Eight is the Number Astamangala

Festival Issue 71 Jul, 2010
Text by Arina Sherchan

Life is full of twists and turns, triumphs and defeats, successes and failures, and we have to face the many bumps ahead. But, sometimes a few auspicious or lucky charms you own can direct you along the tricky path of life. We take a laughing Buddha, a frog with a coin in the mouth, a cross, gods, goddesses, their miniatures and signs as powerful talismans to guide us through. One such group of auspicious signs is the “Astamangala”.
The astamangala are the eight auspicious signs that are White parasol, two fishes, Sankha, Dhvaja, Srivatsa, Kalasa, Padma and Chamaru. These are found all together or singly as a theme inscribed in stone, metal, wood or paintings. These auspicious and magnificent emblems are also believed to be gifts from celestial beings to Shakyamuni on his attainment of Buddhahood and enlightenment and are the eight auspicious symbols that are displayed during the performance of vrata(Vrata’ means performance of any ritual voluntarily over a particular period of time, religious vows), ceremonies, blessing of one’s home and an elaborate fire sacrifice ceremony marked on paper, cloth or metal. Ashta-Mangala is a

Sanskrit word meaning the eight good luck symbols (asta means eight and mangal means auspicious sign/ performance).

Umbrella or White Parasol

The white parasol protects one from evil desires. It points to the power experienced in the Buddhist life of detaching yourself from the world. It also symbolizes being safe from harm, like illness, harmful forces, obstacles and difficulties, yet enjoying the result of resisting them under a cool shade of umbrella.

Two Fishes or Golden Fish
It is the first incarnation of Lord Vishnu and therefore maybe associated with him.The two fishes symbolize being rescued from the ocean of misery of things existing on the earth, but mainly represent good fortune in general. It also signifies that living beings who practice the ‘dharma’ need not have fear of falling in the ocean of suffering, and can freely migrate like fishes in water (rebirth).

The Conch or Sankha

The sound produced through the sankha symbolizes goodness in turning to the right side of things and proclaiming the glory of the saints by its humming and continuous sound. Another depiction of the sankha is as a horn which shows “deep” and melodious sound. The sound of the sankha is far reaching to call or awaken the disciples from their slumber of ignorance for the well being of all. In Hindu tradition, the conch shell seems to have been extensively used in wars by ancient Indians.

The Dhvaja or the Victory Banner
The Dhvaja depicts the victory of Buddhism over ignorance, disharmony and all the negativity surrounding this world. A Tibetan house thus has dhvajas spreading along the terrace in different shapes, colors and sizes.

Srivatsa, Endless Knot or Mystic Diagram
Srivatsa , the endless knot shows that life is eternal and rebirth exists as a web of karma and its effect. It is also the sign of infinity representing the wisdom of Buddha and the union of knowledge and compassion. The diagram also represents rebirth, as endless life.

Kalasa or The Treasure Vase
This vase is the treasure of all spiritual wealth and is believed to hold “Amrita” the sacred water which is said to be an elixir of immorality. It is also taken as a sign of the endless riches of the Buddhist teachings. However, it also symbolizes long life, prosperity and all the goodness in the world.

The lotus signifies a sign of purity. It refers to complete purification of the body from the head to toe, and the beginning of wholesome deeds of liberation. The lotus can also be looked upon as the life of Buddha, as it grows from mud (samsara), through the water (purification) and arising out of dirt or clean water to become a beautiful flower (enlightenment). The whiteness of the lotus represents purity. The stem stands for the practice of Buddhist teachings as the flower rises above (mud) worldly existence, giving rise to purity of the mind.

Chamaru, Fly whisk
Chamaru, which is made up of yak tail to which is attached a silver staff, symbolizes tantric expressions. It is used during ritual recitation and for fanning the deities during religious ceremonies. Hindu deities and semi divine beings and attendants often are found holding it.