Creative Expression

Hinduism recognises that all aesthetic expressions invoke spirituality in a non-religious format. Hence it is very comfortable in using art, music, dance, drama, poetry and literature as a way of invoking the idea of transcendence in religion. The copious use of the lotus flower in images of various deities serves to remind the devotee to remain detached from the world. The swastika is sometimes painted on the palms of deities giving blessings, invoking the idea of auspiciousness synonymous with the forms of deities. The Aum or Om symbol is also used as an art form as well as a representation of spirit in sound. Om is chanted at the start of most hymns and prayers.

Hindus are not apologetic about using images to portray God with form. Hindus do not worship idols or objects, they use idols to worship God. Hinduism has freedom to worship God with attributes (like in the Abrahamic tradition) and with form. Hindus take advantage of the latter freedom to depict God in a variety of colourful forms. Apart from images Hindus use symbols like Om, or Swastika or the lotus flower. Om apart from being a symbol is also a sound. So the use of sight and sound are invoked when using this symbol. Om is claimed to be the sound heard in deep meditation, hence considered appropriate to represent God. Om is chanted during religious ceremonies as a way of drawing our minds to God.

Narratives: As Hinduism is comfortable in relating to God with form and attributes it allows this religion full freedom to come up with very colourful narratives involving a whole range of Gods and Goddesses. Subtle ideas are more accessible through a story format. Hinduism makes ample use of stories, parables and metaphors. Despite all this, the limitations of all such symbolic gestures or narratives is fully recognised in Hinduism. The Kathopanishad boldly declares: No scripture, is capable of capturing the essence of the Spirit.

Architecture: a purpose-built temple has several features that reflect their character as the abode of God on earth. Traditionally the temple has a shikhara or steeple which draws the eye upwards, a way of symbolically drawing us to think of higher things. The entrance to a temple is called the gopuram and is one of the most attractive parts of the temple as it is meant to draw the devotee into the premises. Like the living room in a house, there is an inner chamber called a garbha-griha or ‘womb chamber’ in which resides the predominant deity of the temple. There is space around the garbha-griha for devotees to circumambulate the central deity as a form of worship. Images of other deities may also be housed along the walls of the temple.

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