Part of our learning experience is encountering new vocabulary terms. Some of you are new to Dharma culture and Yogic philosophy, so some of the words and cultural “givens” that I reference in class will be unfamiliar. Though we try to avoid technical terms in class, when speaking freely I may forget or make a tangential statement with technical terms, some that are in Sanskrit.
It’s easy enough to look up words on the internet, but some terms can have dozens of potential meanings or interpretations. Most are unrelated to what we will learn in class. To help, I offer the following words and short definitions that relate to our practice to clear any confusion.
I think it will be rewarding to everyone to be familiar with some Sanskrit words and their meanings as it will ensure that we have a common vocabulary, I won’t have to explain them in class, and your study of art outside of class will be much more rewarding.
Entire books have been written on some of these terms and the wisdom traditions they represent. For the sake of brevity, only the Sanskrit terms used in this book that do not appear in English dictionaries are included, and definitions are short, addressing only how the word is used in this book. Curious readers are encouraged to dig deeper by consulting books in the “Resources and References” section.
Glossary of Sacred Art Terms
Includes excerpts from the Shakti Coloring Book: Goddesses, and the Power of Sacred Geometry ©2015 Ekabhumi Charles Ellik published by Sounds True. Boulder, CO.
abhaya: “peace, safety, security.” A symbolic hand gesture (mudrā) of assurance, with the fingers pointing upward. As an attribute, it represents fearlessness.
agni: “fire.” The fire element; the energetic quality of transformation, illumination, and heat, associated with upward movement, digestion, intelligence, charisma, mutability, the sense of sight, and the abdominal region of the body. Name of the god of fire.
ahaṁkāra: “I-maker.” The mental faculty of personal ego or individuation.
ākāśa: “space”, “spiritual sky.” The space element. An ethereal fluid filled with consciousness and power that pervades the manifest universe as well as the other Great Elements. It is associated with consciousness, expansiveness, the vibratory quality of sound, the sense of hearing, and the area of the body from the eyebrows to the top of the head. See also: mahābhūtas.
alankara: “ornamentation.” Invoking the power to attract (and thus protect) through physical and ritual beautification.
abide: remain; continue; stay. To accept without opposition; tolerate; endure.
acute (angle) when two lines connect, resulting in a narrow angle of less 90°; a sharp end.
aniconic: not forming a recognizable image; a non-figurative representation of a deity; objects representing but not depicting a deity.
ap or āpas: “water, watery.” The water element; the energetic quality of fluidity, connection, and nourishment, associated with emotions, bodily fluids, the sense of taste, and the pelvic region of the body.
apex: tip; top-most point; vertex; the summit.
artha: “wealth, objective, prosperity.” The activity of accumulation; the dharmic pursuit of wealth for basic material needs, quality of life, and the ability to be generous. One of the four aims of human life. See also dharma, kama, moksha.
āsana: “seat.”A physical posture or stance, usually with symbolic or ritual significance. Many are prescribed in yogic systems for improving physical and spiritual health.
asura: “anti-god.” Titans; opponents of devīs. Not to be confused with lesser demons or malevolent spirits; they are also known as the “jealous gods” who exemplify vices.
Axis: a central line; a line bisecting a body; the line around which a body rotates.
bhakti: “attachment, devotion, to partake in.” Religious fervor felt as love for a specific deity. A devotional spiritual practice based on faith and a longing for personal union with the divine.
bhāva: “to become.” A state of mind, sentiment, mood, condition, or emotion. Intrinsic states of being from which rasas arise.
bhukti: “enjoyment.” Worldly success.
bhūpura: “earth wall.” The large square area that encompasses most deity yantras, usually penetrated by four gates. It represents the earth element and symbolizes a deity’s ability to manifest her or his power in physical form.
bīja: “seed.” A sound form that carries an energy pattern. The potency of a mantra.
bindu: “seed.” The center of a yantra and/or the center of the universe.
buddhi: “intellect, reason, discernment.” The faculty of judgment. The intellectual or discriminating mind.
canvas: surface upon which art is created; a rough cotton fabric used for painting.
cylinder: A solid (or barrel shape) resulting from a single plane wrapped around a single axis, similar to a tube. An object with a circular diameter and parallel two flat ends.
chakra: “circle” or “wheel.” A circular object or group. Also used as a term for the many energetic nodes of the human subtle body, which are variously described as resembling lotuses or spinning wheels of colored light.
chitta: “mind, consciousness, thought.” The faculty of mind. Mental activity, or that aspect of mind where mental impressions are stored.
chitra: “shining” A deity
circumference: the outer boundary of a circular area; perimeter. The length of such a boundary.
devī: “shining,” “playful,” or “illuminated.” A deity, celestial being, or pattern of consciousness who exemplifies virtues. Masculine: deva.
dharma: “duty, virtue, morality, observance.” All that upholds the cosmic order. Spiritual duty or responsibility. Divine law. A righteous mode of conduct. Playing out one’s destiny in an ethical manner, both in relation with others and according to one’s own nature. One of the four aims of human life. See also artha, kāma, mokṣa.
dyad: Two units; group of two; couple, pair, dual entity. Two monads.
dikpāla (a.k.a., lokapāla ): “direction guard.” Specific guardian deities invoked during rituals to protect a sacred space. There are four cardinal directions (north, south, east, west) and the diagonals (northeast, southeast, northwest, southwest). Depending on the tradition, another deity will be invoked for the center or two for the zenith and nadir.
guna: “string,” “thread,” or “quality.” A state or principle or tendency of universal nature (prakṛiti). The three guṇas of sattvas, rajas, and tamas are present in various proportions in every aspect of reality.
hexad: Six units; group of six; sextet, sextuplet. Six monads.
hue: a gradation or variety of color.
icchā: “will, desire.” One of three primordial powers of the Great Goddess. See also kriyā, jnāna.
icon: an image, representation, or picture (usually of a deity or sacred personage).
Idā Nādī: “refreshing artery.” One of three main channels of the subtle body, originating and exiting on the left side and depicted as white (or pink) in color. It is associated with the moon, coolness, passivity, what is known, and inhalation.
jnāna: “knowledge.” One of three primordial powers of the Great Goddess. Super-consciousness, rather than book-knowledge or data. See also icchā, kriyā.
Jyotisha: “science of light.” The Vedic astrology of India, based upon visible lights in the sky.
kāla: “time (destiny, fate, death),” “black (or dark),” “art (skill),” or “segment.” A complex word that changes meaning depending on the context in which it is used. In regards to its use in (or as) the name of a deity, “time” and “black” are functionally inseparable.
kalākāra “art author.” Artist.
kāma: “desire, wish, pleasure.” Personal and social fulfillment. One of the four aims of human life. See also artha, dharma, moksha.
kriyā: “action.” One of three primordial powers of the Great Goddess. See also icchā, jnāna.
kundalinī-shakti: “coiled power.” An aspect of the subtle body that rests at the base of the spine in a coiled form when dormant. Many yogic practices are designed to “awaken” this latent power and direct it up Shushumna Nadi toward the crown, though it also moves spontaneously. A form of the Great Goddess.
liṅga: “sign, mark.” A symbol of ultimate consciousness beyond qualities (Shiva). It may be egg-shaped or phallic, usually made of stone and resting in a circular base, known as a pitha or yoni. It represents Shiva’s generative power and is analogous to the cosmic pillar of fire from which Shiva emerges in myth.
mahā: a prefix meaning “great.”
mahābhūtas: “great elements.” The five densest elements that comprise manifest reality: space (ākāsha), air (vāyu), fire (agni), water (ap or apas), and earth (prithvī).
mālā: “garland.” A string of prayer beads (rosary) or garland of fresh flowers.
manas: “perception, thought, mind.” The faculty of attention. That aspect of mind associated with volition and the organs of perception (jnānendriya) and action (karmendriya). Sometimes used as “mind” in general terms. See also chitta, ahaṁkāra, buddhi.
mandala: “circle.” A cosmic diagram. Seat of a deity. Sacred space.
mandorla: “almond.” See “vesica piscis.”
mantra: “mind device.” A power word. The energy pattern of a deity in linguistic or sound form. A phrase continuously repeated.
moksha: “liberation.” Release from all attachments, the wheel of karma, and rebirth.
monad: A basic irreducible unit; single entity.
mudrā: “seal.” A gesture (usually made with the hands) adopted to express a specific power or to direct the body’s flow of energy.
mukti: “salvation.” See also moksha.
murti: “embodiment, form.” The body or physical representation of a deity.
murtikar: “carver of forms.” A sculptor.
nādī: “artery.” Channels or conduits of energy in the subtle body. Of the many nadis, three are most important: Idā, Pingalā, and Sushumnā.
nadir: lowest point
nyasa: “applying.” Placement of mantras to ritually divinize the body. Consecration.
obtuse (angle) when two lines connect, resulting in a wide angle of more than 90°; not sharp; blunt.
Oṁ: “the Absolute, amen, so-be-it, yes.” The primordial sound of all manifestation.
pentad: Five units; group of five; quintet, quintuple entity. Four monads.
Piṅgalā Nādī: “reddish artery.” One of three main channels of the subtle body, originating and exiting on the right side, and depicted as red in color. It is associated with the sun, warmth, activity, knowing, and exhalation.
pīṭha: “seat.” The location of a deity. See also shākti pītha.
prakṛiti: “nature, original substance.” The primal motive force that is the basis of all action in the universe. The source of all matter and energy. The feminine half of divinity. See also purusha.
prāṇa: “breath.” Life force, vital air, subtle breath of the body that flows through the nādīs.
puruṣa: “spirit.” Both the individual soul (without gender) and the quiescent Supreme Soul. Pure consciousness that permeates all manifestation. The masculine half of divinity. See also prakriti.
rajas: “activity, passion.” The tendency of Nature to express motion, energy, transformation, and growth. The aspect of creation that upholds the activity of nature (prakriti). One of the three gunas.
recursive: “run back.” To occur again; return.
sādhanā: “realization, means (of attainment).” Regular spiritual practice or discipline.
saṃkalpa: “will; purpose; determination.” A vow; declaration of intent; ritual observance.
sat-kona: “hexagram.” A six-pointed star formed by two superimposed triangles.
sattva: “purity, equilibrium, essence, existence.” That aspect of Nature that is pure, harmonious, rarified, orderly, peaceful, and lucid. It is depicted as white in color. One of the three gunas.
shade: a variety of color mixed with black; a color of darker hue; lack of illumination.
Śakti: “to be able” or “power.” Primordial energy of universe, creativity, fertility. Personified as the feminine dynamic, yet present in all things and beings. A name or epithet for the Great Goddess that can also be used for any female.
Śiva: “kindly one” or “auspicious one.” A name for God in his role as destroyer. Along with Brahma (creation) and Vishnu (preservation), he is one of the three core deities of the Hindu tradition. The supreme god of Shaivites. The male dynamic (purusha). Consciousness.
spanda: “vibration.” The pulse of creation and destruction, the dance of Shiva.
Sthāṇu: pillar; motionless; fixed. A name of Śiva.
sthapati: “building-father.” A master architect.
Suṣumṇā Nādī: “gracious artery.” Central of three main channels of the subtle body, located within the spine, depicted as golden or cobalt blue in color. Neither hot nor cold in nature, it is described as “the cool fire.” The seven major chakras are apertures or expressions of Sushumnā. Many preliminary yogic practices are designed to clear blockages in this channel, allowing the primal energy of a yogi to rise from pelvic floor to crown. It is associated with the knower and the upward-and-outward movement of subtle energy. See also nādī, chakra, kundalinī-shakti.
symbol: something used for representing another thing, often something immaterial.
tamas: “darkness.” Lethargy, ignorance, entropy, inertia, decay. Nature of transformation. One of the three gunas. Density, contraction, resistance, dissolution.
Tantra: “expansion-device” or “spreading wisdom-that-saves.” A sacred text. A divinely revealed body of knowledge with practices for both spiritual liberation and worldly success.
tattva: “true principle, essence, elementary property.” The elements, states of realization, or aspects of reality described in yogic philosophy. There are various lists of different numbers of Tattvas, depending on the lineage, up to 36. They include the five great elements, or mahābhūtas.
tetrad: Four units; group of four; quartet, quadruple entity. Four monads.
tint: a variety of color mixed with white; a hue of less than full saturation; a pale color.
tone: value; reference to the amount of light absorbed or reflected.
triad: Three units; group of three; trio, triple entity. Three monads.
tri-guna: “triple thread.” Three primordial principles of manifest reality: sattvas, rajas, and tamas. See also guna.
trishul: “trident.” A weapon with a long handle and three sharp prongs. When held as an attribute of a deity, it represents will, knowledge, and action.
vesica piscis: “vessel of the fish” an elliptical almond-shaped figure with two points that resembles the bladder of a fish. Usually made by the intersection of two arcs or two over-lapping circles.
vertex: highest point; apex; summit; top.
vertices: pural form of “vertex;” many points.
yantra: “vessel; container; device.” A pattern of forms designed to focus attention and hold spiritual power. Usually comprised of geometric figures, letters, and mantras.
yoni: “source; origin; female genitals; womb.” The womb of the universe. A symbolic object representing the divine feminine (Śakti) in which a liṅga rests. A dish-like platform (sometimes square or triangular) in which a stone cylinder is inserted to create an icon of Śiva and Śakti conjoined in union.