Iconography of Hindu Religion

God taking the form of a man has led to the development of idol worship without question in Christian Churches without any shred of doubt till the arrival of Martin Luther. Similarly in the Six-Fold Religion, worshipping God in anthropomorphic form (sculptures) was developed in the post-Christian era.

Drastic changes in the Post-Christian era

The doctrine of God taking the form of man, his coming into this world and sacrificing himself formed the basis for the development of the Bhakthi Movement and the sprouting of a large number of sculptures of God in the anthropomorphic form. The worshipping of images had started developing rapidly.

"A somewhat elaborate discussion about the origin and growth of the idea of Bhakti has been found necessary because the solution of the whole problem of the origin of image-worship itself principally depends on it".1

In Jainism the figures of Tirthankara with Yaksha and Yakshi are found in large numbers. The figures of Mahavir and other Tirthankaras were installed and worshipped. This sect is known as Svetambara. The icons of Svetambara are seen clothed with open eyes, whereas the icons of Digambara are seen without clothing and closed eyes. In Buddhism the figures of the Buddha are seen in large numbers and are worshipped. The icons of Bodhisattvas convey the concept of the Son of God.

"By the beginning of the Christian era Buddha came to be represented in the form of images. The ideas behind this great step brought about a revolution in image making. The Mahayana doctrine brought about a new concept of the Buddha. He was seen as the absolute world principle, a personification of the highest truth, wisdom and goodness. As such he was developed as a desire to beheld and revered as a sacred person. He was considered to be the merciful redeemer of the world".2

The figures of the Tirthankaras and the Buddhas in the Jain and Buddhist Stupas were engraved. Thus stupas with figures came into existence only in the post-Christian era.

The following statements of various historians explain that Saivite and Vaishnavite sculptures emerged in large numbers in the post-Christian era.

"Images of gods and goddesses such as Siva in linga, human and arthanariesvara form, Siva-Parvati standing together, Kartikeya, Ganapathi etc., began to be made in considerable number in the beginning of the Kusana period at Mathura and Gandhara. The pantheon gradually got increased and became rather complex in the Gupta period. The Kartikeya cult seems to have been quite popular at Mathura during the Kusana period".3

The Saivite and Vaishnavite sculptures which reveal the doctrine of trinity, doctrine of avatar etc. are not seen in the pre-Christian era and they are all seen in the post-Christian era only. The analysis of the development of Iconography in India would throw light on the development of Saivite and Vaishnavite religions. Since the Indus Valley civilization is ancient, it is briefly outlined.

(i) Indus Valley Sculptures

In the Indus Valley civilization, memorial stones known as Sivalinkas and figures of goddesses, demigods, female and male figures, animals, mythical figures, trees and symbols like Swastika... depicted on the seals are found in large number.4 Apart from these, a torso of a male statue in a Yogic posture has been discovered in Mohenjadaro Female figures in terra-cotta are also found.5 After the Indus Valley civilization, sculptures are not found for a long period of time, and later on Jain and Buddhist sculptures are seen.

(ii) Jain and Buddhist figures

In Jainism and Buddhism stupas are found and symbols like wheel, umbrella, conch, footprint, tri-ratna, fishes, mythical figures, Swastika... are seen on the ayagapathas. Many icons of the Yaksha, Yakshi and female statues like Lakshmi, Saraswathi can be seen in considerable numbers.6 In Buddhism the icon of the Buddha was not seen in the pre-Christian era. In Jainism, though a mutilated figure resembling Tirthankara is found in Lohanipur probably belonging to the pre-Christian era, a large number of sculptures of Jain Tirthankaras and the Buddhas are found only in the post-Christian era.

(iii) Six-fold Religious Sculptures

Saivite and Vaishnavite figures which reveal the doctrine of Trinity, Avatar... are not at all seen in the pre-Christian era in India. None of the Siva, Muruka, Pillaiyar, Krishna... sculptures are seen in the pre-Christian era. All these sculptures belong only to the post-Christian era.

"The idea of I'svara himself coming down amidst the mortals as an avatar to guide them to become perfect in their own nature, to become what they potentially are and living among them as a mortal, was in itself enough encouragement to the development of the images. They could evolve a definite iconography for the avataras".7

Though Saivism and Vaishnavism have nothing to do with the Vedas the Saivite and Vaishnavite figures came to be considered as Brahminical gods and goddesses. There is a vast difference between the Hinduism of the Vedic period and that of the later period . The pantheon of the Hindu gods were given anthropomorphic form only in the later period. Saivism and Vaishnavism are the offshoots of Early Indian Christianity and the sculptures of Saivism and Vaishnavism are actually the visual aids for the doctrine of Trinity, and the doctrine of incarnation or Avatar.

Since these figures are seen in the post-Christian era, it is misconsidered that they are of the Brahminical contribution. Doctrine of Trinity in both Saivism and Vaishnavism is expressed through the icons as follows.

The concept of trinity of Godhead as expounded in Christianity has its own center point in Saivism in the expression of "Somaskanda". This expression when expanded would become Sa+Uma+Skanda which means God is along with Uma and Skanda. The same concept of trinity of Christianity is depicted differently (Mummoorthy) in Vaishnavism. Hence also the chief God is Siva. But instead of the female goddess Uma, we find another male god viz. Vishnu representing the Holy Spirit. In the place of Skanda we find Brahma, the son of God and the three persons in the Godhead are all male. This led to the concept of "Mummoorthygal".

The figures of Siva, Vishnu and Brahma are seen in Ellora, Kailasanatha, Mahabalipuram. Though there are three names for each of the three personalities of God, the entity is one and only one. This triune God is depicted as "three faced Siva" with one body.

In Ellora and Elephanta the icons of Siva with three faces in one body are seen in large numbers. This shows that though God is represented in three different personalities as Siva, Sakthi and Kumarakkadavul, or, Siva, Vishnu and Brahma, he is not three but one God in three personalities.

Sivalinkas engraved with Saivite and Vaishnavite figures are seen only in the post-Christian era. The figures of "Arthanarieswara" and "Harihara" convey that Sakthi and Vishnu are the metaphorism of Holy Spirit in female and male form. In the word Arthanarieswara, Artha means half, nari means female and eswara means God. Thus Arthanarieswara means God whose left part is female.

Harihara means Hari+Hara. Hara means Siva or God. Hari means Vishnu. In the Harihara concept, Hari is supposed to be the left part of Hara as per Vaishnavism, whereas in Saivism, Sakthi was supposed to occupy that part. However, both Hari and Sakthi are the names given to the Holy spirit. The figures of Avatar are seen in the post-Christian era.

"By the time of the Gupta age the concept of avatara had become more popular".8

The icons of Rama, Lakshmana etc. are seen in the later period, as representations for the concept of Avatar or Incarnations.9

Thus the icons of Saivism and Vaishnavism express the doctrines of Early Indian Christianity in different ways.

The sculptures of the pre-Christian era paved the way for the development of sculptures of the post-Christian era in shaping the Vaishnavite, Jain, and Buddhist images. For example the Yaksha and Yakshi of the pre Christian era provided much inspiration for the making of sculptures in the post Christian era.

Is Six-fold religion the religion of idol worship?

Supreme God is known in various religions as Jehovah (Judaism), Father (Christianity), Siva (Saivism) and Allah (Islam). There is no idol for Supreme God in these religions. But for the Son of God there are idols in Christianity since God took the form of a man. And till the coming of Martin Luther, Christianity was filled with idols.

Similarly, in the Six-fold religion there are idols for Son of God emerged in the post-Christian era only. In the sanctum sanctorum of the Saivite temples of Siva, Sivalinka alone can be seen and none other idols. God the father is represented in Sivalinka in Saivism. Sivalinka is not an idol and it doesn't have a figure like human beings or birds or animals etc., and it is a memorial stone only.

Memorial stone is not an idol according to Bible. 10

The Six-fold religion is the development of Sivalinka worship and all the idols are emerged in the Six-Fold Religion in the post-Christian era only and these idols are not seen in the sanctum sanctorum of the temples of Siva, the Supreme God. Since the Six-fold religion is the development of Sivalinka which is very ancient and which is a memorial stone and not an idol it can be said that Six-fold religion is the religion of non-idol worship just like Christianity.


  1. J.N. Banerjea, Op. Cit., P.78
  2. Susmita Pande, Op. Cit., P. 204
  3. Upendra Thakur, Some aspects of ancient Indian history and culture, Abhinav publicantions, New Delhi 110 016, F.P.1974, Pp.246,24
  4. (i) John Marshall, Op. Cit.,
    (ii) Ernest Mackay, Op. Cit.
  5.   Ibid
  6. (i) A. Ghosh (Editor), Jaina Art and Architecture Vol.III, Bharatiya Jnanapith, New Delhi-1, 1974
    (ii) Jyoti prasad Jain, Religion and Culture of the Jains, Bharatiya Jnanpita, New Delhi  1944
    (iii) Susmita Pande, Op. Cit.,
  7. Susmita Pande, Op.Cit.,P.194
  8. Ibid P.200
  9. D. Devakala, Op. Cit.,
  10. . Genesis 28

|Home Page|

|108 Questions  to Sankara Mutt| \An International Conference\| Bhakti Marga - from South or North?| |Brahmins - Leaders of Hindu Religion?| |Christ - Bodhisattva - Brahman| \Cycle of Birth\\Dravida Samayam Prayer\| God & Satan| \|How to protect our Hindu Religion?| \Hinduism is not a Religion\|Hindu Religion-Iconography| |Hindu Religion-Myths| |Hindu Religion-Theology| \Humane Love and Spirituality\|Indus Valley - Aryan or Dravidian?| |Mythical Aryan Race| |Origin of Hindu Religion| |Racism through Advaita Philosophy\ \Religion Under Threat|  |Religious Fanaticism|  |Soul & Spirit|\Why Caste and Religious Clashes?\

Dr. M. Deivanayagam
Dr. D. Devakala

The Revival Movement of Dravidian Religion