glimpse into the greater meaning and depth to the rituals. All external rituals are created for people who are still not ripe enough to start looking inward. When you know the deeper meanings and start looking within for God/Self/Being, rather than without, then you can dispense with all the external rituals without worrying about the wrath of god. The concept of “wrathful god” completely goes against “anbE Sivam” (In Tamil language it means, “Love is God”). So, just drop the idea of “wrathful god!” 🙂
Here are a few symbols. There are many more, but these are the common ones,
- Om—Every mantra starts with the sound Om. Importance is given not only how it is uttered, but also how it is heard. It represents pure vibration or Om-field that entire manifest and unmanifest originates from. It is also known as Sabdha or nAda brahman. It defies mental understanding and translation. It can only be experienced but cannot be explained.
- Fruit—A fruit symbolizes the results or fruits of all our actions, what we label as good and bad. Basically, by offering a fruit to the lord, what we are saying is, “Oh Lord! I am not the doer. I am just a vessel, a medium through which you act. Therefore, whatever result I am seeing because of those actions also don’t belong to me. They are yours. So, here take them.” Thus, by constantly offering results of all our actions to the supreme, we cultivate the thinking that we should not be solely focused on achievements and goals alone, since they are not ours to keep. This way we keep our egos in check and also eliminate fear of failure and success, since they both don’t belong to us.
- Flower—A flower symbolizes the flowering of our consciousness or a spiritual awakening in our minds. So, when we offer a flower in prayer to the supreme being, we are saying, “Oh Lord! Even this flowering of my consciousness or spiritual awakening that is happening in me is not by my own volition, but it is your will. You are awakening my mind and asking it to look at you and know you. Even this awakening is not mine to keep. It is yours.” Thus, by constantly offering the flower of our consciousness to the lord, we keep our egos from inflating and becoming “spiritually arrogant.”
- Coconut—The hard shell of a coconut represents our ego. Hard to crack by normal means. It prevents us from getting into the sweet inner core which is our “true self.” By offering a coconut, we say, “Oh Lord! Even the egoistic shell and the soft, sweet inner being also belongs to you. So, I offer them to you in prayer.”
- Metal Rod or Hammer—A metal rod/hammer used to break the coconut symbolizes the spiritual practices that you engage in to subdue and break through the ego, to connect with your soft-n-sweet inner being.
- Light—An oil lamp or candle represents the light of consciousness and eternal knowledge that is always present in all things manifest and unmanifest. Whenever you light a lamp or candle, you are telling yourself and those present to remember and focus on the inner light of your true self that is always accessible from the third-eye or brow chakra portal.
- Tilak (pronounced, tilak), Kumkum, Red Dot or other symbol on the forehead—Represents the inner teacher, inner being or inner light, in all of us, who is accessible through the third-eye or brow chakra portal. When we make a connection with our inner teacher our spiritual progress becomes very rapid. When you put a red dot, because of its touch on our skin, we are constantly reminded to keep our focus on our inner teacher. When someone else looks you, their attention is drawn to the forehead reminding them to focus on their own inner teacher.
- Namaste (pronounced, namaste)—This is my understanding of the word, na means without and maste means head. The word mastaka means head. Therefore, this word means, “without head.” More precisely, “without ego.” Why? When somebody is arrogant, egotistical or proud, you say, “Oh, he has his head high in the clouds. He won’t look at us people on the ground.” Therefore, when you bring your palms together, touch your sternum, bow your head and say, “Namaste!” to someone or even to your personal deity or any symbol that signifies divine, you are not just saying, “Hello!” or “Greetings!” you are actually saying, “We both are equal and One at a deeper level; at the level of the heart or being, no matter our worldly appearances and affiliations. By bowing to you and respecting you, I am respecting myself.”
Love is God—anbE Sivam. May you start your inner journey “right now.”
- Energies of Creation by Lexi Sundell. On her blog you can read interesting articles like, An Unusual Way to Develop Intuition.
- Jonathan Mead . com — Authenticity, Clarity, Balance by, of course, Jonathan Mead. Here is a very information article, 33 of Lifeâ€™s Most Powerful Lessons.
Head over to these blogs and check out their other interesting articles.