Confucius has said: “Signs and symbols rule the world, not words nor laws.”
We generally communicate through a spoken word or a written word. There are many languages which we use to gain knowledge and to express our thoughts freely. Knowing a language is of prime importance. Great people know many languages because language is the basics in every field, be it science, humanities, art, medicine, engineering, etc. Not knowing the language of the place where you live or where you have to be due to any reason like employment, education, pilgrimage or visit, etc, is a great impediment and predicament in carrying out the daily routine. At times, translators and interpreters have to be engaged whenever business of any kind is conducted with the people whose language is not known.
Language of signs, symbols signposts, graphics, pictures, cartoons, signals, etc, is very commonly used alongside the written or spoken word to convey information of a large volume in minimum possible time and with little effort. This language is easy to understand and is used by majority of people world over.
Signs and symbols cannot be a substitute for the spoken or written word, but nevertheless can be a useful tool of communication for those, who due to any reason, cannot communicate, speak or hear. These are also used in certain typical situations or conditions. In extreme noisy conditions, faraway distances, distress situations like floods, earthquakes and typhoons, hearing or speech impairment, etc. Signs, symbols, gestures and pictorial images are commonly used all over the world for a variety of reasons.
Some signs and symbols are internationally standardised and occupy a place of honour and pride. They are used to represent the elements of national characteristics and honour. National flags, national emblems, logos and national birds, animals, flowers, etc, speak volumes about the countries they belong to and which they represent. The emblems, symbols, flags and logos of international bodies like UNO and its different organisations such as Red Cross, the Olympic Games, etc, represent a concept and the aim and values for which they stand. These contain information about all that they proclaim and vouch for, like their constitution, ethos, law, what they eschew and what they espouse.
Every country has a symbol of its own. Eagle is the symbol of the United States of America. The wheel in the Indian flag is the symbol of peace. Interlocking rings is the symbol of Olympic Games. These symbols and signs give us the visual identity of the place, organisation or the group to which they belong.
The heart symbol is regarded as the symbol of love while that of the horse shoe as a symbol of luck. The owl is a symbol of back luck. Skeleton is a symbol of danger. Scales are known world over as the symbol of justice. Different animals, birds, colours and stars represent different qualities of nature.
Another category of symbols which we use is in maps. Their description is given on the body of maps at a suitable place known as “Legend”. This is also called a key and gives the information about what each symbol in the map stands for.
The symbols and signs which are commonly used on roads, highway, railways, airways, and airport runways convey not only information but are very important from the safety point of view and go a long way in saving precious life and property.
Milestones are set up beside every road to mark the distance. A milestone helps also in knowing the place where one has reached on the highway. The number given on the milestone also shows the place in its vicinity. It also marks the limits of the road, lest the driver crosses it and loses his life. Here it becomes a warning sign. Landmark building or a place is also used as a sign to judge at which place one is during the course of one’s journey, as the same can easily be recognised. While milestones are erected at a distance of one kilometre on the road, mile posts are erected at road crossings where three or more roads meet and cross each other. These are used to show direction towards important cities in the region and their distance. Lighthouses are used in high seas to guide the ships and show directions. These signs are also very useful for the tourists and other commuters.
Another sign used to know the distances between two places was erected on highways or elsewhere with the help of telegraph poles which used to be at a distance of 100 meters apart. Previously there were inns also at some hilly stations at suitable distances and served multi purposes like that of providing shelter, stay during night, and also gave an idea of the distance covered and the distance which remained to be yet covered to reach a particular place. These were particularly used by touring govt servants and postal couriers known as “harkaras” where they exchanged the postal mail with other postal courier coming from the opposite side. With the advent of latest technology like GPS or satellite, these things don’t seem to be relevant now but still in certain situations cannot be altogether ignored also.
One of the common road signals and symbols seen at road crossings is that of a traffic cop who just by the movement of his two hands can effectively communicate with the drivers from a distance, giving them directions, instructions and orders to stop, to go left or right or proceed further. He is obeyed by all irrespective of who the driver is.
Boy Scouts also use symbols of their palms and fingers to communicate with each other. Their communication system is based on bodily motions. This is known as Semaphore communication system, also used by sailors in high seas. Morse coded system of telecommunication is still used in some organisations and is based on electric signals of dot and dash. These signals and signs formed the backbone of the Telegraph system. Body language is also used to convey more than what can be conveyed through written or spoken word. Signals are also used by railways, airports and Navy or marines to regulate the traffic and other operation and help in ensuring safety of life and property.
Signs, symbols and signposts are seen on every road at suitable points especially on curves, speed breakers, bridges, accident prone areas, near religious places, schools, etc, to ensure safe and accident-free travel. There are signs directing commuters to the nearest hospital, petrol pump, drinking water, first aid centre, telephone booth, police station, etc.
Then there are divine signs and symbols, like a trishul, a crescent, etc. Some of these signs represent good luck and also as omens predicting the future. A pole star helps in determining the direction to the traveller in high seas or in the great deserts. The splitting of Moon into two parts during Prophet’s (SAW) time was a sign of approaching the “last hour”. Rising of the Sun from the West (its setting place) is also a sign of Qiamah. Other signs of Qiamah are the appearance of Antichirst (Dajjal), appearance of Imam Mehdi (AS), appearance of Yajooj Majooj, and the descent of Jesus Christ. When you see that the society has decayed and there is no one left on the earth to say Allah Allah, Zina will become wide spread, bloodshed increased, wine will be drunk in great quantity, knowledge will be taken away and ignorance will have prevailed: then Qiamah will be near at hand.
These are the great warning signs for humanity like the traffic symbols and signs, so that it mends its ways and embarks on the path of piety and righteousness as “The End” is fast approaching.
Confucius has said: “Signs and symbols rule the world, not words nor laws.”
—The writer is a retired telecom engineer