They have light behind their head , it is shown in most of the places and at some statues, they specifically build halo like thing behind their head

Also, i personally think that, our Indian King crown's copy that and make same light giving round thing behind their crowns.

What exactly is the reason for the light? All I've read is that, light shows greatness, but why?

  • 1
    I think it is to show their divinety(God hood). And also to praise them and to respect them – Dark Knight Feb 5 at 16:18
  • Isnt Aura something that surrounds whole body? I think you're confusing aura with this particular light because everyone in this world emit aura, not just people but plants and even non living objects as well, but this light behind their head is only specific to gods. – Zeke Feb 5 at 18:20
  • Light behind head called 'Halo', symbolizes eternity and represents the transcendence of physical existence. In ancient times, many religions Halos have been used to highlight the significant characters in artwork. – CR241 Feb 6 at 1:57
  • Halo or Light behind the head of Gods and sages show wisdom and their enlightenment. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Enlightenment_(spiritual) simply means that one is aware that self is immortal Atman or consciousness but not a material body with temporary ego like normal worldly being. – Manu Kumar Mar 1 at 8:15
  • @Zeke - in case you may not be aware, if this answer is satisfactory, you can accept it by clicking the tick (✔️) below the voting arrows on the answer. And of course if you did like the answer, you may contribute an upvote too by pressing the up arrow. Thanks :)) – Vivikta Mar 1 at 17:08

There's two different things. First is the Iconographical representation aspect and second is the Spiritual and Metaphysical representation aspects. Let's try to discuss one by one.

Although in terms of art and history studies,the rough translation would result in the words like leśyā - लेश्या (in प्राकृत, prākṛta - Jaināgama), Tiruvāsi (in Tamil), Halo (in English), Nimbus (in Greek) and in some general theosophical studies the word Aura might be interchangeably used for the Sanskrit translated equivalent words - Śiraś-cakra, prabhā-maṇḍala and prabhāvalī ( शिरश्चक्र, प्रभामण्डल और प्रभावली), but when looked at from spiritual and metaphysical perspectives all these words might have varying connotation in different language, religions & cultures. Our discussion here is strictly based on the Indian premises.

(1). Iconographical
This comes from various śilpa śāstras (शिल्पशास्त्र ) which is discussed in several of the Agamas (आगम), Purāṇas (पुराण) and Vāstu śāstra (वास्तुशास्त्र) related mythological texts and other ancient Indian treatises. The Halo like structures (which have been asked about in the question) has specifically got three proper Sanskrit names, i.e., Śiraś-cakra, prabhā-maṇḍala and prabhāvalī, albeit with differences in between them in terms of their usage, representation and associated religious and spiritual motifs. Basically, as per the various treatises, every divine being must be represented in idols or other sculptures by a aura like light, bright structure, which basically is a disc (which should be eleven Aṅgula - अङ्गुल in diameter), behind their heads. In theory, this kind of arrangement must not be touching any part of the deitys' body, a space of one-third of the eleven Aṅgulas is recommended between the body and the "halo structure", however, in practical application such kind of 'hanging in the air structure' is not possible to construct, thus in material representation that will be achieved by a rod behind the head of the sculpture, aptly hidden via proper designing of concealment in the form of flowers and other decorative carving designs, so that the structure looks separate from the body, when the idol is looked at from the front.

This so called Śiraś-cakra , thus, is the material embodiment of the prabhā-maṇḍala (the aura or the divine light or halo) of the divine entity represented by the sculpture.

On the contrary, the prabhāvalī and Śiraś-cakra, although both being the material representations of the divine light (i.e., the prabhā-maṇḍala) that is thought to surrounds all the materially manifested form of the Divinity, there still remain a subtle difference between the two.

While Śiraś-cakra, as the name suggest etymologically can be broken down as - Shirsh (शीर्ष i.e head) + Chakra (चक्र i.e., the circular discus) = (i.e circular disc behind of head). On the other hand, prabhāvalī refers to a more bigger field of light surrounding and encompassing the whole bodily manifestation of the divinity. Thus when materially represented, the Prabhāvalī is an ornamental circular or oval ring, with a number of jvālās (or “protruding tongues of flame”).

Here's is an actual Pictographic representation of a Prabhāvalī and Śiraś-cakra.

A backside view of the sculpture with God Viṣṇu with both the Prabhāvalī and the Śiraś-cakra

A backside view of the sculpture with God Viṣṇu. Note how the sculpture possess both, the Prabhāvalī surrounding the Divinity and the Śiraś-cakra, behind the head.

The Front view

This is the front view of the same icon. The brass statue depicts Lord Vishnu standing on an inverted lotus pedestal with a *kirtimukha* atop floral Prabhāvalī. His Vahana the Garuda is present in front of the pedestal in a humble manner bowing to the Lord.

Very often the special emblems of the god to whom the Prabhāvalī belongs are sculptured on each side of it; for example, śaṅkha and cakra are found in association with the Prabhāvali of Viṣṇu, paraśu and pāśa with that of Śiva or Ganeśa. In some instances, the Prabhāvalī of Viṣṇu contains his ten avatāras carved on it in the usual order from right to left.

For a TL;DR version on the Śiraścakra this will do good.

If you would like to read more about it in detail, then I found [ this ] excellent research paper titled SYMBOL OF ŚIRAŚCAKRA IN ART, RELIGION AND PHILOSOPHY OF INDIA, by Padma Sudhi, which tries to cover the related aspects of iconography and the related spiritual and metaphysical motifs and themes in great detail. Interestingly, the paper also proposes and in some way, attributes India as the root-origin for all these "Halo-like motifs" found in various cultures across the world.

(2). Spiritual and/or Metaphysical representation

Generally all the Solar deities vis-a-vis the Adityas in Hinduism are especially represented by the Śiraś-cakra, to mark their connection to the brilliance of the sun.

Radiance is predicated to all the devas mostly connected with the Sun and Fire. As tree behind the empty altar representing Buddha, later on corresponded to the concept of throne, similarly, gold-disc behind ritual-altar represented halo or širas - cakra.

The following excerpts from the research paper explains the various motifs.

The Śiraś-cakra or prabhā-maṇḍala can well be defined by signifying the philosophical speculation of Tantra yoga, which transformed them into a higher religious symbolism. According to it, the highest state of spiritual attainment is reached, when the soul or Jivãtmã ascends the height of Sahasrära-cakra. All the six cakras of the Tantra-yoga are associated with certain Vrittis. The Mulãdhãra-cakra, the very first cakra, consists of dharmörthakämamoksa. The pineal-gland which personifies the Sahasrära-cakra controls all the thousand Vrittis taken internally and externally by the ten indriyas ( five senses of perception and five of volition ). The piercing of the different cakras by the Kundalīnī means control of the mind over the Vrittis associated with those cakras.

The piercing of the Sahsrãra-cakra by the kundalini leads to spiritual illumination after liberating the mind from all the Vrittis or the exhaustion of all the samskãras, good or evil, into the Hiranyamayakoša. It is this Sahasrãra-cakra or the Hiranya-mayakoša that is symbolically shown outside the physical body as a golden circle ( Siraš-cakra ) surrounding the head of the divinities and the seers.

The golden hue of the soul which is emitted from the Sãdhaka's body with the attainment of sahasrãra-cakra corresponds to the brahma-jnãna (ब्रह्मज्ञान) of King Janaka (राजा जनक), the
prajnã-pãramitã (प्रज्ञापारमिता) of Lord Buddha and Raja-yoga (राज-योग) of other Cakravartin Samrāṭs (चक्रवर्तिन् सम्राट्) who happened to be Räjarsis (राजऋषि, for example Viśvā-mitra), having a golden disc over their heads.

Tantra-yoga has contributed much to the concept of halo which is nothing more than the sahasrära-cakra which shines outside the body of a Sãdhuka who attained it after dancing through all the rings of other spiritual cakras. Secondly, Vaisnavism played a great role in developing the theory of širaš-cakra. All the decorative heavenly ornaments together with the diadem of Lord Visnu which send forth their reflected brilliance outside the bodily frame are responsible for the concept of širaš-cakra or prabhã-mandala.

This penance-theory has brought in the highest state of Vibhüti, which is full of
decorative motifs of the Lord of brilliance as is shown by Lord Krsna to Arjuna in the eleventh chapter of the Bhagavadgitã.

He is described as:-

kirīṭinaḿ gadinaḿ cakriṇaḿ ca tejo-rāśiḿ sarvato dīptimantam
paśyāmi tvāḿ durnirīkṣyaḿ samantād dīptānalārka-dyutim aprameyam

किरीटिनं गदिनं चक्रिणं च तेजोराशिं सर्वतोदीप्तिमन्तम्।
पश्यामि त्वां दुर्निरीक्ष्यं समन्ता द्दीप्तानलार्कद्युतिमप्रमेयम् ।।11.17।।)


 I see Thee with the diadem, the club and the discus, a mass of radiance shining everywhere, very hard to look at, blazing all round like burning fire and the sun, and immeasurable

from this [BG 11.17], as the author posits,

has originated the concept of prabhã-mandalam or prabhāvalī or fire-ring with ellipti- cal shape surrounding the whole body of the divinity. In Gopāla-tāpanī Upanishad, this brilliance of the Lord is imparted even to the Sun and the Moon. Agni (Fire) and Speech are known as the symbol of Kaustubha-Maṇi (कौस्तुभ मणि) in the Vaisnava-cult. This maṇi on the neck of the Lord is symbol of brillliance of the Jīvātmā (जीवात्मा).

Furthermore, The prabhã-mandala or prabhavali is known in South India as Tiruvãsi. It is the motif of South Indian copper-images of Sri-Natarãja. In it, there is a lotus pedestal, from which springs as encircling glory ( Tiruvãsi ) fringed with flames and touched within by the two hands of Natarãja holding drum and fire.

The symbol of Tiruvãsi ( fiery arch ) is a motif of Pañcaksara ( five sylables of prayer, that is, shi-vã-ya-na-mah ) and the dance of Šiva therein is symbolised with the mystic syllable Om (ॐ , ओ३म्). The arch being the Kombu or hook of the ideogram of the written symbol and the aksara inseparable from Omkãra is the contained splendour. Consequently, it is seen that the arch is matter, Nature or Prakrti, the contained splendour. Šiva, dancing within and touching the arch with his head, hands and foot, is the universal soul ( Purusha ). The arch or fiery ring surrounding the dancing Šiva thus concisely denotes Šiva as a Rythmic Play which is represented by the arch itself.

In terms of practical design aspects, it was deduced by the author and also makes sense that:-

the pragmatic theory of balance can be worked out where the head of human body is the heaviest in weight so as to hold whole body in balance in its erect position. But the same head, when chiselled by the sculptor, is relatively less weighty than the lower part of the body. Tó maintain the balance of the head in the iconography, a halo is used to support the head's position so that it may not become the victim of destruction due to the natural forces of storm, rain and other agents of erosion. We find that the ancient images without halo have lost either head or their hands and not the lower part of the body. Therefore, in the middle of ancient period it might have become necessary to combine other decorative elements to the head to protect it against natural calamity.

Further, As a P.S. The significance or the motif of a presence of Divine light behind any material manifestations of Divinity was once explained by a Sadhu when I attended a seminar - pandala (पंडाल) during the Maha-Kumbh of 2010 in Haridwara (हरिद्वार). It might have been a combination of some science based outlook or maybe pseudo-science perhaps, but in terms of spiritual and metaphysical outlook, that made sense and also corroborates the ideas found in the research paper.

According to the Saint,

As we all know, we have constant emission of infrared heat from our body (and well, in that sense every mobile and immobile entity emit that). Our eyes being not accustomed to these wavelengths of energy must resort to special equipment involving infrared-photography, etc.. Similarly, each Jīvātmā (जीवात्मा) possess their own (Aura) prabhā-maṇḍala, whose visibility to others is directly proportional to the individual's own spiritual merit and prowess. The more the merit, the more strong the prabhā-maṇḍalam is and consequently will be more visible. But this, is not a one way road, thus it also depends on the Spiritual enlightenment level, merit and prowess of the observer too, not only the one to be observed. For us (the Observer) to be able to observe the Aura of any such enlightened being (the Observed), we must also possess a certain level of spiritual merit {Just like, I guess, how the voting up, down, and other features on StackExchange are dependent on one's "Reputation" points. :) }. Remember, how Sanjaya and Arjuna were provided with the "Divine Sight" by Ved Vyāsa and Bhagwān śrī Kṛṣṇa respectively and thus, then only they could experience the Cosmic Form of the God. [B.G 11.8].

Now, on the other hand, when the Divinity manifests in their more subtler and "fundamental/original" form (मूल स्वरूप), as Saguṇa īśvara / Bhagwān, they'll always manifests with a most resplendent Aura or prabhā-maṇḍalam which is described sometimes with several epithets in many popular Shlokas (श्लोक) .

For example, the popular Ganesha Mantra (गणेश मंत्र) goes on like.,

vakratuṇḍa mahākāya sūryakoṭi samaprabha (वक्रतुण्ड महाकाय सूर्यकोटि समप्रभ)

Meaning: The One, Who has a Curved Trunk, Who has a Large Body and **Whose Splendour i.e *prabhā-maṇḍalam* is similar to tens of Millions of Suns**.

Now, a Bhagwān (भगवान्) is one who has possess the six prescribed supreme attributes or "Bhag (भग)" i.e, Complete splendor (ऐश्वर्य), virtue (वीर्य), glory (प्रताप/महिमा), opulence (यश), knowledge (ज्ञान) and dispassion (सौम्यता), all these attributes in infinite measure. Since, the Spiritual energy of a manifested divinity is considered infinite, thus even the one with most poor spiritual merit would be able to experience (in some form or other) the Aura of the manifested God. For, example when Lord Krsṇa on his peace negotiation visit to the Hastināpura (हस्‍तिनापुर) before the Kurukṣetra (कुरुक्षेत्र) battle showed his Viśvarūpa (विश्वरूप) in the Dhritarashtras' (धृतराष्ट्र) court, only the ones with strong sense of Spiritual merit (namely Vidura, Pitāmah and Droṇācārya) were able to peacefully see the God's full opulence, rest remained confounded or blind by the God's Form.

Thanks for Reading!!


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