Mirror Images in Hindu Literature (Post No.3413)

Research Article Written by London swaminathan


Date: 3 December 2016


Time uploaded in London:12-20


Post No.3413


Pictures are taken from various sources; thanks. They are representational.


contact; swami_48@yahoo.com


Tamil version of this article is also posted.


Mirrors have been used by us from time immemorial. it is found in all the ancient civilizations. Etruscan mirrors are famous for their engraved mythological scenes on the back of the mirror. In ancient Mexico Aztec god Tezcatlipoca was called smoking mirror.


The mirror has got special significance in the Shinto tradition of Japan. It is an attribute of the sun goddess Amaterasu. A sacred mirror is handed to each new emperor.


According to one tradition, the mirror bears the Hebrew inscription of “I am who am”.

Psychologists have different interpretations for mirror images.

In Hinduism mirror is considered one of the auspicious objects. As soon as they get up in the morning they look at their right-hand palm or a mirror. Young girls are invited to homes and mirror, comb and Kumkum are distributed them during Navratri festival period. On the new year day, they look at the mirror when they wake up. When the god’s statue is taken in palanquin procession through the city streets, a mirror is placed in front of the idol so that people can see it from different angles. If mirror is broken by fall they consider it as an ill omen.


Mirror in Gita and Kalidasa

Mirror is used as simile from the days of Mahabharata. Krishna, Adi Sankara, great poet Kalidasa, Tamil poets Tiruvalluvar, Tolkappiar, Kapilar and many more use it for imagery.


They send various messages through mirror imagery.

Lord Krishna says in Bhagavd Gita (3-38):

“As fire is enveloped by smoke, as a mirror by dust, as an embryo by the womb, so this wisdom is enveloped by that (desire or anger)”.


Swami Chinmayananda gave a detailed commentary on this couplet. He says though they look similar, they are not. Repetition is an unpardonable crime against the scriptural style and the Gita faithfully follows the immortal style common to all religious books. There is no redundancy or wasteful repetition in the Divine Song.

The first image ‘fire by smoke’ is sattvic/good. Even the sattvic desires veil the infinite glory of the Spirit.

The second image ‘ as dust on a mirror” illustrates the veiling  caused by agitations that cover the purer intellect due to our thick desires for glory and power. So it is Rajasic/passionate.


The last imagery, as the foetus in the womb imagery, is tamasic/bad. This is an illustration to show how completely the Diviner aspect in us is screened off by the low animal appetites and the vulgar desires for the sensuous.

Picture of Greek Mirror


In the Raghu vamsa, Kalidasa imagines the face of Indumati (7—68) to be like a mirror. The face of Indumati shone with joy when freed from the sadness arising from the adversary. The mirror also resumes its brightness by the disappearance of moisture.


When the wind, charged with rain drops blows, a mist like moisture gathers on the surface of the mirror which obscures in transparency, similarly the infamy of the acceptance of Vaidehi who had dwelt in the house of Ravana which is a stain now come upon the royal family sprung from the sun and pure by virtues of good conduct (Raghu vasa 14-37).

in Sakuntam drama also Kalidasa used this image (AS 7-32)




Adi Shankara says in his Viveka Cudamani (291):-

That in which there is this refection of the universe, as of a city in a mirror – that Brahman are you; knowing this you will attain the consummation of your life.


This refection of a big city or some object in a small mirror has been used by Tamil Poets Kapilar, Tolkappiar and Tiruvalluvar. It looks like it is popular imagery.


Famous Tamil poet Kabilar, in the laudatory verse Tiruvalluva malai, praised the book Tirukkural and compared it to a small dew drop on a grass tip reflecting a big tree nearby. Every couplet of Tirukkural reflects big things like this.

Picture of Etruscan Mirror

Face is the index of the mind!


Tiruvalluvar himself used the mirror image in his work Tirukkural:-

The mirror reflects nearby objects; even so the face indicates emotions throbbing in the mind (Kural 706).


Tolkapiyam, oldest Tamil book, also used similar image. When the author Tolkappiyar explained what a Sutra (an aphorism) is he used this beautiful simile (1425)

A sutra is like a big mountain reflected In a mirror, shows/explains everything.

There are innumerable works where we come across mirror or looking glass in Tamil and Sanskrit works. I have already written about the Mirror Temple constructed by Sri Narayana Guru, a social reformer of Kerala. Big temples in Tamil Nadu has a beautiful mirror room for god where the idol is reflected thousands of times. Though God is one we see him in 330 million ways- that is the message these mirror rooms convey.


Mirror Temples! Hindu Wonders!! (Posted on 3 October 2013)



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