Glossary


Ascetic
An ascetic is a spiritual seeker who often lives in solitude, and abstains from all normal forms of sustenance. Such conditions of life are thought to produce superhuman spiritual energy and insight. In Hindu art and literature, Shiva may be depicted as a meditating ascetic. In Buddhist art, the Buddha is often represented as a man on the brink of starvation.

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Avataras
An avatara is the descent of a God or Goddess into human or animal form. Some of the most famous avataras in Hinduism are those of the God Vishnu. In the sacred stories of the Gods (Puranas), he appears as a boar, fish, man-lion, pigmy, Rama, and Krishna.

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Buddhism
The Buddha ("enlightened one") was originally considered a great sage, and teacher of spiritual wisdom. His ultimate achievement was to transcend the cycle of rebirth. About 500 years after his death (his traditional dates are 563 - 483 B.C.E.), a sect arose called the Great Vehicle (Mahayana). They believed that it was the duty of enlightened beings, called Bodhisattvas, to help others achieve spiritual fulfilment.

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Devi-Mahatmya
See Kali.

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Goddess
In the art and literature of Hinduism and Buddhism, Goddesses can be represented as distinct individuals, like Kali the Terrible, Lakshmi the Life-giving, and Tara the Saviouress. Or, this variety of divine female beings is seen as a single Great Goddess, called Maha (great) Devi (goddess) in medieval Hindu sacred texts.

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Hinduism
Hinduism evolved from a mixture of ancient cultures. The Indus Valley civilization was established about 2500 B.C.E., in what is now northwestern India. Some images found on seals from this period may be forerunners of later Hindu deities, like Shiva. After the invasion of this area by Aryan-speaking peoples, there developed an intermixture of beliefs, which later came to be called Hinduism.

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Indus Valley
"Indus Valley civilization" refers to one or both of the urban civilizations which flourished in the area of northwestern India around 2500 B.C.E. They are Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa, and were first excavated in the early 1930s. (See Hinduism)

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Kali
Kali first appears around 600 B.C.E. in Hindu literature. She is a ferocious warrior with a terrifying appearance. In a famous text called the Devi-Mahatmya (Book of the Great Goddess), Kali is described as black-coloured, with tongue hanging out, wearing a garland of skulls. Her attributes, like skull-bone bowl, and scythe and hammer, are meant to assure the devotee of her infinite power to conquer and destroy the bonds of the individual ego.

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Lotus
Images of the lotus appear everywhere in the religious art of Asia. From earliest times, it has also been a complex religious and cosmological symbol. The lotus flower symbolizes the universe itself, which was created out of the dream of Vishnu, one of the three main forms of the sacred in Hinduism (see Vishnu on Ananta). As a lotus arose from Vishnu's naval, it bore upon its petals the God Brahma, who built the universe according to Vishnu's direction.

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Middle Way
The Middle Way is a code of conduct preached by the Buddha, to be followed both by monks and laypersons. This code focuses on morally good speech, livelihood, action, effort, mindfulness, concentration, opinion, and intention. This guide for living is called the Noble Eight-Fold Path.

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Mudras
Sculptures and images of the Buddha show him with his hands in different positions. These hand positions are called mudras, and each one symbolizes an important event in the life and teachings of the Buddha.

dharmachakra Bhumisparsa dhyana
Dharmachakra Bhumisparsa Dhyana
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Pantheon
The word Pantheon has come to mean a particular group of deities, in this case those belonging to Hinduism. It is sometimes said that there are millions of divinities in Hinduism; all the well-known ones, and many too obscure to be recorded.

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Puja
Puja is the act of worship, which usually centres around a sacred object or image. Some traditional modes of worship, like the creation of ritual fires during temple ceremonies -- including weddings -- began in Vedic times. The Vedas are sacred texts belonging to the Aryan-speaking people believed to originate in an ancient oral tradition extending back to about 3000 B.C.E. These belonged to the Aryan-speaking people who conquered the Indus Valley civilization. Goddess worship and some kinds of animal sacrifices are thought to derive from indigenous non-Vedic practices.

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Shakti
Shakti is the power of God to create, and to become manifest in the world. This power is personified in art as a Goddess. Cults which worship the Goddess are called Shakti cults; their individual devotees are called Shaktas.

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Transformations
The Divine can be manifested in many different forms, with various roles, personalities and attributes. In art and literature, Shiva can become Shiva Bhairava, Parvati can become Kali, and so on. The concept of changeability of appearance is fundamental to Hinduism and later forms of Buddhism, and promotes awareness of the fallibility of human perceptions of the universe.

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Urna / Ushnisha
The earliest images of the Buddha were made around the second century B.C.E., long after his death (see Buddhism). These images reflect a belief in the god-like powers of the Buddha. According to sacred texts, the body of Buddha bears 32 marks of the superman. One is the ushnisha, the bump on top of his head, which symbolized wisdom. Another is the urna, the mark between his eyes, sometimes depicted as a third "all-seeing" eye, or a source of light and power.

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