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Symbolism in Indian Art

Indian traditional art is a world in its own right. Its distinct language and symbols touch upon different aspects of life and life lessons. The symbolism in Indian art weaves together history, culture and social narratives. Traditional Indian art motifs are more than mere decorative pieces of the craft. They were used as a means to convey a message. The land of India has birthed several diverse communities which dwelled from place to place. Their observations, understanding and artistic representation of those became the discourse of their era. And, as gifted as the human mind is, it tends to attach different connotations to surroundings and environment. So the symbolism in Indian art might be ambiguous to understand, nevertheless is interesting to explore the vivid imagination and interpretation of cultures and communities.

Symbolism in Indian Art – The Elephant

Symbol of Strength, Wisdom and Riches

This gentle giant creature of mother nature has been depicted umpteen times in Indian traditional art. In Hindu mythology, the elephant is denoted as Lord Ganesha, the deity who banishes the evil obstacles. He is revered as the god of beginnings and wisdom. Also, emanating from its age-old existence, the elephant is believed to have a strong memory, making the wisdom attribute justifiable.

Symbolism in Indian Art – The Swastika

Symbol of Auspiciousness

The swastika is an ancient symbol widely used in Indian traditional art, representing auspiciousness, prosperity, and good fortune. It appears in rangoli designs, textiles, and temple carvings. The swastika is a sacred symbol in Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism. It represents the eternal nature of the universe, with its four arms symbolising the four directions or the cyclical nature of life. Despite its misappropriation in the 20th century, in Indian culture, it remains a positive and revered symbol.

Symbolism in Indian Art – The Sun

Source of Life and Energy 

One must have spotted this motif excessively used in Madhubani paintings. Madhubani art originated from Mithila region which has predominantly been an agricultural society. The Sun plays a crucial role in the growth of their fields and crops. Therefore, the community of Mithila revered it as a deity – the Sun god.

In Hinduism, the sun is worshipped as the god Surya, the source of all life and energy. The sun motif represents vitality, power, and the eternal nature of the cosmos. It is also associated with various festivals and rituals honouring the sun’s life-giving properties.

Symbolism in Indian Art – The Parrot

Harbinger of Love and Devotion

Parrot is mainly associated with Rajasthani miniature paintings. It symbolises love, devotion and communication. It denotes a strong between two individuals. In Hindu mythology, the parrot is associated with Lord Kamadev, the god of love. It represents sweet, eloquent speech and is often depicted in scenes of love and courtship. Parrots are also seen as messengers, symbolizing communication and devotion.

Symbolism in Indian Art – The Horses

Symbols of Power and Movement

The depiction of horses in Indian traditional art likely resembles what the animal is understood to be. Known for its speed and strength, horses are often used in traditional Indian art. The Rajput miniature paintings depict horses featured in battle scenes and royal hunts, symbolizing the valour and nobility of Rajput warriors. Whereas in Pattachitra it is depicted in scenes from the epics, such as the Mahabharata, symbolizing the heroic and dynamic aspects of the narrative. Likewise in Madhubani, they appear in mythological and folklore scenes, representing power and movement.

Symbolism In Indian Art – The Birds

Messengers and Symbols of Freedom

If you are a Rooftop artist or a user of the app, you will often notice the online workshops centred towards one particular style of art with a particular motif. We often host workshops wherein bird symbols are illustrated in different art forms.

Birds in Indian art symbolize freedom, spirituality, and the connection between the earthly and the divine. They are often seen as messengers between the human and spiritual realms. In Kalamkari birds such as parrots and peacocks are central motifs, symbolizing beauty and divine connection. Whereas in Madhubani paintings birds like the owl are symbols of wisdom and are often depicted in auspicious contexts.


Each motif in traditional Indian art narrates a tale or divulges more about the community. Be it religious, occupational or mythological basis, the motifs are an artistic expression which makes Indian art unique. By understanding the significance of these motifs, we gain a deeper appreciation for the art forms and the cultural heritage they represent. Indian traditional art, with its intricate motifs and vibrant symbolism, continues to be a testament to the country’s rich and diverse cultural legacy.

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