Hindu Gods and Symbols of Fertility
Almost all religions honor the power of procreation. Procreation, or fertility to be precise, is represented with symbols, rituals and prayers in religious practices. The symbols used to depict fertility and procreation can be animate or inanimate things, diagrams or hand gestures. These symbols are called fertility symbols. Fertility symbols are used in different cultures and faiths.
Life exists because of the power of procreation. To celebrate the power of procreation many religions practice fertility rituals. During the fertility rituals, power of procreation is honored by worshiping Fertility Gods. Fertility symbols and fertility rituals are ingrained in the daily life of Hindus. Even in Buddhism, mainly Vajrayana Buddhism, there is overwhelmingly presence of Fertility Gods like Vajradhar-Shakti and Chakrasamvara-Vajravarahi. Vajrayana Buddhism makes extensive use of fertility symbols and fertility rituals.
Tantrism is esoteric practice in Hinduism and Buddhism. In Hindu and Buddhist tantric philosophy, male represented by a triangle, with apex pointing upward, is Fire; while female is Water and represented with a triangle pointing downward. Usually these two triangles are merged, symbolizing the critical union of male and female, which can be seen in every Buddhist and Hindu religious drawings popularly called Yantra or Mandala.
Hindu Fertility Gods
Fertility symbols and fertility rituals dominate Hindu religious practices. In Hinduism, there are many Fertility Gods, and Hindus greatly honor their Gods of Procreation. Fertility symbols and fertility rituals are so much ingrained in the lives of Hindus that it is harder to say since when Hindus are worshiping Fertility Gods. There are many Hindu Fertility Gods, some of the Hindu Gods of Procreation are:
Hindu God Shiva is associated with death and destruction. According to the Hindu scriptures, Shiva is an ascetic and meditates in the Himalayas. However, he is symbolized and worshiped in phallic form, popularly called Lingam. Parvati is his principle consort, but interestingly Shiva also acts as consort to many Hindu Goddesses commonly referred as Shakti. Shiva’s phallus is merged with vulva of Shakti, and this symbol is called Shiva Lingam, which is the most powerful fertility symbol in Hinduism. Shiva Lingam is the critical union of Shiva-Parvati, or Shiva-Shakti, so to speak.
Shiva is depicted with River Ganges and moon on his head. He wears garlands of snakes called Naga. Ganges, moon and snakes are fertility symbols, and associated with fertility rituals in Hinduism.
According to the Hindu scriptures, Bhairava is one of the forms of Shiva. There are eight principal Bhairavas. Unmatta Bhairava is one of the Bhairavas, who is associated with fertility. Hindus worship Unmatta Bhairava as Fertility God. He is depicted in naked form, wearing garland of skulls and displaying his erect organ. People, mostly women and girls, place their forehead on the genital as a part of their worshiping. It is believed, in doing so, women will bear children and girls will find husbands. The temple of Unmatta Bhairava in Kathmandu is one of the most sanctified religious sites in Nepal.
Kama Deva, Hindu God equivalent to Greek God Cupid, is the God of sex and procreation. He is said to strike arrow and make humans, and Gods alike, fall in love. Literal meaning of Kama is desire and Deva means God. Kama Deva can arouse erotic sentiments even in Shiva, the God of Destruction. According to the myth, when Kama Deva’s physical form was destroyed by Shiva, he became even more powerful. Shiva incinerated Kama Deva, but he too, is considered the God of Procreation.
Shiva acts as consort to most of the Hindu Goddesses. When Shiva assumes a ferocious form, Kali is his consort. Goddess Kali is depicted as Terrible Goddess sanding upon Shiva. In Hinduism, Shiva and Kali are associated with death and destruction, but according to tantric interpretation, Kali stands upon Shiva not to destroy him but symbolize the erotic sentiments. The images and idols of Kali standing upon Shiva, in fact, is a symbol of procreation. Shiva’s sexual potency is proven by the fact that he is worshiped in a phallic symbol called Shiva Lingam.
In Hinduism, there is a group of ten Goddesses called Dus (Ten) Mahavidya. Chinnamasta is one of the Mahavidya Goddesses. Chinnamasta is depicted as a naked Goddess, holding her head on her hand, and standing upon the critical union of Kama Deva and his consort Rati. Literal meaning of Chinnamasta is decapitation.
Lingam (phallus) and the Yoni (vulva) is the most widely used fertility symbol in Hinduism. Yoni represents the creative power of Goddess Shakti. Shakti is the common word for all Goddesses associated with Shiva. Lingam is the phallus of Shiva representing male creative power, which is generally placed upon the Yoni. The union of Lingam and Yoni symbolizes the critical union of male and female and is called Shiva Lingam. Shiva Lingam is the universal source of everything. It represents the unity of opposite, and the oneness of male and female.
During the fertility rituals, Hindus make hand gestures called Lingam Mudra and Yoni Mudra, which are symbolic depictions of phallus and vulva.
According to the Hindu theologies, when Shiva’s consort Sati Devi died, he carried her body and traversed the sky. Sati Devi’s organs fell on different parts of the earth. Her vulva fell in Assam, India. Temple of Goddess Kamakhya, in Assam, is believed to be the vulva of Sati Devi. Every year, in June, Goddess Kamakhya is said to menstruate. The Yoni inside the temple is covered with cloth and the temple is closed for three days. On the fourth day, fluid soaked cloth is distributed to the devotees.
Fertility Symbols in Hinduism
Snake called Naga in Hinduism is one of the most powerful fertility symbols. Naga as a fertility symbol dominates Hindu religion, and also Buddhism. Many Buddhist and Hindu Gods wear garland of snakes, sit on the pedestal of Naga, or are protected by the hood of many headed snake.
Lotus flower is one of the numerous fertility symbols in Hinduism and Buddhism. Lotus is called padma in Sanskrit language, which means female sexual organ. Many Hindu and Buddhist deities sit or stand on a blooming lotus.
Bell is used in many cultures and faiths, however, in Hinduism it is also a fertility symbol. Bell is the symbol of genitalia, and hence a fertility symbol. The cone shaped model is vulva and the gong is the phallus.
Women’s fertile stages can be related in accordance with the different moon cycles and hence it became a feminine symbol of procreation. Moon, a male deity in Hinduism, symbolizes beauty and fertility. According to Hindu mythology, Moon bedded his guru’s wife and helped Indra, the lord of the heaven, to corrupt a savant’s wife. Hindu mythologies brim with the stories of Indra’s amorous advances. It is believed, Indra sends heavenly nymphs to derail the savants from their path of penance. Lord Indra stands as a symbol of male sexual potency with Vajra, the thunderbolt, on his hand.
Vajra, the thunderbolt
Vajra is a symbol of thunderbolt representing male sexual potency. Vajra has great importance in Hindu and Buddhist iconography. Since ancient times, the Vajra has been sanctified as a symbol of fertility, it represents phallic strength and qualities that exude from manhood – power, potency and virility. It is also associated with creativity, courage, decisive action and the ability to control powerful actions.
Fertility Rituals in Hinduism
Since there are many Fertility Gods, Hinduism gives much importance to fertility symbols and fertility rituals. Procreation is the basis of life and living, so Hinduism directly and indirectly celebrates the process of giving birth. During the fertility rituals, Hindus pay tribute to the power of procreation in human beings that is bestowed upon them by the divine.
Fertility rituals during a girl’s first menstruation cycle
According to the Hindu World View, women are generally referred as ‘fertile land’, and hence they are worshipped as the source of procreation. Menstruation symbolizes power of procreation in women. Hinduism gives much importance to the first menstruation in a girl and the day is marked with rigorous fertility rituals.
When the first menstruation begins in a girl, she is left alone in a room for the three days. She is not allowed to see the males. On the fourth day, she takes a bath and the priest conducts fertility ritual. She cups her two hands and holds a banana, the cupped hand is the Yoni-vulva and the banana is the Lingam-phallus.
Fertility rituals celebrating the menopause
Like the first menstruation, Hindu women celebrate menopause with much fanfare. When the menstruation cycle ends, Hindu women worship Fertility Gods and perform fertility rituals. During the fertility rituals celebrating menopause, women make Lingam Mudra and Yoni Mudra.
Hindu marriage as fertility ritual
The rituals associated with Hindu marriage are thousands of years old. Hindu marriage is all about uniting male and female, it is a fertility ritual that celebrates the power of procreation in human beings. During the marriage ceremony, prayers are chanted, fertility symbols are drawn and Fertility Gods are worshipped.
Worshiping young girls as fertility symbol
Hindus defy girls, who have not yet reached puberty, as the personification of Goddess. Worshiping girls is associated to the power of fertility and procreation in women. Kanya Puja, or the worshiping of girls, is quite compulsory during most of the Hindu rituals.
In Nepal, there is a tradition of invoking Goddess Kumari in young girls and worshiping them as Living Goddess. The cult of Goddess Kumari, the Vestal Virgin, is hundreds of years old. When Nepal was a kingdom, every year the King took blessings from the young girl personified as Goddess Kumari, and was sanctioned to rule the country for the coming year. Today, this tradition is kept alive by the President.
Teej and Rishipanchami festival
Every year in August or early September, women in Nepal celebrate their power of procreation by worshipping the divine couple Shiva-Parvati and the group of seven savants called Sapta Rishi. Similar kind of festival called Kaarva Chauth and Ganagaur are celebrated by Indian Hindus. During these festivals women undergo rigid fasting and cleanse their mind and body and perform fertility rituals.
Fertility rituals during the planting and harvest
Most of the people in India and Nepal, predominantly Hindu countries, live close to the earth and move with agricultural calendar, or perhaps more accurately the earth – a reality that has not changed with time. Hindus worship land for its fertility power in the full moon day in May, and defy the Goddess Earth in the full moon day in November. Planting and harvest festivals are very important fertility rituals in Hinduism. Plowing of land is referred as union of male and female, whereas harvest implies administering the birth.
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© 2012 Vinaya Ghimire