A HINDU SYMBOL
BY SURUJRATTAN RAMBACHAN
One of the most familiar sights in our country’s religious landscape is the Jhandi or the bamboo pole carrying flags of different colours often bearing the pictures of Hindu deities. The presence of these Jhandis has also been a source of conflict especially when during the Divali celebrations they are erected in public spaces. Jhandis are normally planted after the performance of a pooja (Hindu rituals). Among the familiar jhandis are the red flags for Hanuman, the black for Sanichar, the blue for Shiva, the white for Saraswati, and the yellow for Lord Krishna. My grandfather, the late Pundit Rambachan, once told me that the jhandi also pointed out to weary Hindu travelers Hindu homes where they would be welcomed and where they would be able to get food, water and rest; this of course during the period when long distances were traveled on foot. Today jhandis may not serve the same social purpose but it does continue to indicate the Hindu presence. It makes a statement of cultural and religious identity. In addition, the hoisting of a flag is generally a symbol of a victory over an enemy. The Jhandhi is no different. It represents a spiritual victory of a person’s higher ideals and human values over the lower qualities. This is the idea of pooja, to transcend one’s baser qualities and to rise in divinity.
For many Hindus it is an annual duty to plant their Jhandis after annual poojas. Indeed a pooja will not be considered complete if their Jhandis are not installed. In some new housing developments, deeds of ownership contain clauses which prohibit the placing of flags, a development which may very well be contrary to social and religious traditions and which may be violating religious freedoms as enshrined in the Constitution. In the State of Florida, a Guyanese national now residing in the USA was debarred from planting a Jhandi. In many instances in the USA the Jhandis are kept low and hidden between clumps of bushes.
What does the presence of the Jhandi indicate?
Primarily, it indicates a “sankalp”, a covenant, a spiritual commitment to faithfully live the values and messages enshrined in the life of the particular deity represented by the Jhandi. For example, a Hindu who plants a Jhandi for Lord Hanuman is publicly committing himself to a life of dedicated service and to being an embodiment of the teachings of Lord Rama by his own life examples. A Hindu who plants a Jhandi for Mother Lakshmi is committing to becoming an adequate provider for the family and community, just as Mother Laksmi is the provider of the material resources to Lord Vishnu who in turn uses those resources to sustain the universe of beings. A Jhandi is a visible symbol of commitment, and, in that home where it is flown, it signals an invitation by the householder to the public to become a reality check on the noble practices expected and the promises made. A Jhandi is therefore a serious moral and sacred promise to pursue with diligence the spiritual life.
Why is the bamboo used to fly the Lord’s flag?
I am sure that there are references to the bamboo in the description of Hindu rituals which name the bamboo as the tree to be used to plant a Jhandi. My. own understanding leads me to advance two reasons as to why bamboo is used to plant a Jhandi. Firstly it is tall and straight and secondly, it is long lasting. Both treasons are tied to the symbolism of the bamboo in terms of its use for Jhandis. At the top of the bamboo pole is placed the triangular piece of cloth with the picture of the deity worshipped during the pooja. A picture or a murti of the Hindu deity is very sacred and is treated with reverence. Flying the Jhandi on a very tall bamboo pole is a symbol of reverence, as much as it is a symbol of the fact that God is supreme, the highest to whom man looks up, while He , God, looks over man. Hindus also try to use as straight bamboos as is feasible. This indicates the upright life that is expected of the individual.
The bamboo is also placed in a hole filled with milk and other grains. What does this signify? The bamboo pole can be seen as representative of the human body. The base of the bamboo represents the human feet, the top the human head, with its thoughts, mind and intelligence to choose. The jhandi placed in a hole filled with milk and other grains represents the commitment of the human being to stand deeply and firmly on the pillar of purity (milk), supporting the highest moral and spiritual principles (flag at the top), and committing to make choices that upholds the values which the propitiated deity represents. To benefit from the pooja the devotee must live those values after the pooja. These values are the noble human values that include honesty, integrity, righteousness and truth amongst others. The planting of a jhandi in a hole filled with milk represents a commitment to live a life standing firm on these human values. If one considers that the top of the bamboo pole where the flag with the picture of the deity flies, is representative of the head that should be used to make intelligent choices, one then clearly understands that in putting up a jhandi one is committing to a mental and physical transformation towards divinity. When one’s life is founded in purity, one chooses nobly!
The significance of the items on the Jhandi
On the body of the jhandi is tied a piece of cloth. This is similar in its symbolism to the cord (raksha) tied around the wrist during a pooja. It is both a cord of protection and a cord of commitment. It is a cord of protection against any evil temptations. It is a cord of commitment to eliminate evil and uphold righteousness.
Sindoor, chandan and hardi are also placed on the jhandi. Sindoor represents the commitment to be loyal and to be devoted to the Lord. It was sindoor that Hanuman saw Seeta placing on her head and on enquiring, was told that it was a symbol of her complete loyalty and devotion to her husband , Sri Raam. Hanuman also rubbed his entire body with sindoor.
Hardi is yellow in color. It is the symbol of the earth. It represents humility. Without humility, a life of spirituality and spiritual rewards cannot be achieved.
Chandan is normally placed on the head of a murti and of devotees. The Priest also places chandan at the side of the ears and on the throat. This indicates that one is promising to hear that which is good and to speak that which is good. It is a promise to ignore loose talk, gossip and ignoble thoughts. The chandan placed on the forehead represents the spiritual eye. It is a reminder that we must keep intact the highest vision which is the pursuit of Moksha, freedom from sorrow.
All of the above items placed on a straight bamboo pole with the flag attached to the top, and planted in a hole filled with milk and other grains symbolize an upright human being, deeply rooted in spiritual values, filled with devotion and humility and intelligently making life choices that support a God centered life.
By the way, the bamboo lasts a very long time and is also known to grow where it is planted. This in itself is a promise to sustain the spiritual life.Share on Facebook