A number of auspicious signs and symbols have been passed down since early days of religion in India which brings peace and harmony. Among them ‘Ashtamangala’ is a sacred suite of eight auspicious signs featurin in a number of Indian religions such as Buddhism, Jainism, and Hinduism. These symbols or symbolic attributes are yidam and teaching tools. They are also one of the oldest as mentioned in canonical tests, specifically the Sanskrit or Pali texts of Indian Buddhism. Originally, the symbols were used at an important cultural ceremonies and coronation.
Today the ashtamangala symbols are believe to bring good luck, harmony and prosperity, and are often seen as embroidery on cloth or painting on objects in India, Nepal or Tibet. The symbols are also used in ornamentation that decorates homes, shrines and monasteries. These eight symbols are the most popular in Tibetan Buddhism. They make use of a particular set of eight auspicious symbols ‘ashtamangala’, in household and public art. They also depicts in decorative motifs and cultural artifacts.
Many cultural enumerations and variations of the Ashtamangala are extant. The following are the Eight Ashtamangala Symbols but the list differs depending on the place, region, and the social groups:
- The Parasol
- The Golden Fishes
- The Treasure Vase
- The Lotus
- The Right-Turning Conch Shell
- The Glorious Endless Knot
- The Victory Banner
- The Wheel
Parasol: Often ornamented with jewels and fabrics, the parasol is like an umbrella represents the protection of beings from harmful forces and illness. It is a traditional Indian symbol of royalty and protection from the raging heat of the tropical sun. It also represents the expansiveness, unfolding and protective quality of the sahasrara (Crown Chakra), all take refuge in the dharma under the auspiciousness of the parasol.
Pair of Golden Fish: Another word for the pair of fishes in Sanskrit is Matsyayugma, meaning ‘coupled fish’. This indicates their origin as an antique symbol of the two main sacred rivers of India, the Ganges and Yamuna. Symbolically these two holy rivers represent the lunar and solar channels or psychic nerves, which originate in the nostrils and carry the alternating rhythms of breath or prana. They have religious significance in Hindu, Jain and Buddhist traditions.
The Golden Fish signifies courage and contentment. Because they swim spontaneously through the oceans without drowning, freely and instinctively. The fishes symbolize happiness, for they have complete freedom in the water.
The Treasure Vase: The special form of the treasure vase seen among the Ashtamangala is a sign of the fulfillment of spiritual and material wishes. As the divine ‘vase of plenty’, it possesses the quality of natural display, because regardless of how much treasure is removed from the vase it remains perpetually full.
The treasure vase exhibites upon the traditional Indian clay water pot calling kalasha. The Kalasha contains amrita – the elixir of life, and thus as a symbol of abundance, wisdom, and immortality. Sometimes “kalasha” topped with a coronet of mango leaves and a coconut. You can see this combination is oftenly in Hindu iconography as an attribute, in the hands of Hindu deities.
It is believed to be a symbol of auspiciousness embodying either Lord Ganesha (remover of obstacles), and the goddess of prosperity Lakshmi. In this context, the metal pot or Kalasha represents material things: a container of fertility – the earth and the womb, which nurtures and nourishes life. The mango leaves associated with Kama, the god of love, symbolize the pleasure aspect of fertility. The coconut, a cash crop, represents prosperity and power. The water in the pot represents the life-giving ability of Nature.
Other interpretations of the Kalasha associate with the five elements or the chakras. The wide base of metal pot represents the element Prithvi (Earth), the expanded centre – Ap (water), neck of pot – Agni (fire), the opening of the mouth – Vayu (air), and the coconut and mango leaves – Akasha (aether). In contexts of chakras, the Shira (literally “head”) – top of the coconut symbolizes Sahasrara chakra and the Moola (literally “base”) – base of Kalasha – the Muladhara chakra.
Lotus: The lotus flower represents the primordial purity of body, speech, and mind, floating above the muddy waters of attachment and desire. The lotus symbolizes purity and renunciation. Although the lotus has its roots in the mud at the bottom of a pond, its flower lies immaculate above the water. The Buddhist lotus bloom has 4, 8, 16, 24, 32, 64, 100, or 1,000 petals. The same figures can refer to the body’s ‘internal lotuses’, that is to say, its energy centres (chakra).
This pattern of growth signifies the progress of the soul from the primordial mud of greediness, through the waters of experience, and into the bright sunshine of enlightenment. Though there are other water plants that bloom above the water, it is only the lotus which, owing to the strength of its stem, regularly rises eight to twelve inches above the surface.
Conch Shell: As a natural object, not made with human hands, it is one of the oldest ritual objects. It is often refer to as a sea or snail shell. Being the natural wonder, shankh is auspicious object. As its sound emanates the sound of Om which helps to purify the energies. Furthermore the shankha in Hindu scriptures is a giver of fame, longevity and prosperity. The abode of goddess Lakshmi, who is the goddess of prosperity and consort of Lord Vishnu.
Therefore in religious rituals, a shankh have uses at the beginning of prayers or any auspicious beginning. Following the sound which is linked with hope and the removal of obstacles. Thus you can keep water in a conch shell and then sprinkling while performing pujas to cleanse and purify the space. It’s healing and vibrational sound fills the surroundings with positive vibrations.
The right-turning white conch shell represents the beautiful, deep, melodious, interpenetrating and pervasive sound of the dharma. Thus awakening disciples from the deep slumber of ignorance and urges them to accomplish their own welfare and for others.
Endless knot: The endless knot is a closed, graphic ornament composed of right-angled, intertwined lines. Describing the endless knots as ‘turning like a swastika’, similarly identifying with the shrivatsa-svastika. Since these parallel symbols were common to most early Indian traditions of the astamangala.
This endless knot denotes “the auspicious mark represented by a curled noose emblematic of love”. It is a symbol of the ultimate unity of everything. It also depicts the nature of reality where everything interrelates and only exists as part of a web of karma and its effect. Endless knot is also an attribute of the god Vishnu, which is said to be engraved on his chest. There is also mentioning of a similar engraving of the Shrivatsa on the historical Gautama Buddha’s chest in some lists of the Physical characteristics of the Buddha.
The Victory Banner: The dhvaja “banner, flag” was a military standard of ancient Indian warfare. The Victory Sign symbolizes the victory of knowledge over ignorance. Or the victory over all hindrances; in other words, the attainment of happiness. The symbol represents the Buddha’s victory over the four māras, or hindrances in the path of enlightenment. These hindrances are pride, desire, disturbing emotions, and the fear of death.
You can see many variations of the dhvaja’s design on the roofs of Tibetan monasteries to symbolise the Buddha’s victory over four māras. Placing Banners at the four corners of monastery and temple roofs. Also placing the cylindrical banners on monastery roofs created from beaten copper.
The Wheel | Dharmachakra: The Dharmachakra or “Wheel of the Law” represents Gautama Buddha and the Dharma teaching. The Tibetan term for dharmachakra means the ‘wheel of transformation’ or spiritual change. The wheel’s rapid motion represents the fast spiritual transformation revealed in the Buddha’s teachings. The wheel’s comparison to the rotating weapon of the chakravartin represents its ability to cut through all obstacles and illusions.
The wheel consists of a hub, rim, and generally eight spokes, although sometimes there are more depictions. The circle as its underlying form is a universal symbol establish in all cultures. In pre-Buddhist India it was a symbol for the sun. The number of spokes varied accordingly to tradition – six, eight, twelve, thirty-two, or one thousand. These equate with motion, while the rim represents limitation. The hub interpreted as the axis of the world. The wheel was used as an emblem or attribute of Hindu deities, although the meaning was changed in Buddhist culture.
The Buddha’s first discourse at the Deer Park in Sarnath, where he first taught the Four Noble Truths. Following the Eightfold Noble Path, known as his ‘first turning of the wheel of dharma’. Whereas his subsequent great discourses at Rajghir and Shravasti are his second and third turnings of the wheel of dharma.