Meaning, Significance and Symbolism of Shri or Sri

Shri

by Jayaram V

Summary: This essay is about the meaning, significance and symbolism of the sacred syllable Shri (or Sri) in Hinduism and its hidden connection with Hri.


Known as Shri, I possess the divine qualities of intelligence (vijnana) and strength (bala). My further emanation is known as Pradyumna, who is the supreme Purusha. Lakshmi Tantra


Two of the most sacred words of Hinduism are Aum and Shri. Aum is invariably used as a prefix to the names of gods and goddesses and associated with prayers and invocations to impart to them sanctity and purity. The very chanting of Aum is considered beneficial, and so also any contemplation upon it. In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali defined the practice of devotional contemplation upon the individual Self (Isvara Paridhana) as the chanting of Aum with concentration. Aum is also profusely used in Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism as a purifier and stabilizer.

The Upanishads extol Aum as Brahman himself in word form (Akshara Brahma). The sound of Aum is equated to the sound of life breath (pranava nada). Symbolically, the three letters in Aum and the silence that follows them represent the four states of consciousness namely, the waking state, the dream state, the deep sleep state and the transcendental state. The sacred texts of Hinduism affirm that by constantly chanting Aum and contemplating upon it one can purify the mind and body and achieve liberation.

The syllable Shri (also spelled as Sri and Shree) is equally popular and sacred in Hinduism. It is used in prayers and invocations, and before the names of gods and goddesses, as a prefix, to denote their purity and power, and their connection with the Mother Goddess. It is also prefixed, as a mark of respect, before the names of honorable men in society. Symbolically, ‘Shri’ represents the Mother Goddess, especially, Lakshmi, the Goddess of Wealth. Traditionally, it is associated with the names of all the gods and goddesses and their epithets. Thus, you have Shri Maha Vishnu, Shri Krishna, Shri Maha Ganapathi, Shri Lalitha, Shri Devi, and so on. The Sanskrit word Siri, meaning wealth, is derived from Shri only. Siri is also the Sanskrit equivalent of the root word Ceres (of grains) in Latin, from which the English word cereal is derived.

Etymological symbolism

Etymologically 1, Shri is a combination of two sacred syllables or sounds (bija mantras) namely ‘Sha’ or 'Shi' and ‘Hri.’ The first letter or sound refers to God (Shiva) and the second one to the Goddess. In other words, Shri symbolizes creation itself, which is a combination of Purusha (Sha or Shi) and Prakriti (Hri). Sha (Shankara) or Shi (Shiva) is also the first sound in the name of Shiva. Sha means cutter or destroyer of impurities. Shi means auspiciousness, purity, tranquility, good fortune, health peace, prosperity, etc. Shiva is the god who possesses these auspicious qualities. Hence, he is Shivam (pure and auspicious).

Hri forms the part of Hrim or Hreem, which is a sacred syllable. Used in Tantric rituals, it is as powerful as Aum itself and has the same significance as Aum when used in conjunction with the names of the Mother Goddess. Hrim is the seed mantra of the Goddess herself. Symbolically, it represents the heart (hridaya) of creation, or the Mother Goddess, and all her aspects and manifestations, who are the moving forces (chaitanya shakti) of creation and chiefly responsible for its continuity and existence. In Vaishnavisim, Hri is the heart of Vishnu, or goddess Maha Lakshmi who has his heart as her abode.

In Tantra, Hrim symbolizes brilliance, consciousness, beauty, purity, wisdom and creative power of the Goddess when she is actively engaged in creation. It is formed by the combination of four other sacred syllables namely Ha, Ra, Ee and Mm, represented by Shiva, Prakriti, undifferentiated primal mother, creative power and existence respectively. The silence that follows its utterance represents liberation, which is usually depicted in the images as a dot (bindu).

The syllable Shi has the purifying power and Hri, the healing power. Their combination makes the resultant Shri a powerful sound, having the spiritual and transformative power in the ritual and spiritual practices of Hinduism.

Literal and symbolic meaning

In Sanskrit, Shri has numerous meanings. Some of them are reproduced below.

  1. Wealth, riches, prosperity, abundance
  2. Royalty, majesty, grandeur, dignity
  3. Exalted position or status
  4. Beauty, grace, splendor, elegance, luster
  5. Virtue, excellence, perfection, brilliance, intelligence
  6. Super human powers and abilities
  7. A person who has attained the triple aims of human life, Dharma, Artha and Kama
  8. Lakshmi, Goddess of Wealth, who possess all these qualities
  9. A reference to certain flowers and tress such as lotus, bilwa, cloves, sarala, etc.

Apart from names, Shri is also used along with other nouns. For example, shrimat and shrimathi refers to husband and wife respectively. Shrikanth, Shriranga and Shrigarbha, Shrivatsa, Shrivatsa, Shrivallabha, Shrivarah, Shrinivasa, are epithets of Mahavishnu. Shrisakha refers to Kubera, Shrinandana to Rama, Shrijah to Manmadha, Shriphala to Indigo plant and Shrikhanda to sandalwood. Shrinagara is the name of a city in Jammu and Kashmir. It also refers to the abode of Lakshmi and Vishnu. Shri Chakra means a sacred circle, the circumference or the circle of the earth, a wheel of Indra’s chariot, and a sacred diagram (yantra), which is used in the worship of the Mother Goddess. One of the famous Creation Hymns of the Rig-Veda is known as Shri Suktam.

In the past, some kings and prominent people used to put two or more Shris before their names to denote their superiority or importance. Strictly speaking, this is a vain practice, and no significance arises from adding more shris to the name, other than elevating the ego. One Shri is sufficient since it contains in itself the whole creation, God and the Goddess.

Associated concepts

Shri Vidya

Shri Vidya is the study, learning or knowledge of Shri or the Mother Goddess. In the Shakta traditions, the Mother Goddess is the Supreme Being, and Shri Vidya is one of the means to attain oneness with her. Its essential purpose is peace and prosperity upon earth and liberation upon death. Shri Vidya is similar in nature and purpose to Brahma Vidya, except that the object of study and worship is divine Mother rather than Brahman. The goddess may be worshipped in any form. She can be Lakshmi, Saraswathi, Durga, Tripura Sundari, or any other goddess of one’s choice.

However, according to some, Shri Vidya is the study and worship of Goddess Lalita since it is mentioned in the Lalita Sahasranamam (a prayer with the thousand names of Lalita). Shri Vidya may be pursued according to the traditional, Vedic means (vedachara) or the unconventional tantric means (vamachara). Both approaches have a long history. Many prayers and mantras are associated with Shri Vidya. Devi Khadgamala Stotram (the chant of the garland of swords) is one of them. It is said that initiation and the guidance of a guru are important to achieve success in its practice.

Shri Chakra

According to the Tantric and Shakta traditions, the Mother Goddess can be worshipped as an image (Pratima) or as a Mandala or Yantra (mystic diagram), drawn on metal, paper or other substances. Anyone can worship the images, but to worship the Yantras, one has to attain certain spiritual purity and progress, and earn the required merit. The mystic diagram (yantra) which is used to worship the Mother Goddess in various Hindu rituals and penances is known as Shri Chakra or Shri Yantra. People not only worship it but also keep it in their homes for its beneficent effects. You may also find it being installed in many Hindu temples, in a two-dimensional or three-dimensional form. This is common especially in case of the Shakti temples. According to the legends, Adi Shankaracharya installed them in many major Shakti temples to neutralize her fierce nature and invoke her pleasant aspects.

Shri Chakra is a symbolic and graphical representation of the Mother Goddess, which represents her numerous manifestations, aspects and power as circles, triangles, rectangles and syllables. Specifically, it represents the macrocosm (cosmos) and the microcosm (the body), or the field (kshetra) of Nature (Prakriti). It may be worshipped in various ways and for various purposes, according to the desires and objectives of the worshippers, with different rituals, offerings, mantras and prayers as required for the purpose.

Shri Chakra is also used in Shri Vidya and in various Tantric rituals to propitiate the Goddess and obtain her grace. The design of Shri Chakra has many similarities with the basic design of a Hindu temples and may have played an important role in the development of Hindu temple architecture. Diagrammatically, it consists of nine interlocking triangles, which intersect to form 43 smaller triangles, each representing a specific aspect of the goddess or her creation. They are surrounded by eight inner petals and sixteen outer petals, which are further encircled by one or more concentric circles. All these are placed inside a square, with each side having small outward projection in the middle.

Shrinivasa

Shrinivasa is one of the popular epithets of Lord Vishnu, especially Balaji or Lord Venkateswara. It means the one who lives in the hearts of all or in the heart of Goddess Lakshmi.

Shrikhetra

Shri Kshetra means the field or the abode of Goddess Lakshmi. Symbolically, since she lives in the heart of Vishnu, it can also mean the heart of Vishnu. Traditionally, Puri in the modern state of Odisha, where the famous Jagannath temple is located, is known as Shri Kshetra

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Notes

1. This is my own intuitive interpretation based upon my understanding, for I have not found any reference to it elsewhere.