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What are the 5 common symbols in mandalas?

What are the 5 common symbols in mandalas?

Mandalas are sacred circles that contain symbolic imagery. They are used in Hinduism and Buddhism as tools for meditation and rituals. Mandalas often represent the universe and serve as symbolic maps of the spiritual journey. Common mandala symbols represent core concepts and ideas in Eastern religions and philosophies. By understanding the meaning behind these symbols, we can gain insight into the spiritual teachings embedded in mandalas.

The 5 Most Common Mandala Symbols

Here are the 5 most common mandala symbols and their meanings:

1. The Lotus Flower

The lotus flower is one of the top symbols in mandalas. In Buddhism, it represents purity, spiritual awakening, and faithfulness. The flower grows in muddy waters but surfaces to bloom clean and fragrant. This represents the journey of the soul from the darkness of materialism to the light of spiritual awareness. The lotus symbolizes the determination to reach enlightenment despite obstacles.

2. The Conch Shell

The conch shell is associated with the sea and water deities. It signifies wisdom, power, authority, and sovereignty. In Buddhism, the conch’s spiral shape represents the continuous cycle of life, death, and rebirth. It is used like a trumpet horn to announce enlightenment and the truth of the dharma, the Buddhist teachings. Overall, this shell symbol embodies the ocean’s vastness and the sound of dharma spreading universally.

3. The Wheel

The wheel, called the dharmachakra, represents the Buddha’s teachings and the Eightfold Path to enlightenment. Its circle denotes the perfection of dharma, the Buddhist principles. The wheel’s motion reflects the continuous evolution of the universe, wisdom, and meditation practices. It often has 8 spokes for the Eightfold Path and 24 spokes total for the hours in a day. The wheel shows Buddhism as a spiritual path that leads to awakening.

4. The Banner of Victory

This Buddhist banner symbolizes the triumph of wisdom, learning, and spiritual insight over ignorance. It is found in mandalas for ceremonies and rituals. Two common designs are the dhvaja and ketu. The dhvaja is a triangular pennant flag representing the element air. The ketu is an elaborate umbrella on a long handle, denoting royalty, honor, and authority. Both symbolize the Buddha’s victorious awakening and teachings.

5. The Kalachakra Symbol

The Kalachakra symbol integrates teachings about time cycles with the path to enlightenment. It has a complex design with circles, triangles, swastikas, half-moons, and other figures. Each part represents a deity, element, stage, or concept related to Kalachakra philosophy. Overall, it maps out the cycles of time and the spiritual journey to awakening. The symbol empowers meditation practices for transcending time.

The Significance of Recurring Mandala Symbols

These common mandala symbols reflect core principles and beliefs in Hinduism and Buddhism. Here are some key reasons why the same symbols reappear in different mandalas:

  • They represent universal concepts and established traditions in Hindu and Buddhist culture.
  • Using traditional symbols maintains symbolic consistency within and across mandalas.
  • The symbols allow mandalas to be “read” more easily by those familiar with the religion’s iconography.
  • Recurrent symbols help mandalas anchor and convey spiritual teachings to large audiences over time.
  • Seeing the same meaningful symbols in different contexts reinforces their significance.

In essence, the repetitive nature of mandala symbols allows them to effectively communicate meaning, tradition, and doctrine over centuries. Artists create endless variations using a defined visual language readers can interpret.

The Lotus Flower Symbol

Now let’s take a deeper look at the significance of the most ubiquitous mandala symbol – the lotus flower.

The Lotus Flower’s Meaning in Hinduism

In Hinduism, the lotus flower meaning is strongly tied to its use in mythology regarding prominent gods like Brahma, Vishnu, and Lakshmi:

  • The creator god Brahma emerged from a lotus sprouting from Vishnu’s navel, leading to the flower’s association with origin, divinity, and purity.
  • Lord Vishnu, protector of the universe, is depicted holding a lotus that symbolizes his creative powers.
  • The goddess of fortune, Lakshmi, sits atop a fully bloomed pink lotus as a sign of living in the spiritual world while unattached to the material one.

Overall, the flower represents the attainment of spiritual enlightenment, breaking through the veils of illusion and materialism. It rises up unstained from the depths of existence, carrying divine powers and wisdom.

The Lotus in Buddhism

In Buddhism, the lotus has related but distinct symbolic meanings:

  • Its rise from mud represents the journey from suffering to spiritual awakening.
  • The fully bloomed flower embodies complete enlightenment and non-attachment.
  • The rose-colored lotus indicates the history and achievements of Buddha.
  • A lotus seat or throne signifies Buddhist teachings and the Buddha’s ability to rise above worldly concerns.

Overall, the flower epitomizes overcoming obstacles on the path to enlightenment. It complements Buddhist doctrines about escaping attachment and reaching nirvana.

Key Characteristics of the Lotus Flower

The lotus possesses distinctive traits that contribute to its spiritual symbolism:

  • Roots planted in mud represent earthly, everyday sufferings and attachments.
  • The stem rising through water embodies the journey through meditation and spirituality.
  • Delicate white and pink blossoms convey purity, grace, and transcended desire.
  • Lustrous sheen and pleasant scent indicate the glory of enlightenment.
  • Circular leaves resting atop water symbolize being in the world but not of it.

These qualities make the lotus a living metaphor for spiritual awakening, conveying central Hindu and Buddhist teachings.

The Stages of the Lotus Flower

The growth of the lotus also carries spiritual meaning:

  • The closed bud submerged underwater represents potential, the beginning of the journey.
  • As the bud emerges, it signifies increasing awareness and the start of upward growth.
  • The fully opened bloom connotes full enlightenment and rising above illusions.
  • The withering flower conveys the cycle of life, death, and rebirth.

Thus, the lotus integrates meanings related to origins, developing spirituality, and transcendence across its life stages.

Lotus Flower Color Symbolism

The lotus flower’s color holds additional meaning:

  • White lotuses express purity and spiritual perfection.
  • Pink lotuses represent the history of Buddha and spiritual awakening.
  • Blue lotuses convey wisdom, knowledge, and logic.
  • Purple lotuses denote mysticism and esoteric teachings.
  • Gold lotuses symbolize all achievement, especially enlightenment.

Red and pink lotuses also relate to the heart chakra, which bridges the physical and spiritual worlds. Overall, lotus colors align with meanings across several dimensions.

The Prevalence of the Lotus Flower Symbol

The lotus flower appears prolifically in Hindu and Buddhist symbology because it powerfully embodies core tenets:

  • Its pure beauty reflects detachment from worldly desires and overcoming hardship.
  • Unfolding petals represent expanding awareness and spiritual awakening.
  • Uplifted state conveys rising above attachments and reaching enlightenment.
  • Circular leaves signify illumination, transcendence, and universal truth.
  • Death and revival depict the endless cycle of time, life, and rebirth.

The lotus integrates multiple dimensions into one elegant flower rife with spiritual meaning. That’s why it frequently blooms across mandalas, artworks, texts, and holy sites.


The 5 most prevalent mandala symbols – the lotus, conch shell, wheel, victory banner, and Kalachakra – reflect core Hindu and Buddhist beliefs. Their recurrence across mandalas reinforces their spiritual significance. In particular, the lotus flower embodies illumination through its form, stages of growth, and colors. It condenses vital religious concepts into a single pure bloom. By understanding common mandala symbols like the lotus, we can appreciate the layers of meaning in sacred art and ritual.