Religious Symbols And A Painting

This article talks about a particular painting that is titled "the mandala of body parts and abstraction". The abstract symbols are taken from various religious systems and the artist elaborates on the meaning of each of the symbols.
Honoring the body and giving it the respect it is due is one of the concerns of the painting attached here. It looks at different body parts and superimposes a religious symbol on each of them to implicate that the body is a temple/church/mosque etc.

The mandala of body parts and abstraction continues the mandala series by the artist with red, orange, brown and yellow. (For the other painting in the series see the link below.) It also incorporates texture and several more layers. The abstract symbols are no longer self-created but represent various religions. The symbols are chosen for their aesthetic value as much as for their exclusivity.

The first symbol representing Hinduism is of tattvas meaning elements. The square at the bottom shows earth, the circle water, the triangle fire and the crescent moon air while the bindu/dot on top depicts ether/akash. Thus the five basic elements as per the Hindu thought system are incorporated in that symbol. Of course Om or Aum and the swastika are more recognizable symbols of Hinduism. Although I find Om truly beautiful and profound, it is also unfortunately too much of a cliché now, so I resorted to a lesser known but also potent image for the Hindus. Other choices were the lotus and the swastika both of which represent other religions as well lotus - Buddhism and swastika Jainism. Moreover the lotus has been appropriated by the BJP party and the saffron flag by the Hindutva VHP. Both the associations are unwelcome to me. The foot forms the base of the body, and Hinduism is where I touch ground or it is the fundamental faith of my belief system, hence its placement there.

The second symbol of Islam is Bismillah written in the kufic square style. Since it is forbidden to portray god in any way or to worship his image it is his name that is often invoked and depicted in ornate calligraphy for worship. Even though many regard the crescent moon and star as the emblem of Islam it is a matter of association rather than intent. It is in fact a very ancient symbol, dating back to the early Sumerian civilization but acquired its first association with Islam through being the emblem of the Ottoman dynasty. Though widely used many Muslims consider it un-Islamic and even blasphemous. Hence I preferred another symbol and chose the Bismillah for its aesthetic quality. Placing it on the abdomen is simply to allow a largish flat expanse to show off the intricate symbol.

The third is a symbol of Sikhism 'ek onkar'. Although the khanda is a more recognizable symbol of Sikhism I chose the ek onkar as I find their mool mantra and the first sentence of the gurubani truly beautiful. "There is but one God. Truth by name, the creator, all-pervading spirit, without fear, without enmity; Whose existence is unaffected by time, who does not take birth, self-existent, who is to be realized through his grace." I enjoyed placing it on the ear as the ek onkar sat naam prayer invokes in me a call to faith and also because the omkar is the primordial sound.

The fourth a Christian symbol called ichthus meaning fish is originally a Greek word. The IXOYE are in greek
I - Iota - Jesus (Iesous)
X - Chi - Christ (Christos)
O - Theta - God's (Theou)
Y - Upsilon - Son (Uios/Huios)
E - Sigma - Savior (Soter)

Thus Ichthus, is an acrostic, meaning -Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior" The fish anagram was an ancient Pagan symbol of fecundity, of great vogue and veneration throughout the western pagan world, and was adopted by Christendom for the double reason that the initials acrostically formed the name and title of its new deity, and that in the ancient science fish were supposed to be generated in the water without carnal copulation, and were thus peculiarly symbolic of the Virgin-born Christ. No special reason for placing it on the thigh other than to complete the "hindu, muslim, sikh, isai" saying, so familiar to Indians.

The fifth is the Shinto gate of the old Japanese religion called Shintoism. The gate to a Shinto shrine (Jinja), the Torii designates holy ground. As Shinto is a religion of worship of nature spirits, or Kami, most Shinto shrines are located outdoors. The Gate marks the gateway between the physical and spiritual worlds, and is often the only indication that one is entering a shrine. The Torii/Shinto gate is traditionally made in three vertical and three horizontal beams, three being a sacred number of the Kami. When entering a shrine, a visitor will clap their hands three times, and bow three times to summon the spirits. I like the placement of the Shinto gate on the nose as attention to the breath is one of the most natural ways for me to meditate.

The sixth the yin yang is also fast becoming a cliché. However it stands for the harmony I desire and so I included it here. The easily recognized Taoist symbol stands for the interplay of forces in the universe. In Chinese philosophy, yin and yang represent the two primal cosmic forces in the universe. Yin (moon) is the receptive, passive, cold female force. Yang (sun) is masculine- force, movement, heat. The Yin Yang symbol represents the idealized harmony of these forces; equilibrium in the universe.

The seventh is an adinkara called Osrane ne nsoroma (Ram's horns) and depicts the qualities of wisdom, learning and humility. Adinkra (sometimes, andinkra) symbols are small, symbolic pictures used to decorate colorful patterned cloth by fabric designers in Ghana. Adinkra cloth is not used for everyday purposes because it cannot be washed. The name Adinkra comes from the legendary King conquered by the Ashante people, who, according to legend, wore luxurious patterned fabrics. Adinkra fabric is now used for a variety of special occasions, Adinkra was not developed as a divination system, but it lends itself easily to the purpose. The symbol decorates the breast nicely.

The eighth is the symbol for Jainism and shows its closeness to Hinduism. It is a composite of three symbols the crescent moon with the dot represents the realm of heaven. The three dots in the upper portion represent the tri-ratna, or "three jewels," the means of attaining spiritual liberation: right action, right faith and right conduct. The swastika represents the motion of the universe, the intersection of the world of spirit and the world of matter, and the four states of earthly existence: human, animal, demon, and saint, as well as the four classes of Jain believers (Monks, nuns, male and female lay believers). Something in this symbol is reminiscent of mehndi (henna) patterns that are made on the palms and so placing it on the hand seemed appropriate.

The ninth is the symbol of Buddhism called the dharma chakra, at times also known as the wheel of life. As the wheel of life it symbolizes reincarnation and the circularity of birth-death-rebirth etc. It resembles a wagon wheel with eight spokes, each representing one of the eight tenets of Buddhist belief. The circle also denotes the completeness of the Dharma; the spokes represent the eightfold path leading to enlightenment: Right faith, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right endeavor, right mindfulness, and right meditation. The angle between the two lower legs mirrors the spokes of the wheel.

The tenth symbol is of Zoroastrianism, the Adar - the sacred fire of the Parsees. The fire symbolizes purity, the essence of life, and the presence of God. In a Zoroastrian creation story, fire is the last creation, but brings life to all that came before it. A sacred fire is kept burning continuously in Zoroastrian temples, and Zoroastrians must pray only in the presence of a fire. The Adar is the origin of the idea of an "eternal flame." The lips framed in fire are a token to passion.

The eleventh symbol is the seven-branched candelabra, called the Menorah. It is one of the oldest symbols of the Jewish faith. The number seven is a repeating sacred motif in Judaism's parent religion; the seven arms likely represented the seven days of creation and the seven visible planets. The Menorah was the most important ritual object in the Temple of Jerusalem until it was stolen by the Romans. According to tradition, during the rededication of the temple after a Greek invasion and desecration, the lamps of the menorah burned for eight days on one day's worth of oil. The curves of the candelabra echo the curves of the chin, jaw and Adam's apple in the throat and so I liked placing it on the neck.

The twelfth is one version of the Celtic knot. The continual looping of the various designs suggests themes of eternity and interconnectedness, and knots may have been made at one time to foil evil spirits. The chosen symbol here, also called the shield knot, is an ancient and nearly universal symbol. The shield knot has been used for thousands of years by a variety of cultures (ancient Norse, Mesopotamian and the cabbalists) for protection and warding, and is associated with invoking the gods of the four corners of the earth. This knot is sometimes referred to as the "Earth Square" or St. Hans cross. Placing it on the pelvis is like putting on a girdle of protection.

The thirteenth is the unofficial Confucian symbol, the Japanese character kanji for water, Mizu. Confucianism is, and has been for over 25 centuries, the dominant philosophical system in China and the guiding light in almost every aspect of Chinese life. Confucius and his followers stressed the "Way," or "One Thread," Jen (also translated as "humanity or love"), that runs through all Confucius' teachings. They urged individuals to strive for perfect virtue, righteousness (called Yi) and improvement of character. They taught the importance of harmony in the family, order in the state and peace in the Empire, which they saw as inherently interdependent. Confucianism is now enjoying a renaissance in China. I often show long hair turning into flowing water and hence the placement. (See link below for more paintings by the artist.)

The fourteenth is the triple moon of the Wiccans. The Lunar Triple Goddess symbol represents the three aspects of the moon (waxing, waning and full) and womankind (mother, maiden and crone). The triple crescent also incorporates the polarity of the universe in terms of the horned god or the masculine power of nature esp. the domain of forests and the animals that dwell in them and the 'lady' or the feminine deity. Although the pentacle, a pentagram within a circle, is the most recognizable wiccan symbol of a modern neo-pagan belief system, it is also used in several other traditions. The star is a ubiquitous religious symbol and therefore I did not wish to include it here. I am being cheeky by placing it on the crescent shapes of the buttocks, but who else would celebrate such humor if not the wise witches?!.

The fifteenth is the ring stone of the Bahai faith. It is so called because it is worn on rings by many believers. The three horizontal lines represent the three basics of Baha' belief- the world of God, the world of God's manifestation, and the world of man. The vertical bar represents the connection of these worlds, and the stars flanking the glyph represent the Báb and Bahá'u'lláh, the founders and prophets of the faith. Its placement on the shoulder is more for the convenience of display.
The final and sixteenth symbol is called the ankh and is an ancient Egyptian symbol of life. The horizontal and vertical bars of the lower tau cross represent the feminine and masculine energy, respectively. This combination of male and female symbols (the cross and circle) in the ankh suggest fertility and creative power. The top loop also symbolizes the sun on the horizon, and suggests reincarnation and rebirth. Also known as an Ansata cross, the ankh was an earlier form of the cross than the better known "latin" cross. The ankh appears frequently in Egyptian writings about rebirth, and this symbolism was adopted by Coptic Christians, especially Gnostic sects, to symbolize the resurrection of Christ and the heavenly marriage. The Ankh is also considered to have meaning in Ritual magick and in Wiccan/Neopagan traditions, as a symbol of immortality and completion. So why do I include it here simply because I could not resist placing it on the 'aankh' or eye in hindi!
By Meenal Chaudhari
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