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REDESCRIBING MANDALAS: A TEST CASE IN BODH GAYĀ, INDIA

Symbols are not semiotic devices that model, shape, and allow people to express their systems of belief and practice. Jonathan Z. Smith, who, like Eliade, is engaged in the comparative study of religions, critiques Eliade's work on a number of levels. Two of these critiques are central to my current engagement with Eliade's theory of symbol. In Eliade's work the symbol is not first and foremost a semiotic device that is linked to language. Instead, symbols are entities in and of themselves, natural or human-made objects and infused with an otherworldly or transcendental power. In Eliade's work the symbol be it a center, world tree, knot, shell, fire, water, word, or stone always is explained as the sacred, although the adjectives used to describe its sacredness can and do vary. It is at the door of the sacred that the meaning of the symbol stops.