Rooster/chicken oil lamp symbolism?

Can anybody explain the meaning or symbolism behind the rooster or chicken seen on top of oil lamps? Seen in a Sri Lankan temple, next to the altar:

Is this a Hindu thing that sort of snuck into Sri Lankan Buddhism?


It is a traditional oil lamp design with a rooster (note the tuft on top). Not exclusive to Buddhists. It’s found in many homes. The rooster symbolises the dawn, and usually it’s lit on special occasions before festivities etc…

Tamil Hindus use one too but you usually will see a swan or peacock on the top.


The Rooster is an animal in the Chinese zodiac. Rather than breakthroughs, the Rooster is associated with conservatism, punctuality and routines hence its connection with devotional practice, which relies on endurance for success.

In this sutta delivered to a layperson it is shown how devotional practices lead to meditation:

"“Furthermore, there is the case where you recollect the Dhamma: ‘The Dhamma is well-expounded by the Blessed One, to be seen here & now, timeless, inviting verification, pertinent, to be realized by the wise for themselves.’ At any time when a disciple of the noble ones is recollecting the Dhamma, his mind is not overcome with passion, not overcome with aversion, not overcome with delusion. His mind heads straight, based on the Dhamma. And when the mind is headed straight, the disciple of the noble ones gains a sense of the goal, gains a sense of the Dhamma, gains joy connected with the Dhamma. In one who is joyful, rapture arises. In one who is rapturous, the body grows calm. One whose body is calmed experiences ease. In one at ease, the mind becomes concentrated.”—AN 11.12

Apart from the devotional, the path proper also demands the characteristic of persistence of routines symbolized by the Rooster which has masculine connotations:

“Thus you should train yourselves: ‘We will relentlessly exert ourselves, (thinking,) “Gladly would we let the flesh & blood in our bodies dry up, leaving just the skin, tendons, & bones, but if we have not attained what can be reached through manly firmness, manly persistence, manly striving, there will be no relaxing our persistence.”’ That’s how you should train yourselves.”—AN 2.5

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Also seen commonly in Sri Lankan homes! I’ve asked the same question many times!

Ahh, interesting. I don’t think the Sri Lankans give it any special religious significance, it’s just regarded as a cultural thing for the dawn.

In Sri Lanka we often see also the sun and the moon imagery. Is that also found in India?

I think it looks kinda like this ?

(Ive just got one half. My mom has the duo in her wall :grin:
:sun_with_face: :waxing_crescent_moon:)

I don’t know if there is any Buddhist symbolism to it though. Anyone know? I’ve seen this image on perehara ( religious processions) scenes too.

I suspect the origin of this image stems from the standards of a clan/caste called

The sun and the moon, pearl umbrella are traditional royal symbols used by the Karava

The suriya clans has their origins in the legendary Ikshvaku dynasty of rulers in India which has come to be known as “Sūryavaṁśa” and Lord Buddha been a descendant of this clan this caste seems to be of great origin specially the ones belonging to these suriya clans.

Most likely these symbols might have been used previously by earlier kings.

In India, I’ve seen the image in art, but don’t know how similar in meaning they have Bhante.

There’s the sun god Sūrya and moon god Chandrā of course. There’s a lot of Sūrya iconography, and dedicated temples.
In the Mahabodhi temple there an image as well ( anthropomorphic anyway)


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I asked about the rooster once and was told it was because it was the national bird:

I imagine that the design long predates the assignment of the bird to national bird status, though. BTW, if you are ever in Sri Lanka I hope you get the chance to see one of these fine fellows. They are magnificent.

Regarding the sun and moon, I always thought it was related to the gods Suriya and Chandima. Both of those parittas are very popular, and since both gods are considered to be disciples of the Buddha it makes sense that they would appear in Buddhist designs. I recently saw them at the top of a stupa.


I’d assume the causation goes the other way: they were popular, pre-Buddhist gods that became “tamed” and their iconography incorporated into the newer, Buddhist artwork. This, at least, seems to be the usual pattern as Buddhism spreads. Empty Cloud Monastery in America even has incorporated the cross into their iconography! Only a matter of time before Jesus is seen as a disciple of the Buddha… Oh wait:joy:


The moonstone step found in Sri Lankan monasteries symbolizes the journey between samsara and nibbana , the lotus at the centre meaning the latter, the still point in the cyclone. The swans were thought to be able to seperate milk from water, so represent appropriate attention. The tangle of vines means the mixture of conventional and ultimate, seemingly indiscernible. The four animals the phases of the cycle of impermanence, elephant=birth, horse=youth, bull=maturity, lion= decline and death, and the semi-circular form indicates recurring cycles, and the bull at the apex of the circle. In meditation the bull represents the central phase where persistence is required, allied with the rooster.
Life cycle 1

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The image combines the sun with a human presence:

"Illustration of the Neoplatonic concept of the anima mundi emanating from The Absolute, in some ways a precursor to modern panpsychism

In the philosophy of mind, panpsychism is the view that the mind or a mindlike aspect is a fundamental and ubiquitous feature of reality.[1]"—Wikipedia


How is this idea similar to or different from the concept of “the consciousness element” in Buddhism?

It’s no different than the consciousness element, but the Buddhist context of consciousness is different. The panpsychism that’s emerging in science is initially heading towards the Hindu idea of unity with the cosmos. In the current void of belief, from the environmental perspective this is valuable .

I see. So Western panpsychism, even as it posits a consciousness, still pervades it through space, being unable to imagine a consciousness completely transcending the realm of infinite space. Interesting, thanks Paul!

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Seeing this. Rooster. Sun. Fire. The pillar looking. Earth. The “bowl”. Water. Fuel.

Elements of creation. Water.(Fuel) Cools down Fire. To Create Earth. That’s why they all on top each other. Spirit is water. Fire is Soul. (Heart/Mind)And the pillar which is Earth is Body.

You don’t see Nibbana but it’s there also. Emptiness. Which is what the steam goes into.