The Hindus were the first to use parables to explain complex moral and spiritual truths. It is their contribution to mankind.
Buddha spoke in parables almost always. So did Jesus Christ. The inspiration came from his Buddhist teachers.
The Panchatantra is a book of parables. Perhaps it is the most widely published book after the Bible. It was designed to teach the complex discipline to Raja Dharma to the sons of a king, who could not understand it except through stories. It became the simplest way to teach complex ideas. No people have produced so many stories as the Hindus for the moral education of its members.
An idol can be a symbol of God. It stands for the creator who cannot be known. A symbol can be simple. For example, a stone idol. But the complex Nataraja figure is a symbol of the vast universe.
The dancing Shiva symbolises his five activities: Srishti, Sthithi, Samhara, Maya and Anugrapha. Ananda Coomaraswamy, an authority on Indian civilisation, says of the Nataraja: ?How amazing the range of thoughts of these rishi artists, who conceived a figure as this?!?
The Nataraja is thus the symbol of the universe. His three eyes represent the sun, moon and fire. The Ganga is the symbol of the life-giving waters. The jata represents jnana (knowledge). The snake represents transmigration of souls and the crescent?growth and eternity.
One hand of the four-armed Shiva holds the drum, representing sound and creation. Another hand holds fire, the symbol of destruction. With the third hand, he tells man that he (man) is not a plaything in the cosmic process. With the fourth hand, he invites man to take refuse in him.
The demon Apasmara represents ignorance. The lotus pedestal on which the Lord stands represents the Hrdaya Kamal (Lotus heart) with 16 petals representing 16 rays of consciousness. Muyalaka, the dwarfish demon, represents the enemies of enlightenment?kama, krodha, lobha, moha, mada, matsara. The lifted foot denotes liberation of the souls. The Shilpa Shastra says that the prabha represents the sun'sdisc. In his right ear, he has a man'sear-ring, in the left ear, a woman'sear-ring, thus exemplifying the male-female principle. There are 21 flaring rays. They are symbols of light.
Here is the most imaginative artistic expression of the cosmic process. In its deep insight and sweep of imagination the figure of the Nataraja is without an equal. It is the greatest masterpiece of Indian art. Here is a vision of the universe in its elemental state with its ceaseless dance of energy.
Coomaraswamy says: ?Whatever be the origin of the dance of Shiva, it became, in time, the noblest image of the activity of God of which any art or religion can be proud.?
Many of the Saivite saints, who have been enraptured by Nataraja'scosmic dance at Tillai (Chitambaram) have given eloquent expression to their houndless devotion to the Nataraja in their hymns of rare beauty and eternal appeal.
Nataraja may not be a complete picture of the universe. But the artist has captured in metal the essential features of the universe we live in. This is symbolicism at its best. There is nothing similar to this in the world.
The Mahabharata is about the battle between cousins?the Pandavas and Kauravas. But it is also an allegory of the battle within one'smind?between the lower and higher order of nature, between our imperfection and the quest for perfection.
In a way, epics are mostly allegorical. They carry a parallel story. Thus, the Mahabharata is a battle fought within everyone. Here the supreme intelligence in man is the charioteer ( the guiding principle in the battle of life). Arjuna is the individual soul. The horses are sense organs, the body is the chariot and mind is the rein.
Duryodhana represents wickedness. Bhishma stands for tradition. Drona represents knowledge and power associated with injustice. Karna stands for ability, skill and good conduct, vitiated by bad association. Vidura represents the power of the human intellect and statesmanship, but also their limitation.
It was India which set the pattern for parables, symbols and allegories. Of the parables, an Oxford don says that India not only educated the world for centuries, but also entertained it.