Buddha is shown with a halo in images around the world, such as in this Cambodian temple fresco (Credit: Alamy)
Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, Zoroastrianism and Greek mythology are usually regarded as utterly distinct religions, largely defined by their differences. But if you just look at them, you will see a symbol that connects them all – the halo.
This aura around a holy figure’s head expresses their glory or divinity and can be seen in art across the world. There are many variants, including rayed haloes (like that on the Statue of Liberty) and flaming haloes (which feature in some Islamic Ottoman, Mughal and Persian art), but the most distinctive and ubiquitous is the circular disc halo.
Why was this symbol invented? It has been conjectured that it could have originally been a type of crown motif. Alternatively, it may have been a symbol of a divine aura emanating from the mind of a deity. Perhaps it was a simple decorative embellishment. One amusing proposal was that it derived from protective plates fixed to statues of gods to protect their heads from bird droppings.