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Spiritual symbols and their significance

What is spirituality? The answer is often subjective. It may be sitting on a mountain top and meditating for some, while for others, it may be about connecting with their inner self wherever they are. Perhaps, for some of us, it could be service to fellow beings. How we choses to define spirituality is up to each of us. But one thing is for sure: spirituality is experiential. It can be achieved through any experience that brings the mind, body and spirit together in perfect harmony.

This realisation, however, did not come easily to man. Evolution was not an overnight affair. It took him aeons to evolve physically and intellectually. As he set out on the spiritual pursuit, man began contemplating the mystical nature of the world around him. This contemplation helped him understand himself better, leading him to frame a set of beliefs and guidelines for posterity. These beliefs were crystallised in scriptures and symbols that gradually became a part of his culture.

Over time, faiths began emerging across the world and bore symbols that represented their message. Some symbols transcended the barriers of faith and became universal. They facilitate the ultimate pursuit of spirituality.  Soulveda explores the origins of a few such spiritual symbols, their significance, and what they represent.


According to Hinduism and Buddhism, lotus is a flower that is beloved to the gods. It is rich in symbolism in both the realms of mysticism and mythology.

According to ancient Hindu scriptures, when energy rises from the muladhara chakra at the base of one’s spine to the sahasrara chakra at the top of one’s head, one attains a spiritual awakening. Sahasrara is believed to be a thousand-petalled lotus. When the energy ascends to it, the lotus is said to bloom. This enlightened state is known as the Brahman–the pure state of consciousness.

In order to attain this enlightenment, a seeker chooses his own path. In Hatha yoga, it is believed that when a person practises padmasana (the lotus pose), he is on his path to spiritual enlightenment. The rise of a lotus from murky waters to become a beautiful flower perhaps can be likened to how consciousness evolves from mundane impulses to enlightenment.

According to Hindu mythology, Brahma–the creator–emerged from Vishnu’s navel in a lotus. The flower symbolises birth, growth and purity. In Buddhism too, a lotus is among the eight auspicious symbols. It symbolises enlightenment.


No ritual in Hinduism is complete without the chanting of Om. This represents the vibration of the universe. It is believed to be the first sound produced at the time of creation.

Om is the primordial sound comprising three sounds–Aaa, uu and hum. It is said that as one chants Om, prana (life force) moves upwards in one’s body, producing positive energy and expanding the mind. As the mind expands, it merges with the soul (tatva). Studies suggest that by chanting Om, one gets in touch with the infinite creative energy of the universe.

The symbol of Om is believed to have a deep, spiritual meaning. In Sanskrit, the visual symbol of Om has a dot, a semicircle and three curves. The curves represent the three states of consciousness. The bottom curve represents the waking state; the middle curve the dream state and the upper curve the sleeping state. The dot represents turiya, the fourth state of consciousness in which God is all pervasive. The semicircle that separates dot from the curves stands for maya, the illusion. Perhaps, it is the illusion that is an impediment for us to achieve turiya.

In the Celtic culture, the tree of life represents the combination of the forces of nature to create harmony and balance in the universe. It is a symbol of interconnectedness between the earth, the sky and the living beings.


Nobody knows who came up with it, there are no records that indicate its origin. Yet, Hamsa is a symbol that is predominant in most of the cultures across the world. Many of us may have seen showpieces and wall hangings depicting an open hand with an eye in the centre of the palm. Hamsa is derived from the Hebrew word Hamesh, which means five. The symbol has five fingers–three extended fingers in the middle and two symmetrical fingers on either side. The eye in the palm is believed to ward off the evil eye, which is the sum total of the destructive energies of all the negative emotions in the world. It is said that the evil eye is the cause of all misery in the world. Another symbol in the Hamsa is the fish, which is believed to be a harbinger of luck.

Meanwhile, Hamsa is an important symbol in Hinduism and Buddhism as well. It represents the interaction of the chakras, the body’s energy flow, the five senses and the mudras.

Yin and Yang

The Chinese concept of Yin and Yang represent the complex, seemingly opposing principles of nature. They generally exist in pairs such as the sun and the moon, male and female, cold and hot, etc. But they are not mutually exclusive terms. Yin is characterised as feminine, dark and an inward energy, whereas Yang is masculine, bright and outward energy. It is said that everything in the universe exists as part of these two inseparable, opposing forces. These forces attract and complement each other. This is what the symbol of Yin and Yang represents. At the core of each side is the element of the other side represented as dots. Fundamentally, the balance of yin and yang is important. One force is not superior to the other. An increase in one pole is balanced out by the decrease in the other. In order to achieve harmony, balance is a must between the two forces.

Tree of life

The tree of life is a ubiquitous symbol. It is significant in various cultures of the world. It symbolises the interconnectedness of all living beings inhabiting the universe. Furthermore, it is also about how this connection defines our happiness on this planet.

The roots of the tree are firmly planted in the soil. Its branches and leaves extend to the sky, and it takes nourishment from the sun. It says that man is not an island but is connected to the world around. In the Celtic culture, the tree of life represents the combination of the forces of nature to create harmony and balance in the universe. It is a symbol of interconnectedness between the earth, the sky and the living beings.

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