Signs and Symbols

What signs or symbols distinguish Hindu religious specialists?

Priests in most Hindu temples, whatever the denomination, generally wear a simple body wrap that covers one or both shoulders. Sometimes they will remove the upper wrap altogether. Priests may wear a white thread across the left shoulder, a symbol of initiation into the sacred scriptures. Some priests wear a set of beads (called a mala, or “rosary”), used to count in the repetition of sacred words or syllables, around the neck or wrist. Members of various monastic orders often wear a saffron or salmon-colored robe that is the “habit” or distinctive garb of the organization. Shaivite Sadhus sometimes carry the trident, a symbol sacred to Shiva.

Shikhara (“mountain peak”) over the womb chamber of Shiva, Temple of Minakshi, Madurai, southern India. (Photo courtesy of Michael Harter, S.J.)


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