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Religious Symbols

In Nepal, we have thousands of fascinating old building and temples almost all of which have religious figures and symbols. It would be almost impossible to know about each and every one of them. So, we discuss some important figures and symbols.

Shree Yantra

Tantric pundits use different yantras, for tantric puja or meditation,, Among the many yantras prevalent the shree yantra (shree stands for "Lakshmi" the goddess of prosperity) is said to be the most important and is called the king of yantras by the tontric adepts.

Shree yantra is composed of two sets of triangles one of which is compossed of Shree Kanthas (four male Shiva triangles denothing gradually involved energy) and the other set of trangles is composed of Shivayatis (five female or shakti triangles denoting five senses of knowledge and action, and five subtle and grooss forms of matter). These two triangles reflect the unison of Shiva and Shakti.

It is believed that Shakti is always in unison with Shiva, existing within each and every being as the inner self; the state of existence, consciousness and bliss. Shiva is the Ashraya (basis) of Shakti which in turn, being his creative faculty, is the basis of the whole universe. hence, she is known as Shree the primordial energy existing within Shiva and yantra is her divine extension network, Without her operation, this visible comos would not be possible.

This universe and all it's contents are basically composed of panctatva or five basis elements comprising of Prithvi (earth), Apas (water), Tejas (light), Maruta (wind) and Aakash (sky). It is belived that our body is also composed of the same basis elements called pindo. the unison of Pinda, the individual body, with Brahmaanda, the cosmic body, is beautifully represented by this great yantra.

Religious Symbols

The objective of meditation on shree yantra is to unite with the universal mother. in her forms of mind. life and matter, to attain consciousness and divinity. the yantr is therefore transformed from a material object of lines and curves into a mental state of union with the universe.


The satkon is composed of two sets of overlapping triangles. One is the symbol of Shiva, which stands for eternal being (static by nature), and the other is a symbol of Shakti, the most active female. This popular symbol of the union of Shakti and Shiva, that indicated the union of the two, is represented in several Nepali works of art like the Mandala paintings, windows and doors etc. the beautiful temple residence of Devi Annapurna Ajima, at Bhotahiti tol in Kathmandu, has one of the mast exquisite satkon patterns in its windows.

The Satkon signifies the five basic senses and the extra sensory perception that significantly makes it the six-pointed star; this symbol is believed to have originated from ancient tantric Hinduism. On the other hand the Buddhist believe that satkon symbolizes the perfection of the higest form of wisdom (pragya), however, the Mahayansists accept it as a great symbol of Pragya (knowledge or enlightenment) and Upaya (active force or the power of the female principal) united.

This ancient symbol appears to be the central core of all the highly sophisticated symbols in Nepal Religious culture.

Swastika, a Sanskrit word which means doing good for all, is a very ancient oriental symbol. This symbol can be seen woodcarvings, bronze castings, Thangka paintings and many other traditional forms of art.

In Buddhism, the four hands of Swastika sighfying Maitree (friendship), koruna (compassion), Mudita (happiness) and Upershya (indifference), are four diving merits artalents. This theory is very dominant in our culture. According to Sadhanmala (one of the most authentic Buddhist texts), the lour merits represent four ideal ways to Nirvana every aspirant should mediate on.

It is believed that the Mahayanists, in due course of time, developed on iconography based on all those four merits and soon created Swastika to proudly add to their pantheon of gods, the many deities were all given the same merit names like Maitree, Karuna, Mudita and Upekshya. Hindus as well Buddhists worship them in Nepal. Among many such deities of Nepal, the four most beautifully built bronze statues of these merit gods can be seen in Hiranyavarana Mahavihar (golden Temple) of patan built by vaskar Varma in 12th century.

Shiv Linga

The linga is the phallic symbol of lord Shiva and it displays supreme power generally identified analogue of cosmic deity. It occupies the womb cell in temples while the outer structure of this double sex diety signifies its determinate creative function. Creation, in tantra is described as sexual self-relation. The Brihadaranyaka Upanisad says that one alone knows no delight and so the femela partner was generated.

According to the Puranas, Lord Shiva assumed the form of lingam Uthe phallic symbol of universal pro-creation), on the night of Shivaratri, to save the universe from a big therat of destruction. It is said that when Lord Shiva swallowed the Halahala poison, Which had emanated from the intensive churning of the milky ocean, the heat of the poison proved to be so unbearable that he could not wait for a Himalayan showe, Gonga, the river goddess, is said to have rushed to him and poured all the waste she had in possession.
This helped him and so, even today, holy water is offered through jalahari (a copper cup that hangs above the shivalinga it is believed that Shiva was not called enough even after Ganga Poured all the water the possessed over him. He was cooled only when the whole of the moon was tucked in the matted lock of his head; Shiv, after having cooled himself become ecstatic and started dancing the Tandava Nritya.


Shankha is a Sanskrit word used to denote a sleek and smooth conch shell. It is believed that if the Shankha is blown with skill, It can scare away evil spirits and is described as a killer of germs and enemies. According to some scholars, it can also be used for preparing many kinds of Anurvedic medicines and that a certain dose of its powder can cure jaundice, gall bladder, etc.

The Hindus as well as Buddhists drink water from a shankha before they break a fast and almost all temple prayers are accompanied by the blowing of the Shankha.

It is strongly believed that the Shankha had been shaped from the holy waters showered from heaven. Thus it is regarded as a divine jewel always held by Lord Vishnu on his right hand. It was also used as safety bands for young ladies to wear, around their hands, in the form of bracelets and its necklaces were worn to cost away evil eyes.

Chakra (the wheel of righ action)

Chakra or the wheel of righteousness is emblem or tool used as a holy symbol by Hindus and Buddhists. Vishnu, the Hindu god of preservation, always holds a chakra to do away with demons and to protect his devotees and to make sure that Dharma (righteousness does not retrograde.

In Buddhism, some interpret the Chakra as the wheel of life and see it as the eachings of Buddha. We might as well say that it's purpose is similar in Buddhism and Hinduism because the first teachings of Buddha began with the turning of the Wheel of Dharma.

Singamoo (ceremonial vermilion container)

This ceremonial container is used for storing vermilion powder for religious purposes. The consecrated vermilion inside the container represents Laxmi, the goddess of wealth and abundance. the upper portion of the Sinhamoo is either shaped like three, five or seven tiered oriental umbrella serving as a ceremonial canopy of Laxmi, Singamoo is used in almost all-religious ceremonies particularly in the Newari community.

Jwala Nhyekan (A ceremonial metal mirror)

Jwala Nhyekan, an ancient religious object, has a plain circle as the central portion surrounded by stylized flames that come to the peak at the top. It is indispensable in all kinds of religious ceremonies in the Newari community of Kathmandu valley. This is used by the Buddhists as well as the Hindus to symbolize inner vision and is also regarded a representation of Saraswati, the goodness of learning and creative arts.

Kalasha (a holy ceremonial water jar)

Kailash is a typical traditional water jar usually mode of brass, which has a round body with the base and mouth beautifully designed like a full-blown lotus. Kalasha, the symbol of the universal mother goddess, is supposed to contain Amrit (inexhaustible elixir), which never dries and makes one immortal. It was said in ancient times that the sprinkling of Kailash-water, accompanied by mantra, Over ones head would ensure plenty, purity and prosperity.

Lotus (the flower of wisdom)

The lotus is among the most popular motifs in Nepali arts, it is a symbol of mental purity and detachment. In Nepal, It is also a symbol of divinity as some Hindu as well as Buddhist gods are seen sitting on them showing that they are divine.


Torana a gateway leading to a temple or a holy place of worship, is semi-circular in form and is placed above temple doorways. Toran mostly found made on wood or stone and some are lavishly gilded with brass, others are even beautifully embellished with several artistic designs.


Vajra, which means 'thunderbolt, is used in the Vajrayani as well as Mahayani sect of Buddhism. It is described as an ever illuminating, indestructible and adamantine element, often identified as a divine symbol of the changeless absolute, in a Buddhist text. The vajra is always accompanied by a bell, for Vajra stands for the male principle whereas a bell for the female principle. A Vajra accompanied by a bell is a ritualistic requirement for every Buddhist religious ceremony. In every Buddhist religious ceremony, the Buddhist priest holds a Vajra on his right hand and a bell on the other.

Bell The sound of a bell in Hindu philosophy symbolizes the Nata-Brahma (seed-sound) originating from Brahma, the Supreme Being. The ringing of a bell has always been an integral part of prayers for most religions in Nepal. We find bells in every temple and thus, it is of importance to every religion.

Prayer Wheel

Almost every Buddhist temple has prayer wheels, which was introduced by Tibetans. These cylindrical wheels have prayers carved on them. The proyer seen in almost all prayer wheel is am mani padme hum. (I bow down to the divine jewel or Buddha seated on the lotus).


Sukunda is a traditional Nepal aoil lamp made of brass. The front part of a Sukunda is shaped like the god Ganesha, the god of success and good luck. It has a tiny cup to put the wick and a fascinating loop handle designed with a five-headed serpent raising its head. It also has a small spoon, with the naga-kanya atop, used for replenishing the oil from the reservoir. the artistic work on this traditional lamp reflects the remote past of a very famous Buddhist legend about a Naga (snake) and a lake.

A long time ago Kathmandu valley was a lake inhabited by snakes. in the middle of the lake, there was a beautiful flame of a lotus with a thousand petals. Buddha Mahamanjushree after hearing about it rushed to the valley, all the way from china, and he drained the lake by striking his magic sword at the southern hill of the valley leaving the valley open to all. The most famous Buddhist stupa of Swayambhunath is believed to have originated from the same legendary lotus-flame.

In Newari language sukunda means a beautiful lake. It is said that the oil reservoir of a sukund represents the legendary lake, its mouth with the unfolded lotus motif represents the lotus with a thousand petals and the cup attached to it in which the lamp is lighted represents the self-existent divine flame. The lord Gonesha in front represents the great guru who is there to teach everyone the supreme acts of god. No ceremony in Nepal is initiated with out the lighting of the Sukunda.


This traditional lamp is abit different from the Sukunda. Khaadalu, in Newari, mearts a hanging window lamp. Many years ago, when there was no electricity, these lamps were used for lighting shrines and the streets of Kathmandu. We can still see these oriental brass lamps, with a few mythical dragons watchfully guarding its flame from both sides, hung in many old houses but they are only lighted on festive occasions.

As the age-old custom has it, only housewives are supposed to light this lamp and many still have faith in the myth that if this lamp were not lighted after it gets Goad laxmi, the goddess of wealth, would be displeased.

'Shubham bhavatu kalyanom aarogya dhanasampati mamashatru vinashaya deepaiyot namastute" an old prayer recited while lighterning the Khadaalu means you the great doer of welfare for your devotees, the one who bestows upon us health, happiness, wealth and the destruction of our enemies (darkness and ingorance). Salutation to you, the great divine light.


Janai, a holy thread, worn around the neck by Brahmins and Chetris denotes Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. It is believed that all the three gods reside in the holy thread making it a divine.

The mantra to invoke the desired diet begins with the word 'Aum" it is believed that the one who realizes the significance of this mantra will easily reach god.


According to a very old Nepali tradition a person planning a journey first consults on astrologer to figure out the right time for the person to begin a journey. Then on the day fixed for the person to leave the person's family organizes a farewell ceremony the main highlight of which is a ritual dish (sagun) which is supposed to bring the person good luck. Sagun is the ritual dish which consists of a boiled eggs, a thick round is usually given accompanied either by alcohol or yogurt and a vermilion mark on his/her forehead locally called Teeko.

Makara Motif

Makara, meaning crocodile in Sanskrit, is a traditional motif used in decorative art, which is very common in Nepal. This motif can be found used in Nepali temple toranas (tympanums), traditional water and wine jars, spouts bronze containers, jewelry etc.

The makara is shown having watchful eyes, very sharp teeth, flaming lips, two little legs ad at times it is shown having a tough scaly body, four legs and a long floriated tail. Makara is more symbol of a flow of water from the mouth of makara in spouts reflects the cycle of relation.


Brahma, the self created god of creation, is said to have created the cosmos Brahma, in art forms, is depicted a god having a long beard, radiant skin, wearing while robes, with four arms and at times mounted on a goose.

Legend has it that this event urged him to create a new world for himself. After the world was created he started feeling unbearably lonely, so, he created a female partner for himself with whom he fell in love at very first sight. The female (also identified as Savitri and Saraswati), who was extremely beautiful, was awfully embarrassed because of Brahama's passionate behavior towards her. She tried to run away from Brahma, would spring up. The female finding no other alternative sprang up toward the sky and another head of brahma sprung up. Brahma grabbed the helpless female who was his caught as well as wife in this way Brahma got his five heads but it is believed that his fifth head was cut off as a punishment for his sinful affair with his wife daughter.


Indra, traditionally regarded as the god of heaven. The vedas describe him as the valiant fighter who destroys devils and drought and gives people rain and food. This could be the reason for his popularity. The Purans too speak highly of Indra, often dramatizing his numerous battles against devils.

Indra Jatra is a very famous festival celebrated in to honor of Indra.


Saraswati, the goddess of knowledge and fine arts, is often portrayed having a pure white form seated on a full blown lotus or mounted on a Hansa (swan), The Hansa is often regarded as our inner-consciousness and s said to be capable of driving away Avidya or ignorance. Anong and is said to be capable of driving away Avidya or ignorance. Among her four arms the two lower arms are shown playing the veena and the upper hands are shown holding a book and a rosary. Manjushree, the Buddhist goddess of knowledge and inner-vision is also worshipped equally as saraswati is worshipped among the Hindus.

Saraswati puja is a festival celebrated during spring by students. According to an age-old tradition a young child is introduced to alphabets for the first time on this day.

KUMARI 0r (the living goddess)

Kumari, the virgin goddess, represents the state deity of Nepal known as Teleju and is said to be the incarnation of kanya Kumari. A kumari Candidate is selected for a highly honered Hindu temple from a Buddhist family of Shakya clan. Once she is selected, she is highly honored by both Hindus and Buddhists including the king. She has taken out of her temple to participate in several festivals.

Once a Kumari attains puberty, she loses this divine status and the selection for another Kumari begins and she is made to leave the temple.

The famous Kumari temple is situated right across the historical Gaddi Baithak Hall at Basantapur in Kathmandu. There are different Kumaris in Patan, Bhaktapur, Bungmati, Thimi and other Newar towns.


Hanumana or the monkey god is worshipped as the god of protection. He is said to be full of shakti or strength, thus, his whole body is shown to be red. He symbolizes courage, strength and loyalty. The statues of Hanumana are found in most palaces.

The Images of the Hanumana always show him with closed eyes. It is said that the never married and does not like seeing females, expectably unmarried female. People believe that he can destroy them if he catches sight of them.


The five Dhayani Buddha's- Vairochanda, Akshobbaya, Rathasambhaya, Amitabha and Amoghasiddhi, represent the five basic elements of which the world is made-earth, fire, water, wind and ether. These Buddha's, described as the progenitors of the five kulas, or families, termed as Dvesa, Moha, Raga, Chintamani and Samaya, are associated with the fulfillment of desire as well as the attainment of Nirvana. Buddhist philosophy conceives these gods to be the manifestation of Sunya or absolute void.

We often find the images of the Dhayani Buddha's in Stupas. Akshobhaya is placed facing the east, Amitabha facing the west, Amoghasiddhi facing south, Rathansambhava facing north and vairochana in the center. Except for Vairochana, which is considered to be the preciding deity of a stupa, central Buddha is either hidden or seated next to Akshobhaya.

Though there are only five Dhyani Buddha's sometimes an additional Dhayani Buddha the Vajrasattva is also included. Vajrasattva is regarded as the priest among the Dhayani Buddha's and is seen holding a Vajra on his right hand and a ghanta (bell) on the left.


Ganesha, the god of good luck, wisdom and success, is very popular deity worshipped by both Hindus as well as Buddhist's in Nepal. The figure of Ganesha is childlike and unique as it has an elephant head, a big round belly, an exceptionally short body and four or more hands. His upper right hand holds a hook, representing the right path to follow, and the lower hand is seen holding noose, representing self restrain. The rosary on his third lower hand represents concentration, which is very important for the development of spiritual knowledge, and his lower fur hands are in a gesture that assures his devotees fearlessness, indicating that he is the protector.

A religious text describes the bulky body of Ganesh as he cosmos and his elephant-like shape as the embodiment of cosmic intelligence. A legend has it that he even broke his most valued tusk so that Vedic, a great Hindu Vedic writer, could write could write the Mahabharat.


The god Kumara, The brother of Ganesh, has six heads representing the six senses (including the extra sensory perception). Kumara has six different names.- Kartiyeka, Gangeya, Skanda, Sarrvanabha, Sadahana and Subrrahmanya. Kumara. It is believed that he was born from the eye of lord Shiva. Hence, making him the eternal child of divine wisdom.

The work shipping of Kumara begins with the cleaning of the house with cow-dung mixed with red clay. Then a figure of a lotus with six petals is drawn with yellow rice powder and vermilion. According to Hindu Pundits, the six Chakras inherent in the human body is the medium thought which Kundalini is to transfer its energy into the Samadhi or Yoga.

On special festivals young boys are made the kumara and are taken out in procession. The main kumara festival is Kumara sasthi, which falls on May. On this festival cleaning of the neighborhood is an important event besides the procession.


Laxmi is the goddess of wealth and the consort of lord Vishnu. Laxmi is among the most worshipped of all gods and goddesses in Nepal. One of the most important festivals, among the multitude of Nepali festivals, is Laxmi Puja. Laxmi puga is significant for those who celebrate it for it gives them a reason to hope for financial progress in the years to come. The celebration is usually done with elaborate preparations. Lights play a huge role during Laxmi Puja since it is celebrated at night. Oil fed clay lamps are kept burning throughout the night. Laxmi puja is also known as the festival of lights.


Mahakaala is one of the highly fascinating Vajrayana Buddhist deties. In art forms the deity is portrayed as dark, dwarfed and big bellied, with a mukta or headdress with skulls set in and a garland of human heads. He holds a Kurti (flaying knier) in his right hand and a kapala (a skull cup) on the other. He has three eyes, opened wide gaveling him a fierce look, and teeth dripping blood. He wears tiger skin as girdle and snakes as various ornaments. Though he looks fierce, he is said to be very king hearted.

According to sadhanmala, a very old Buddhist test, the number of arms and heads mahakaala would have depended on the nature of purpose he was called for. He could have one face with two, four or six arms or even eight faces with sixteen arms. It is popularly believed that his fierce look is not to scare every other person but to scare away evil.

Rato Machhendra or Bunga Dyo

The Buddhist rain-god, Bhunga dyo or Rato Machindra is also known as Karunamaya Lokeshwara (The most compassionate god of the universe Bunga Dyo is worshipped in its male as well as female from like umaneshwara, Laxminarayan, Praynaopaya and so on. There are two temples of Machhendra, one is at Bungmati, which is about 8 km away from Kathmandu and one is at Patan.
The Festival of Bhunga dyo begins every on the first day of Baishakh (March- April) and continues for a month or so. Since Nepal is an agricultural country the monsoons are very important for the Nepalese. This festival frees the farmers from worries about not getting ample amount of rain as this festival implies the worship of the rain god. During this festival a chariot carrying the machindra is pulled and thousands of people participate.


Bheemasena is one of the heroes of the Mahabharata and the god of trade and commerce. Bheemasena is portryed in images as a red-faced deity with angry eyes and a thick black moustache. He is often shown lifting a horse in the air and pressing an elephant under his knee with a guge cobra and a lion watching in awe. This fierceness in his images is meant to symbolize his determination to kill Dushshasan, his enemy who had insulted Draupadi by trying to denude her in public.

Nepali traders worship Bheemanena widely. Several guthi's (a sort is trust) are devoted to the regular service of this deity. One of the most remarkable statues of Bheemasena can be seen in Patan Bheemasena Temple built by Shreenivas Malla in the early 18th century.


Krishna is by far the most widely worshipped around the world. The devotees of Lord Krishna take him to be spiritual guide, a kumarayogi, a highly perfected man of good action, a supreme statesman, a protector of the poor, an eternal lover and so on. He is taken to be a versatile divinity. In art forms Krishna is depicted as a divine lover of cow headdresses. Though, his love is different from that of mortals as the single minded devotion between the cow hairdresser’s and the lord is supposed to symbolize the single-minded devotion to god.

It is believed that Krishna could put all his devotes into a trance by playing his magic flute. In art forms he is shown holding a flute in his hand and his leg slightly bent in tribhanga mudra. This gesture represents his involvement in Karma-yoga (continual action) which keeps the world in order, So, our saints call him the Karma-yogi, the highly perfected man and the god of action. The Geeta is a divine fight of Lord Krishna for the people of he world who aspire for illuminating inner vision.

In his various forms of incarnation:

Vishnu Dhama Purana (an old Hindu text) describes Vishnu as the preserver of the universe and the upholder of Dharma. According to the Geeta, whenever lord Vishnu sees Dharma declining, the weak and innocent suffering, he comes down in different forms of incarnation to undo the wrong. The different incarnations of Vishnu could be:

1. Matsya-The Fish
Vishnu in the form of a Fish saved Manu, the first founder of human civilization, from a terrifying flood. The flood is said to have been caused by Hayagriva, the most cruel sea-monster dwelling deep in the ocean with innumerable fierce marine animals.

2. Kachhap or Kurma- The tortise
When Vishnu saw the sins of Danavas or devils weighing down the earth he assumed the form of a tortoise and dived deep into the sea to raise the earth on his back and changed the earth to its natural self.

3. Varaha - The Boar
When a demon named Hiranyakashyapa drowned the earth, Vishnu rushed to rescue the earth incarnated as a Boar (Varaha). He plunged into the water and rescued the earth killing the demon.

4. Narasimha- Man-lion
Vishnu, in this incamation killed Hiranyakashyapa by tearing open his stomach for his attempt to kill his own son-Prahlad, the most sincere devotee of the Lord Vishnu.

5. Vamana - Dwarf Brahman
In this Avatar (incarnation) Vishnu reclaimed the earth from Mahabali, the lord of all the three worlds, by visiting Bali in this avatar and asking him to give the land measured by three steps. As soon as Bali agreed he got back to himself and in three steps covered the universe and won it.

6. Parashurama
The heroic Brahmin with a militant personality Vishnu in this form, with an axe on his hand and a bow on the next, is said to have annihilated all the "Kshatryas" (warrior class) in 22 battles.

7. Rama-The highly perfected human-god
Vishnu incarnated as Rama, the ideal king and the hero of the Ramayana, killed the king of demons- Ravana.

8. Krishna - The most widely worshipped incarnation of Vishanu
This incarnation of Vishanu killed the ogress Punta whent she tried to kille him by feeding him poisoned milk when he was a child. Later, Krishna subdued the ost fatal cobra - Kaliya.

9. Buddha - the supreme teacher
Buddha, the enlightened one, was born in Lumbeni of Nepal at about 563 B.C. This incarnation of Vishnu was burning to guide suffering souls to the right direction. He has taught lessons of humanity, truth and peace.

10. Kalaki ro Kali- The last incarnation.
The last incarnation of Vishnu has come, but people believe that it will appear at the ent of the Kaliyug. It is believed that this incarnation of Vishnu will come mounted on a horse, killing all the evil and saving only pious souls.

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