Article: Eight auspicious symbols

Contributed by Nalini Balbir

The term 'eight auspicious symbols' refers to a set of eight shapes or objects highly respected by the Jains and which they use in various religious contexts. The word commonly used to refer to it is the Sanskrit compound aṣṭa-mangala. The word mangala designates anything that brings good luck or well-being in any way, whether an object or a phrase.

The two main Jain sects list slightly different objects as the eight auspicious symbols. For both groups, especially the Śvetāmbaras, these symbols appear in all kinds of artistic media and are widespread in temples, worship and in general life.

Different lists of the eight auspicious symbols

Two svastikas are below the three jewels of Jainism. The crescent at the top represents the siddha-śilā and the line above it the liberated soul. Auspicious symbols made of rice grains and other substances are common in temples

Svastikas and other auspicious symbols in the temple
Image by Cactusbones - Sue Ann Harkey © CC Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0

As often happens, the list of the symbols is different for the two main Jain sects of the Śvetāmbaras and Digambaras.

Sectarian lists of the eight auspicious symbols

Śvetāmbara

Digambara

1

Svastika

Gilded vase – bhṛngāra

2

Śrīvatsa

Fly whisk – cāmara

3

Nandyāvarta

Banner – dhvaja

4

Powder box or flask – vardhamānaka

Fan – vyajana

5

Throne – bhadrāsana

Umbrella or canopy – chatra

6

Full water-jug – kalaśa

Seat of honour – supratiṣṭha

7

Pair of fish – matsyayugma

Full water-jug – kalaśa

8

Mirror – darpaṇa

Mirror – darpaṇa

Why these objects?

The eight auspicious symbols – aṣṭa-mangala – are often seen as freestanding metal objects in temples of the Digambara sect. Here, the symbols are lined up in the temple at Panjapattu in Tamil Nadu.

Auspicious symbols in a Digambara temple
Image by Nalini Balbir © Nalini Balbir

These things are auspicious for different reasons. The meaning of some of these symbols is apparent in wider Indian culture, while the significance of others is less clear.

Some of them – like the throne, the fly-whisk, the banner and the umbrella – are well known as royal insignia.

Others are connected to prosperity, abundance or fertility, for example the full jug or pitcher and the flask of powder. The word used for the latter means 'increasing'.

The mirror may represent the idea of purity and light.

The meaning of the pair of fish is not that clear. A Śvetāmbara author from the 14th century, Vardhamāna-sūri, interpreted the auspicious symbols. He said that the fish may represent the god of Love, on whose banner they are shown, who has been defeated by the Jina and has come to worship him. Vardhamāna-sūri’s approach tried to connect the auspicious symbols with the Jinas and Jainism, although they can be seen as general signs of good luck in the Indian context.

First three Śvetāmbara symbols

The first three items in the Śvetāmbara list feature among the emblems of some of the Jinas among Śvetāmbaras and Digambaras.

First three Śvetāmbara auspicious symbols and Jina emblems

Symbol

Digambara Jina emblem

Śvetāmbara Jina emblem

svastika

Śītala – tenth Jina

Supārśva – seventh Jina

nandyāvarta

Supārśva – seventh Jina

Ara – 18th Jina

śrīvatsa

Śītala – tenth Jina

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