The Iconography of Divine Wisdom

How do we define knowledge? How do we define the difference between academically gained knowledge and that of divine wisdom? How do we comprehend the supreme nature of that wisdom where its nature is to be realized and not to be put to material use?

The ancient scriptures present to us the nature of this divine wisdom and the realization of it in the worship of three forms of the supreme. Each form represents one aspect of the Trinity and the iconography of this form seldom changed through the times. It is therefore very evident that supreme wisdom is of a different kind and in this yuga we have been given the nature of it possibly in the form of sound, in the form of Vak(or the spoken word).

Hence, being blessed with divine wisdom renders us the all knowing, where we just know the answer to every question and our life is in the purest intellectual form where even illusion of the people or life around us falls meaninglessly in front of our realm. This is one definition of enlightenment.

The second form of being blessed, is with words of sweetness that take form when we express ourselves using the sacred form of sound in producing Vakya. The spoken word is so sweet as honey and so potent in energy that it can transform even stone to gold. This comes with the talent of stitching sound into a beautiful garland of words with wit and overpowering intellect that the world is silent and speechless over its composition.

The third form of blessing is when the self swoons to the higher level of awakening where everything is music and words spoken stem from thoughts so pure that there is no malice, there is no hurt in the sweetness of the chosen word to the world around us. And therefore sound matters, the given word matters, truth matters, and possibly pleasant delivery matters. Most pray for one of few things, to be either blessed with Goddess Saraswati seated on our tongue such that what ever comes out is honey sweet. Other pray for better concentration and improved intellect for a longer duration of time to Lord Vishnu in the form of Hayagriva and lastly those who have gone beyond the maya of living, and really want to know whats beyond in the unknown choose to worship Shiva Dakshinamurti to be blessed with supreme enlightenment.

And this is when iconography echoes all around us, the vision of divine wisdom takes shape.

Saraswati: Goddess of learning

Ya Devi Stuyate Nityam Vibhuhairvedaparagaih|
Same Vasatu Jihvagre Brahmarupa Saraswat

O Goddess of great wisdom, who is praised by the intelligent, who has mastered the shastras, the consort of the creator himself, May you continue to reside on my tongue.

Shrii Saraswatii Namahstubhyam Varade Kaama Ruupini|
Twaam Aham Praarthane Devii Vidyaadaanam Cha Dehi Me||

To the Goddess Saraswati, who grants all the wishes of her devotees, I pray to you to bless me with enlightenment.

Sarasvathi Namastubhyam, Varade Kaamaroopini|
Vidyaarambham Karishyaami Siddhir Bhavatu Mey Sada||

Oh Mother, who blesses the world, I worship you at the start of my education. I bow to you to help me make this experience fruitful and bring success to my efforts.

Goddess Saraswati is depicted dressed all in white, on a lotus seat that symbolizes supreme pure wisdom and her vahana is a swan. She is occasionally associated with the color yellow, the color of the mustard flower that blooms in spring. She is depicted 4 armed which represents the four aspects of the human personality: mind, intellect, alertness and ego. She holds the veena, the scriptures in the form of a book, a garland of crystals or akshamala, and a kamandalu of water. She depicts not just the perfection of the arts but also the higher powers of meditation, creative energy and the rhythm in sound.

Hayagriva: God of learning and concentration

jnAna-Ananda-mayam devam nirmala-sphaTikAkRtim|
AdhAram sarvavidyAnAm hayagrIvam upAsmahe||

Hayagriva is a lesser known form of Lord Vishnu who is draped completely in white, horse headed and seated with his hand in vyakhyana mudra. He holds an akshamala and a book that depicts his form as a teacher. His face is always serene and peaceful.

He blesses his devotees with the power of remembrance and concentration to realize supreme wisdom.

Lord Shiva Dakshinamurti - The Supreme Teacher

Gurur Brahma Gurur Vishnu | Gurur Devo Mahesh Varaha||

Guru Shakshat Para Brahma|Tasmai Shri Guruve Namaha||
Guruve sarva lokaanaam Bhishaje bhava roginaam|

Nithyai sarvadhiyaanam Dakshinamurthaye namo namaha||

Lord Shiva is depicted teaching the Vedas to the Sanahadimunivars, the 6 great sages among whom Hayagriva is also seated. Lord Shiva is seen seated under a banyan tree facing south and draped in yellow. His right foot rests on the mythical form of apasmara purusha who signifies ego and ignorance and his left foot is folded on his lap. He holds a snake or a rosary in his hand and is sometimes depicted holding a bowl of fire in the other hand. He is either depicted in vyakhyana mudra or abhaya mudra or gyana mudra while the other hand holds a bundle of kusha grass indicating the sacred scriptures. Alternatively, he holds a veena, and is known as Veena Dakshinamurti.

Cutting across the entire pantheon of Gods that are housed in Hindu iconography, three forms of the supreme echo the iconography of divine wisdom. The purity in it, the evolution of the self through the experience of enlightenment and the sweetness of the words that come forth give us a brief hint of what potent powers lie deep within our being. Learning is one aspect which can be undone with time and can be forgotten, but divine wisdom once achieved is a state where there is no going back.

Photo courtesy:
Hayagreevar - Copyright © trsiyengar.com 2004-2005
Creative commons, Wikipedia


JC said...

On an average, a day is divided into 12 hours of (Saraswati's-sari-like white) sunlight and 12 hours of darkness when Moon (represented by Yellow colour as the Guru or superior) rules the 'sky'. And, obviously, as it's well known to us today also, these two 'heavenly bodies' are members of our solar system, the ancient wise Hindus conveyed the 'truth' for the sake of the masses through interesting stories that have been also passed on since time immemorial, and entertain even those who are ignorant about galaxies and solar systems etc and their correlation with the drama in 'Nature' reached by wise ancients...

YOSEE said...

In addition to these icons, Ganapathi , as Vidya- Ganapathy also symbolises wisdom and learning. Significantly,one of his 'wives' is called Buddhi. In Indonesia, the figure of Ganesa can be seen at the entrance of many places of learning.Also pertinent to note that Vyasa used Ganesha as the scribe for his epic.

JC said...

Yes, Ganpati is believed as the favourite son of Ma Parvati, created by Her primarily to protect Herself from Shiva the universal Destroyer...in the evolved most form She then provided 'amrit', or immortality, to all 'devtas', that is, members of our solar system (conveyed by the story of 'kshir sagar/ samudra manthan')...

And it was thus indicated that 'somrus' (in reality moonlight) was meant only for Shiva and His bhootas (such as 'panchbhootas' literally the 'five ghosts', meaning 'earth', 'sky', 'fire', 'water' and 'air' that believably necessarily are present in all physical forms in the universe/ earth)...

In the North, Ganpati's two wives are named Riddhi and Siddhi and thus Ganpati is indicated as provider of Knowledge as well as Riches (and interestingly, planet Mars has two satellites called, in the 'present', as Demos and Phobos, and the Hindu mythological stories indicate essence of planet Mars as housed at the 'Mooladhar Chakra' and Ganpati or Ganesha is also called 'number one' and is also indicated by the prefix 'Shri' used in all 'Hindu' names (where 'Hindu' is obviously derived from 'Indu' the Moon, whose essence is indicated housed in the 'Sahasrara chakra', believed located in the head, highest pedestal thus given to Ma Parvati, but overall control believed housed at 'Ajna Chakra', believably housed at the 'third eye' location in the human form, and other selected members of oour solar system also playing some important roles in presenting the variety as apparent in 'Nature')...

JC said...

Maybe 'I' need to add that, obviously, it is the essence of earth, that is, 'Gangadhar Shiva' who holds river Ganga, or 'Chandrashekhar' who has the moon on his forehead that was indicated housed at the control point or 'Ajna Chakra' the 'third eye' that is associated with Shiva, which in human forms is indicated as having gradually become dormant with the passage of time from Satyuga to Kaliyuga and thus needs activation of 'kundalini' (rise of energy/ information - imagined forcefully held at mooladhar that is indicated symbolically as between a crocodile's powerful jaws - to sahasrara imagined rising like the hood of a King Cobra that generally remains coiled at the mooladhar) through 'yogic exercises' by the 'common man'...

Also, that Lakshami too is called 'Shri' as she is indicated as the Goddess of Wealth, while Saraswati is depicted as the Goddess of Knowledge, and both these characteristics are also associated with Ganpati as the two-in-one devta or selfless individual who is thus called vighna-harta or the trouble shooter and is thus worshipped by an average 'Hindu', perhaps ritually only...

Kavitha said...

Interesting! I was trying to capture all of them in one post... and i still missed Ganapati :)

JC said...

With the overall background knowledge even in the 'present', if one could read between lines the 'Hindu' mythological stories, one could perhaps visualise how human form was realised by wise ancient Yogis, by reaching zero thought stage, to reflect energy/ information related to infinite universe recorded in the so-called 'chakras' or 'bandhas' (that is literally 'locks') that are believed to exist naturally along the spinal column, from tail-bone end to brain...The different behaviours from one form to another, as it is apparent, is believed on account of use of different permutations and combinations of essences of selected nine (9) number members of our solar system, from Sun to Saturn, where essence of Mars is believed housed at the tail-bone end (called mooladhar bandh) that is associated with Orange colour, which is used since time immemorial in the idol of Hanuman/ Ganpati...as these are also symbolically reflected through the different colours as seen in the natural rainbow, ie, the colours in the visible part of the spectrum that is created due to refraction of white light, including ultraviolet and infrared radiations also (terms 'Rahu' & 'Ketu', respectively, used for these by ancient Hindus)...where white is indicated at the solar plexus level , and yellow (Guru among colours) at the head level (sahasrara bandha)...

JC said...

Perhaps it is not needed to say that the 'sky', (one of the 'panchbhootas' in the words of ancient 'Hindus'), appears blue (Neelkanth/ Digambar Shiva to ancient 'Hindus', alluding to Earth as Shiva the 'Gangadhar') during the day when our Sun - the source of white sunllight and also energy to the planetary system - appears to rule the sky...whereas it's also unnecessary to say that, in 'reality', space/ sky is 'Black' (Krishna/ Kali to ancient 'Hindus')...

Thus human life was realised as a drama created by 'Black & White' (Mothers Kali & Gauri to 'Hindus'), where white envelops seven other colours as they appear in the visible part of the spectrum and in the 'natura' rainbow' too for all and sundry to see and thus make (painful?) life colourful, at least ('Silver lining to a dark cloud')!