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Pranava or AUM is the universally
accepted symbol of Hinduism. Literally, the word Pranava means "That by
which God is effectively praised". It also means "That which is never new".
Actually AUM comprises of three independent letters A, U and M, each of
which has its own meaning and significance. The letter 'A' represents the
beginning (Adimatwa), 'U' represents Progress (Utkarsha) and 'M' represents
limit or dissolution (Miti). Hence, the word AUM represents that power
responsible for creation, development and disolution of the Universe, namely
Literally, Shiva means auspiciousness, and Linga means a sign of symbol. Hence, the ShivaLinga is the symbol of the Great God of the Universe who is all-auspicious-ness. Shiva also means One in whom the whole creation sleeps after dissolution. Linga also means the same thing - a place where created objects get dissolved during disintegration of the created Universe. Since according to Hinduism, it is the same God who creates, sustains amd withdraw the Universe, the ShivaLinga represents symbolically God himself.
ShivaLingas may be 'Chala' (movable) or 'Achala' (immovable). The Chala Lingas may be kept in the shrine of one's own home for worship or prepared temporarily with materials like clay or dough or rice for worship and dispensed with after the worship. The Chala lingas can also be worn on the body as Ishtalinga as the Virasaivas do.
The 'Achala Lingas' are those installed in temples. They are usually made of stones and have three parts. The lowest part which is square is called Brahmabhaga and represents Brahma the creator. The middle part which is octagonal is called Vishnubhaga and represents Vishnu the sustainer. These two parts are embedded inside the pedestal. The Rudrabhaga which is cylindrical and projects outside the pedestal is the one to which worship is offered. Hence, it is also called the Pujabhaga.
The Pujabhaga also contains
certain horizontal lines technically called Brahmasutra, whithout which
the Linga becomes unfit for worship.
The Bull or Nandi
Nandi, the happy one - The Bull on which Lord Shiva rides is another common hindu symbol. It represents virility and strength, the animal in the man. In Shiva temples, there is always a reclining bull placed in front of the chief shrine or just outside it, with the head turned away from the deity but the gaze fixed on it. It is interpreted as the Jivatman, the individual soul, with its animal nature pulling it away from God, but his grace pulling it back to Him.
The Lotus bud is born in
water and unfolds itself into a beautiful flower. Hence, it is taken as
the symbol of the Universe coming out of the Sun. It rises from the navel
of Lord Vishnu and is the seat of Brahma the creator. Hence, the sacredness
associated with it. Also, psychic centers in the body associated with the
rising of the Kundalini power are pictured as lotuses.
The Swastika is a symbol of auspiciousness (Swasti = Auspiciousness). It has been used as a symbol of the Sun or of Lord Vishnu. It also represents the world-wheel, the eternally changing world, round a fixed and unchanging centre, God. Swastika marks, depicted on doors or walls of buildings or on animals are beleived to protect them from the wrath of evil spirits or furies of the nature
Hinduism in the World
Hinduism existed long before the sun rose on the kingdoms of Egypt or set on the Roman Empire; even before it sparkled upon the Chinese civilization. When much of Europe was still sunk in sleep, Hindu astronomers were mapping the skies, doctors were performing surgery and seers were composing pictures.
The growth and spread of Hinduism lies in the fact that it is broad-minded, encourages al scientific and social developments.
Hindu Population in the World
Presently, Hindus comprise 13.7% (765,351,710) of the world's population residing in 150 countries. The major countries are