Symbols of God

Journal Edge

sadhu

The typical Hindu ascetic (sadhu) usually wears a distinctive mark (pundra) on his forehead and often carries a symbol of his sect.

If the sadhu is a Vaishnava he might have a discus (chakra) and a conch shell (sankha), replicas of Vishnu’s flaming weapon and his instrument of beneficent power and omnipresent protection, or a salagrama stone or a tulasi plant, which represent, respectively, Vishnu’s essence and that of his spouse Laksmi.

If he is a Saiva, he might impersonate Siva and carry a trident (trisula), denoting empire and the irresistible force of transcendental reality; wear a small lingam; carry a human skull, showing that he is beyond the terror inspired by the transitoriness of the world; or smear his body with apotropaic (supposed to avert evil) and consecratory ashes. These emblems are sacred objects of worship because the divine presence, when invoked by mantras, is felt to be in…

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