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Shiva Jnana Dakshinamurti, Sri Vadapathira Kaliamman Temple, Singapore

One of the most attractive things about Singapore was, for us, the Hindu temples. They are rich in iconography, being veritable textbooks of Indian teaching--for those who know how to read them. If I lived in Singapore, I would probably while away the hours in these places, learning the symbolism and the stories behind these figures.

The image above is Shiva, the Lord of yogis. Here he is specifically Jnana Dakshinamurti, teacher of all wisdom.

The word "Dakshinamurti" means "one who is facing south (Sanskrit dakshina)," which is the direction of death and therefore change. True to form, the image you see here was found on the south wall of the Sri Vadapathira Kaliamman Temple in Little India.

In the form of Dakshinamurti, Shiva is shown seated under a banyan tree (the same kind of tree under which the Shakyamuni Buddha attained enlightenment). Around him are seated sages whom he is instructing. His right foot rests on a demon called "Apasmara," who signifies ignorance. (He is the same one seen under the foot of the well-known Shiva Nataraja, the "Dancing Shiva.")

Each hand of the image is significant. His upper right (to our left) holds a snake, signifying Tantric knowledge (think of the serpent that ascends the spine in Kundalini). In some forms of Dakshinamurti, this might be a set of beads used in prayer. The upper left hand holds the flame of illumination. Below that, the lower left grasps a book (a scripture). In other forms of Dakshinamurti, this might be a bundle of kusha grass, out of which a seat can be fashioned for a meditator.

The lower right hand looks similar to our modern "OK." This is Jnana Mudra ("Knowledge gesture"). It can be interpreted thus: the thumb is God, the index finger Man. When they are joined, knowledge (wisdom) is achieved. The three raised fingers represent three impurities (perhaps arrogance, illusion, and the bad karma of past deeds); when one achieves knowledge, these are removed (indicated by their separation from the God-Man union). Note that in some forms of Dakshinamurti, the lower right hand may be simply in the Abhaya Mudra, raised palm out, meaning "fear not."

(The description above is based on the one on Wikipedia, with some of my own interpretation added.)

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