An Insight into the Symbolism in Indian Art

Indian art and sculpture

Symbolism in Indian art is referred to ideological depiction on sculpture and architecture. The emergence of architectural and sculptural aspects of various forms like temple, Stupas and caves etc under the patronage of state has reached its developed stage during Mauryan period from its early terracotta forms. The Asokan pillar, the animals and carvings on the pillars, representation of Buddha in the form of foot print, Bodhi tree, Stupa with glassy polish surface, all show the maturity of artist.


Symbolism deals specially with religion and rituals but in art of India it has more ideological conception about a particular thing. The idea behind symbolism is to convey the inner meaning from its external form. The depicted form is only what we see, but the meaning convey by it, is real. For example- pot full of water kept before start of any ritual is not only the adoration of earthen port, it is the symbol of human body on the one hand & cosmos on the other. For understanding the meaning of symbol it is important to aware with language of symbolism. Some of the important representation in Indian art is given below :


Lotus in Indian art is represented as the prime symbol of creation, the seat and sub stratum of universal creative force which springs from the naval or centre of primal creator. Lotus and Chakra are Vedic symbols and so is the representation of full vase. The lotus, full vase, swastika, wheel , three Jewels (Triratna), wish fulfilling tree are the alphabets of symbolism and are being used with perfect mastery as elements of decoration. These symbols form integral part of Indian thoughts for ages.

Lotus in Indian Art

Kalpa Vriksha

Kalpa tree has been very popular for its representations in sculptures & paintings and in ancient poetry and literature also. The theme behind wish fulfilling tree is that it is the wishing tree which fulfills all desires. Our mind is like Kalpa vriksha which can give us every things just for mere thought of it.

Kalpa Vriksha

Purna Kumbha

It represents life, prosperity, food and many good things. The Purna Kumbha symbolising the growth & creative fertility of every phase of man’s being on earth. This is the perfect symbol to express the idea of fullness & prosperity.

Purna Kumbha


Symbols of Sarnath Lion capital

Sarnath Lion of Ashoka

Sarnath lion capital commemorating the preaching of first sermon by Buddha, the national emblem of India has deep symbolism. The most important part of the capital is its abacus with four animals and four Dharma Chakras. The meaning and significance of these animals have been interpreted differently by various scholars –

R. K. Mookerjee-

“The lion capital is indeed an appropriate symbol of toleration, secularism and universalism of the Mauryan Empire, while at the same time it bears movingly expressive testimony to the sensitiveness and majesty of the Mauryan Art.”

According to Foucher

“ Dharmachakra with Buddhist Dharma & four animals with four great events in the life of Buddha- Elephant with conception of Maya, Bull-he was born in Vrishav rashi, Horse(Kantak)-Renunciation, Lion- Sakyasimbha

This explanation does not seem to be perfect because of the reason that it is not justifying all the component parts. It is thought that the abacus with four animal & four Dharma Chakras represent the vast multitudes of the people having their endless diversities but at the same time bounding themselves with the underlying fundamental unity.

Diversity is typified by four animals, whereas four similar Dharma chakras show underlying unity. Four lions are the representation of universal authority.

Besides full vase, lotus, swastika, wheel, kalpa vriksha etc., there are various important Vaisnava, Saiva, Jain & Buddhist symbols in Indian Art bearing deep rooted symbolical meaning in them.

Courtesy: Amit Kumar

Team Aspirant Forum

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