The parasol or umbrella is a traditional Indian symbol of protection - taking into account the protection it provides from inclement weather - and from royalty - due to the status it grants. In Europe, until a few decades ago an umbrella was a status symbol for the ladies of society. In Eastern thought, the fact that it protects the wearer from the scorching heat of the sun was transferred to the religious sphere as "protection against the heat of impurities." Thus, the coolness of its shadow symbolizes protection from the heat of suffering, desire and other spiritually damaging forces.
The dome of the umbrella is held high by holding it by the handle (just as the mountain supports the sky) is identified with the "axis mundi" -the axis of the world-. The umbrella is placed on top of an important dignitary o in the image of a deity, to indicate that the person or symbol under the umbrella is indeed the center of the universe and also its spiritual support. The umbrella is especially important in processional rites, becoming true mobile temples. Thus, representations of the Buddha often show a large, elaborate umbrella over his head.
In Tibet, depending on their status, various dignitaries were entitled to different umbrellas, religious chiefs were entitled to a silk one, and secular rulers to an embroidered peacock feather umbrella. Exalted personalities like the Dalai Lama are entitled to both, and in processions, first a peacock parasol and then a silk one.
The Tibetan version of the parasol was adapted from India and China and is made from a wooden spoke frame with a domed silk cover and silk pendants that form a hanging skirt.
The dome symbolizes wisdom and the hanging skirt, compassion. Thus, the composite shape of the umbrella signifies the union of these elements.
Octagonal and square umbrellas are also common, representing the noble eightfold path and the cardinal points respectively.