What does MURTI mean


The word murti is a commonly used Sanskrit word. It is used by people, who do not even know Sanskrit, as it is present in almost every Indian language. The widely used meaning of the word murti is an image or an idol. However, it is necessary to see the other meanings and the origins of this Sanskrit word. Sanskrit is a classical language like Greek, Latin, and Persian. And in Sanskrit, as in most classical languages, most words are derived from a stem or root.


The word murti is derived by adding the suffix ktin to the root murchchh, and the gender is feminine. Murchchh means to become solid, thicken, congeal, assume shape or substance or consistency, expand, increase, grow, become or be vehement or intense or strong, to fill, pervade, penetrate, spread over, to have power or take effect upon, to grow stiff or rigid, faint, swoon, become senseless or stupid or unconscious, to deafen, or to cause to sound aloud. The word murti means anything that has a definite shape and limits; material element; matter; substance; a form; visible shape; body; figure; an embodiment; incarnation; personification; manifestation; an image; idol; a statue; beauty; solidity; hardness; a limb of the body; the mind and the four elements of earth, air, fire, and water; embodiment; manifestation; incarnation; personification; a person; an appearance; the name of the first astrological house; the name of a daughter of Daksha; the name of the wife of Dharma; the name of a rishi under the tenth Manu, the name of a son of Vasishtha, or the name of a Prajapati of the Svarochisha epoch. Murti is the name of one of the thirteen daughters of Daksha Prajapati, who was married to Dharma. Nara and Narayana are the sons of Murti and Dharma.


The word ‘idol’ cannot be considered the proper translation of the Sanskrit word murti, for the simple reason that ‘idol’ has many connotations in English, most of which are derogatory. On the other hand, murti is generally considered to be the embodied representation of the Divine principle. Such a representation could take any form, most of which are human. However, it is not uncommon to see many animal forms or the forms of other living beings as representing some divine power. The iconography in the different forms of murti is interesting as most of these forms are visual developments of the bodies that we find naturally. For instance, it is quite common to see a murti with a human form having multiple arms or heads. These represent the supra-normal powers of the divine beings.


A murti does not merely represent a symbol of the Divine, but the murti itself is made divine by invoking the power of the Divine by a ritual called prana-pratishtha or the invoking of life. Sri Ramakrishna tested the murti of Kali at the temple in Dakshineswar to see if it was a living murti, and found to his great relief, that the murti was indeed breathing! Thus, a murti in the traditional Indian sense cannot be considered as a mere symbol, icon, image, or idol, but has to be seen only as a living manifestation of the Divine.


Author is Editor Prabuddha Bharata. The Balabodha series as written is a glossary of words and not an article

To read all articles by the Author

This article was first published in the December 2019 issue of Prabuddha Bharata, monthly journal of The Ramakrishna Order started by Swami Vivekananda in 1896. This article is courtesy and copyright Prabuddha Bharata. I have been reading the Prabuddha Bharata for years and found it enlightening. Cost is Rs 180/ for one year, Rs 475/ for three years, Rs 2100/ for twenty years. To subscribe https://shop.advaitaashrama.org/subscribe/


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