According to mainstream Buddhism, the Umbrella or Parasol is a symbol of protection from illness, obstacles, harmful energies and suffering experienced in the three lower realms of existence.
Other meanings attach the parasol to prosperity – because only rich people could afford such accessories back in the day. Furthermore, umbrellas protect the holder from the intense heat of the sun.
The connection with prosperity and protection implies royal leaders and Buddhist iconography often depicts royal figures with umbrellas above their head.
Generals and Buddhas also appear beneath parasols, and this is when we begin to get a glimpse of the truth – the meanings of what symbols actually represent are never fully revealed by organised religions.
The real meaning of umbrella symbolism
In Buddhist art, the umbrella indicates enlightened beings. It is the equivalent of the halo in Christian art. The domed top represents wisdom whilst the tassels represent compassion.
The shaft is a representation of the human spine. Around the vertebrae are three energy channels, known in Sanskrit as Ida, Pingala and Sushumna.
It is through these energy channels that kundalini energy travels from the base of the spine and into the brain. When kundalini is awakened, the initiate becomes illuminated.
The mainstream interpretation of the parasol does have some half-truths – it represents protection and prosperity – but through the acquisition of knowledge and not through material means.
Ancient sages from India probably chose the umbrella because it protected them from the heat of the sun, and they associated enlightenment with the sun – which is also the inspiration for the Christian halo.
Once we become enlightened with wisdom, we liberate our minds and free ourselves from the bondages of life, traps we typically fall into when wandering round in a state of ignorance.
Our society is designed to evoke desire. The Buddha says that all desire leads to defilement which leads to suffering. Becoming enlightened with knowledge protects us from suffering.