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Hindu, Hinduism and Hindustan: Part XXIV
by Dr. Jaipal Singh Bookmark and Share

Gods and Goddesses - I

Continued from Part XXIII

The Hinduism is broadly considered as a polytheistic religion due to multiplicity of deities by the dominant and majoritarian Western outlook world-wide. Such an interpretation is based on the fact that the Sanatana Dharma permits worship of multiple God and Goddess forms with different looks, attributes and functions though philosophically maintaining that they are various manifestations of the same Supreme Soul or Universal Consciousness addressed as Brahman in ancient Hindu scriptures. The Hindu philosophy suggests that Brahman has both Nirguna (unmanifested) and Saguna (manifested) aspects. While the unmanifested form exists as Universal Consciousness, the principal manifested forms exist as Trimurti (Trinity) of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva; similarly, other minor deities too are aspects of Brahman only.

The Vedas and ancient sages held that every divine entity in the universe is some aspect of Brahman Who is considered as the God of gods. According to the scriptures, the three chief functions of the universal existence are the creation, preservation and destruction. The last function is considered necessary to recreate, repeat and continue the cycle of existence. The Hindu philosophy holds that though metaphysically different deities appear to sustain these functions but in effect they are Brahman only in their highest respective attribute. In fact, since Vedic era, Hindus have a culture of respecting and personifying almost everything in the nature that is associated with primary functions of the universe in any form.

Accordingly, they worship numerous other gods and goddesses too in various aspects, manifestations, emanations, incarnations and projections as associated and attendant deities. For instance, the Sun god would spread light and warmth, the Agni and Varuna gods would be responsible for the fire and water, respectively. All such gods are believed to have supreme and miraculous powers in their respective area of function. While there are numerous gods with different assigned functions, there are almost same number of goddesses too which are equally revered by devotees of the Hindu pantheon. This flexible and liberal approach of Hinduism too has its origin in Vedas and Upanishads which talk about only one Supreme Reality as Brahman (God). Perhaps this is also the reason why scholars maintain that Hinduism is actually a journey of polytheism to monism to via monotheism.

In Hinduism, the Vedas are considered immutable, supreme and mother of all traditions. The basic information about the deities (gods and goddesses) is derived from the hymns of Vedas, more particularly of the Rig Veda which is the precursor and mother of remaining three Vedas. Hinduism has undergone tremendous transformation in its long journey. While the Vedic gods (recognized as devas and devis) received significant offerings and recognition only though sacrificial offerings, but the subsequent developments heralded the evolution of four principal traditions or sects viz. Vaishnavism, Shaivism, Shaktism and Smaraism, and many sub-traditions. While evolving in different forms and modes of worship according to the respective traditions, parts of the Vedic culture and religion have survived as the priestly traditions and practices along with the philosophical base. Their combined strength makes Hinduism unique and significantly different from the other dogmatic and regimented religions of the world.

Gods of the Vedic Era


The Vedic people worshipped several devas (gods) or deities mainly through sacrificial rituals, practice of austerities and meditation. The information on such Vedic gods for invocation and making ritual offerings to them are contained in the four Vedas. Of the four parts of the Vedas namely Samhita, Brahmanas, Aranyakas and Upanishads, the Samhitas contain hymns on invocations and prayers while the Brahmanas illustrate the methods and procedures that should be followed for such offerings. The main gods of Vedic period are Indra, Varuna, Surya, Agni, Vishnu, Soma, Rudra and Yama. The maximum numbers of hymns in the Rig Veda are dedicated to Indra and Agni; the former was considered the most prominent representing the god of the thunder and storm while the latter served as a sort of link between men and other devas or gods as it provided the medium of carrying all offerings.

The words ‘Deva’, ‘Deity’ or ‘God’ are loosely used as synonyms while describing the Supreme Reality as also any other mythological divine figure. Else in Sanskrit, Deva means "heavenly, divine or anything of excellence", and is popularly used to denote any deity or god in Hinduism. In reality, what the Vedas and Upanishads have identified as “Brahman” in Hinduism is the only one who corresponds to the God of the Christianity as interpreted by the Western scholars and Indologists. Deva is a masculine term and its feminine equivalent term is Devi in Hinduism.

Thus in Vedic hymns a large number of natural devas or devis have been invoked for the sacrificial offerings. There is an interesting dialogue in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, whenin Vidadgha Sakalya seeks the answer from Yajnavalkya about the number of devas. In a philosophical yet metaphorical reply, the latter sage starts with an astronomical figure, gradually reduces it to one and then settles at thirty-three as the important devas.

These thirty-three devas (deities or gods) included eight Vasus, eleven Rudras, twelve Adityas, Indra and Prajapathi Brahma. These gods belong to different sphere in creation and their importance is adjudged through the cosmic function assigned and number of invocations made to them in the Vedas. Thus important Vedic devas and devis are: Indra, Varuna, Agni, Rudra, Mitra, Vayu, Surya, Vishnu, Savitur, Pusan, Usha, Soma, Asvins, Maruts, Visvadevas, Vasus, Adityas, Vashista, Brihaspathi, Bhaga, Rta, Rhibhus, Heaven, Earth, Kapinjala, Dadhikravan, Rati, Yama, Manyu, Purusha, Prajanya, Sarasvathi and Prajapati Brahma. Aditi is yet another prominent devi (goddess) who is considered to be the mother of devas and is mentioned so in several hymns.

According to the Vedic texts, Brahman has twelve most basic aspects (amsas) or manifestations. He manifested a part of Himself during creation and diversified into Isvara, Hiranyagarbha and Viraj. Hira?yagarbha literally means the 'golden womb' which is the source of the creation of universe and it symbolizes Prahapathi Brahma in Vedic philosophy. Similarly the Sanskrit term Viraj is synonymized with Purusha and symbolizes with the Prana, the life breath. As per the creation theory, there are four tiers in the universe; the devas and celestial beings has abode in the heaven and mid region, humans and other mortals inhabit surface (earth) while the demons in the nether regions of the world. Conceptually, devas have immense powers but they do not have ability to self-procurement of food. Similarly, humans have ability to create or make food and things of material comfort but they do not have miraculous powers of gods. This inter-dependence among them is maintained by sticking to their respective duties (Dharma).

The Vedas consider the human body very akin to the body of the Cosmic Self, Purusha, who pervades the universe as the Lord of creation. Like four tiers of the universe, the human body too has four planes. The head corresponds to the heaven (sky), the trunk represents the mid-region while the hips and the legs represent the mortal world. Just as the gods (devas) occupy the macrocosm, they reside in human bodies in their respective sphere such as the organs of action (karmendriyas), the organs of perception (Jnanendriyas) and the internal organs like the mind, ego and intelligence. While in the external world, the gods receive their offerings through the sacrificial fire; within the human body they receive these offering from the digestive fire in the digestive tract. This nutrition to various divinities is supplied through the five breathing channels called Prana, Apana, Samana, Vyana and Udana. A British cosmologist Robert Fludd's illustration that the man was a whole world of its own, called microcosm, for it displays a miniature pattern of all the parts of the universe, is somewhat similar to this concept.

Among the Vedic gods, Indra is considered as the most popular and powerful deity as the lord of heaven. In the subsequent Puranical texts, one could find numerous legends glorifying his life, conquest over asuras (demons), consort (Sachi), special weapon (vajra), ride (Airavata elephant), and so on. Another god Varuna is often ranked only next to Indra as he was considered as the guardian of the laws of nature thereby ensuring a moral society. He is considered as an omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent and compassionate god who also causes rains to come down and the rivers to flow smoothly. Agni has maximum numbers of the Vedic hymns dedicated to it (only next to Indra). He is a sort of minister of sacrifice, or the hotar, who lavishes wealth and dispels the darkness in the universe. He serves as the medium between men and gods because all sacrifices are accepted by gods (devas) through him only.

Rudra represented the god of storms, lightening and the guardian of healing herbs. He was considered as a fierce god who could cause diseases but also a provider of medicines and healer. Surya, the sun god had several names and forms with the illuminator and stimulator functions of the universe. He is the maker of the light, who illumines the radiant realm, who goes to the hosts of gods as well as to the world of mankind with his light, and like Varuna, he is ever watchful and also provider of the good health to living beings. He is also acclaimed as the source of prana, who keeps the world alive with the light and vigour. Soma, also known as moon, was responsible for making the planet more livable by stabilizing the climate.

Vayu, in Rig Veda, is a described as a beautiful deva, very favourably disposed towards Indra. In Vedic hymns, he is praised as an intelligence deity, who illuminates the earth and heaven and makes the dawn to shine and keep fresh. He is also considered owner of a swift mind, a thousand-eyes and the lord of thoughts. Vishnu had many illuminating characteristics like Surya and was considered as a kind-hearted and protector deva for the devotees. As part of Trimurti and chief deity of the Vaishnavas sect in post-Vedic era, Lord Vishnu subsequently gained a lot of prominence over other devas but in Vedic hymns he was not as glorified. Savitur is another solar deity who is adorable, mysterious and effulgent deva of mystic realms often representing the golden sun at the dawn with the main function of illuminating the world.

Like Varuna, Mitra too was considered an upholder of laws and in Vedic era, both were often invoked together due to both having similar characteristics. Together Varuna and Mitra were considered as guardians of the universe stirring men into action and sustaining both earth and heaven. Pusan was considered as a pastoral deva who protected people from the ferocious animals and made their path pleasant and secured. Among many other functions, he was known to stir people’s thoughts, drive away the enemies and inspire the miserly men to contribute generously for the noble cause. The Asvins were twin deities with healing and curative powers. Many Rig Vedic hymns illustrated them as the lords of hundreds of power, that would make the blind and lame to see and walk, the injured to recover fast from afflictions, to bless men to produce offspring, and so on.

Maruts were considered powerful and destructive storm devas, who could lash out the world from end to end, make the mountains rock and reel, rend the forest-kings apart, make the earth tremble, or even drench the earth with heavy rains. But they were considered as the positive destructive forces that would give strength to the worshippers and work for the welfare of world despite their noisy ways. Yama was the lord of the dead and the guardian of the fate of ancestors. Legend is that he taught young Nachiketa the secrets of Brahman, the sacrificial fire and immortality. A few goddesses too found mention in the Rig Veda such as Prithvi was the goddess of the earth; Usha was the goddess of dawn; Ratri was the spirit of the night; and Aranyani, the goddess of the forest.

Visvadevas were none other than the popular devas of the Vedas collectively invoked through a common offering. The hymns of the Visvadevas contain the names of devas such as Indra, Agni, Varuna, Mitra, Bhaga, Daksa, Aditi, Aryaman, Soma, Asvins, Saraswathi, Vayu, Prithvi, Heaven, Pusan, Tarksya, Maruts, Rta and the dikpalas. Maruts and Aditayas were a group of devas signifying certain specific virtues collectively and individually and many of them have already been mentioned in the foregoing paragraphs. Much later in the post-Vedic period, Vishnu and Rudra along with were Prajapati Brahma were identified and glorified in scriptures as the prominent and most powerful gods of famous Trimurti.

Post Vedic Gods and Goddesses


The post Vedic period lost homogeneity and led to the development of several sects and traditions in the Sanatana Dharma. Notwithstanding these changes, the Hindu culture and religion continued to show a strong influence of the teachings of the original scriptures i.e. the Vedas and Upanishads. These changes led to the evolution of four chief religious traditions namely Vaishnavism, Shaivism, Shaktism and Smartism, though still within the same orthodox fold yet as distinct entities. This period was also marked with the emphasis and emergence of Saguna gods through idol worship among the Hindus. Another remarkable feature of the post Vedic era was sustenance of the spirit of amicability and harmony between the orthodox and sectarian forms of worship.

The above point could be illustrated through the theological conception of the Trimurti (Trinity). While the Vedic Brahman is considered the God of gods, it has three important aspects: Brahma, the creator who is responsible for all creation; Vishnu, the preserver, protector or adherent who is responsible for the preservation and continuance; and Shiva, the destroyer who is responsible for the destruction and withdrawal in the universe. Notwithstanding the fact that different Hindu Sects conceptualized their own chief deity as the Brahman or Absolute Reality but in all religious texts it could be observed that the three manifestations viz. Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva maintain mutual respect and recognition.

According to many Hindu scriptures, these Gods are different facets of Brahman only who carries out the three chief functions of the universal existence namely, the creation, preservation and destruction. In the beginning, Brahma creates the material world and living beings besides spreading the knowledge of the truth of universe including the obligatory duties. Vishnu acts as the preserver, protector and adherent by ensuring the order and regularity of the world thus created. And finally, Shiva destroys and withdraws everything into himself to enable new creation. Although metaphysically the three deities appear to be different but in reality each of them is Brahman only in their highest respective aspect and worshipped as such by their subjects.

In addition to Trimurti, Hindus worship many other gods and goddesses. Each of the gods has its own aspect, manifestation, emanation, incarnation and projections. Besides, there are many associated and attendant deities, and all this collectively make the Hindu philosophy so diverse and complex. These deities are believed to reside in the upper straighta of the universe and perform diverse functions for the welfare of the world. For instance, the Sun god would spread light and warmth, the Agni and Varuna would be responsible for the fire and water necessary for the life, respectively. Here one could notice the link and continuity from the Vedic era. All the gods are believed to have supreme and miraculous powers in their respective area of function. While there are numerous gods with different assigned functions, there are almost same number of goddesses too which are equally revered by devotees of the Hindu pantheon.

Many post Vedic deities of Hinduism are actually extension and evolution of the Vedic deities. While the Vedic era talked about thirty-three principal deities, this number increased to manifold during the Puranic and medieval era (1st Millenium CE). Many of these deities have distinct and complex features. For illustration, some texts and sculptures of early first millennium show the concepts of Harihara (half Vishnu – half Shiva) and Ardhnarishvara {half Shiva – half Devi (Parvati)} with several mythical legends and stories. While Hindus worship many deities in many forms, the Hindu ingrained philosophy maintains that these deities are different manifestations of the same Ultimate Reality called Brahman. Major deities of the respective sects such as Vaishnavism, Shaivism and Shaktism remain the central godhead yet they share mythology, ritual, theosophy, axiology and polycentrism. Then Hindu sects like Smartism worship multiple principal deities for the realization of the same goal. A few more important post Vedic gods and goddesses are discussed here.

Vishnu:


Lord Vishnu is one of the principal deities of the famous Trimurti in Hinduism as also the Supreme Reality in the Vaishnavism tradition and Dvaita Vedanta philosophy. The Vaishnavas worship Vishnu as Ishvara or Bhagavan and also recognize him as the formless Brahman. He is the preserver and protector god who is believed to have avataras whenever the world is threatened with the evil and destructive entities.

He is variously known as Narayana, Jagannath, Vasudeva, Vithoba, Hari, and so on. He is traditionally depicted as reclining on the coils of the seven-headed divine serpent Sheshanag, accompanied by the consort Lakshmi. His traditional attire is a complexion with four arms; He holds a padma (lotus flower) in his lower left hand, gada (mace) in his lower right hand, Panchajanya shankha (conch) in his upper left hand and the Sudarshana Chakra in his upper right hand. He is known to have ten Avaratas and the aim on each occasion was to protect the virtuous from the evil doer for the welfare of the world. The ten Avataras are Matsya (The Fish), Kurma (The Tortoise), Varaha (The Boar), Narasimha (The Man-Lion), Vamana (The Dwarf), Parasurama, Rama Chandra, Sri Krishna, Buddha (the founder of Buddhism) and Kalki in the same order; the last one is yet to come as a godly figure riding on a white horse at the end of the Kali Yuga. The tales and legends associated with these incarnations are illustrated in numerous Puranic texts; the Bhagavat Purana and Vishnu Purana being the most important treatise.

The aim of the Matsya Avatara was to save the world from a cosmic deluge by rescuing the Vedas and Manu (progenitor of man) along with the seeds of all living things. The Kurma Avatar as the giant tortoise was to support the cosmos, while the devas (gods) and asuras (demons) churned the cosmic ocean to recover the nectar and other precious things lost during the great deluge. The objective of the Varaha Avatara was to rescue Bhudevi from the demon named Hiranyaksha. The Narasimha Avatara was to protect devotee Prahlada and the world from the oppression of the demon king Hiranyakashipu. The Vamana Avatara was to restore the power of devas that was taken by the asura King Bali. The purpose of Parasurama Avatara was to end the oppressive dominance of the Kshatriya rulers on the earth. The object of Rama Avatara was to destroy the wicked Ravana and establish Ram-rajya (sattva qualities). Lastly, the purpose of Krishnavatara was to destroy Kamsa other evil-doers besides performing a crucial role in Mahabharata war. The chief aim of Buddha Avatara was to teach piety to the mankind.

Shiva:


The other important god of the Trimurti is Lord Shiva who is also the principal deity associated with the Shaivism, the second largest and widespread sect among the Hindus after Vaishnavas. He is often depicted as a Mahayogi sitting in the meditation posture in Himalayas and his consort Parvati is also symbolized with feminine power of Durga or Devi. Conspicuous forms of Shiva are: Rudra characterized with a fierce and angry mood; Nataraja in dancing attire; Yogeshwar symbolic to a great yogi and ascetic; and the Linga, the symbol of energy and potential of Shiva. Adherents of Shaivism consider Shiva as the Supreme deity and according to them, He performs five major functions of creation, preservation, dissolution, concealing grace and revealing grace. Shaivites are believers of the Lord Shiva being Supreme, who assumes various names and forms appropriate to crucial functions, and also stands transcending these.

Unlike Lord Vishnu, the concept of Avatara is not well established in the Shavism sect. One may find occasional references of Shiva’s Avataras and manifestations in the Puranic texts but the concept has not evolved to gain universal appeal and acceptance. The Linga Purana discusses twenty-eight forms of Shiva which are sparingly interpreted by some as Avataras but popular tales and legends are very few. For instance, Ardhnarishwara, Neelkantha and Rishi Durvasha are considered his manifestations; and Hayagreeva, Sharabha and Ruru as incarnations in animal forms. More common forms of Shiva are Yogeshwara, Natraja, Rudra and Linga but they are also not treated as Avataras. Instead, such occurances of Shiva are mostly glorified as His Lilas (acts) rather than Avataras. As per a legend, Lord Siva assumed the form of Dakshinamurti to impart knowledge to the four Kumaras. Some such divine Lilas are recorded in the Tamil Puranas like Periya Purana, Siva Parakramam and Tiruvilayadal Purana.

Brahma:


Lord Brahma is the creator god of Trimurti and symbol of the knowledge and wisdom in Hinduism. He is believed to have four faces, each representing one of the four Vedas. His other names are Prajapati, Vedanatha (god of Vedas), Gyaneshwar (god of knowledge), Chaturmukha (four faced), Svayambhu (self-born) and Brahmanarayana (half Brahma – half Vishnu), and also linked with Hiranyagarbha (the cosmic womb). His consort is Saraswati. In many Puranas, he is depicted as sitting on a lotus emerging from the naval of Lord Vishnu while in some cases he is linked with Shiva as his aspect.

Unlike Vishnu and Shiva, despite his recognition as creator Lord Brahma neither enjoys popular worship among the Hindus nor many temples in his name. Undoubtedly, He is a revered since ancient age, yet seldom worshiped as a leading or primary deity among the Hindus. One famous Brahma Temple exists in Pushkar, Rajasthan. However, a few followers of Brahmanism (mainly some Brahmins) consider Him as the Parabrahaman or Supreme Being with lesser footings to Vishnu and Shiva with a belief that ultimately Brahma is responsible as the creatior, preserver and destroyer only to recreate.

Durga or Shakti
:

Goddess Durga is the chief deity in Shaktism where she represents the feminine concept of the Supreme Reality called Brahman. She is popularly depicted as the Goddess riding a lion or tiger with multiple arms each carrying different weapons and slaying Mahishasura (buffalo demon). In Puranic texts, she is also identified as Adi Parashakti and devotees remember Her by many names such as Devi, Shakti, Parvati, Amba, Jagdamba, Kali, Lakshmi and so on. She is often remembered as the fierce form of the protective mother goddess Who fights against the demonic, wrong-doers and evil forces that threaten Dharma, peace and prosperity of her subjects. She has been glorified in several Puranic texts but among them Devi Mahatmya or Durga Saptashati is more prominent and popular.

Her nomenclature as Adi Parashakti symbolizes that she was present even before the creation and destruction of the universe. As per a legend, when the evil acts of the demon Mahishasur became unbearable, all the gods including the Trimurti invoked and manifested her into Durga, the feminine Goddess and equipped her with different weapons, ornaments and other valuables including her mount to kill the demon along with other evil subordinates. Thus she represents the combined power of all gods. The followers of Shaktism assign and interpret the three major roles of creation, preservation and destruction to three forms of Durga, namely Mahasaraswati, Mahalakshmi and Mahakali, respectively. Goddess Durga has following all over India and other places among Hindu population but more pronounced in eastern states of Bengal, Odisha, Assam and Bihar.

Ganesha:


Lord Ganesha is another vastly popular deity who is worshipped as the main deity of the Saguna Brahman by Hindus in certain parts. He is also known with other common names as Ganapati, Vinayaka, Pillaiyar and Binayak. The Sect comprising the followers of Ganesha is called Ganpatism which has a widespread following and influence in the Maharashtra and adjacent regions of the contiguous states of Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka; notwithstanding this, his followers, particularly among Smartas, are found throughout the country irrespective of their sectoral affiliations. His image could be seen everywhere with his elephant head making him distinct for identification.

Ganesha is widely revered as the God of intellect and wisdom, remover of obstacles and the patron of arts and sciences. The Hindu mythology identifies him as the restored son of Shiva and Parvati but he is a pan-Hindu god found in its various traditions. The principal texts on Ganesha include the Ganesha Purana, Mudgala Purana and Ganapati Atharvashirsa. Besides, Brahma Purana and Brahmanda Purana are two other Puranic encyclopedic texts dealing with Ganesha and his stories.

Surya:


Among the few gods that survived the Vedic era, Lord Surya is one. Though Surya worship is widespread among Hindus but the sect dedicatedly following him is known as Suryaism or Saurism and the followers treat him as the main form of the Shaguna Brahman. This tradition was more common in the ancient India and many Surya temples and idols were built during 800 to 1000 CE, the most famous temple being the Konark Sun Temple at the Odisha coast. Surya tradition gradually declined after the 12th century although it still exist as a tradition among the dedicated Sauras and some Smartas who still devoutly worship the Sun God.

Kartikeya:


Kartikeya, the elder son of Shiva and Parvati, is considered as the Hindu god of war who is believed to have sided with and led devas in the famous epic war between the devas and asuras in ancient times. He is also known with other common names of Murugan, Skanda, Kumara and Subrahmanya. Kartikeya is predominantly popular and worshipped in the South India, treated as the god of fertility and his images are found in many medieval temples all over India, including the famous Ellora Caves and Elephanta Caves.

Hanuman - The Monkey God:

He is clearly a post Vedic development but with a large following among the Hindu devotees, particularly in the north India. Many people have great reverence, devotion and following to Hanuman – The Monkey God who is considered as an ardent devotee and chief sewak of Lord Rama and an important characters in the epic Ramayana. He also finds a heroic reference at several places in the other great epic Mahabharata. It is common belief among the followers that God Hanuman removes all obstacles, difficulties and wards off the evil spirits and omen.

Other Devas and Devis:


The Vedic era worship was sacrificial with relevant hymns and fire as the chief source to please the respective devas and devis but in the post Vedic period it became more ritual based while retaining features like hymns and sacred fire. Accordingly, with the course of time many Vedic deities increasingly lost their relevance while some others gained more prominence and greater attention of the devotees. For instance, in Vedic era Vishnu, Rudra and Prajapati Brahma did find mention in Vedas but focus was more on deities like Indra, Varuna and Agni. In the post Vedic era and particularly in the medieval period, the former three devas were recognized as the Trimurti and three principal manifestations (Saguna Brahman) of the Supreme Reality, the Nirguna Brahman.

Some deities like Indra, Varuna, Agni, Surya, Vayu and Yama continued to get attention of the Hindu devotees in various parts in the post Vedic era. Indra continued to be recognized as the king of devas but people remember him more as the god of thunder and rains. Agni is still the chief source of sacrifice through yajna and for many Hindu devotees the first thing in the morning is to worship the rising Sun (Surya). Yama is remembered as usual the god of dead. As the number of denominations, sects and sub-sects in Hinduism grew over a period of time, so has happened with the number of male and female deities too. As against the popular perception of 330 million deities in Hinduism, the Vedas recognized 33 deities. It is difficult to arrive at the exact number of the current deities but apart from the major deities illustrated in the foregoing, there are many other gods and goddesses of local, regional and widespread influence with their own temples and devotees all over the country.

Besides, traditionally almost every Hindu village in India has its own Gramdeveta and/or Gramdevi with idol(s) installed in a mini temple or even under a sacred tree. On each social or religious occasion, they invariably invoke local gods and goddesses with reverential offerings to seek deity’s blessings. For illustration, they pray goddesses such as Shitala to protect against diseases or Mariyammai (in Tamil Nadu) to save children from smallpox. Similarly Manasa Devi is believed to protect people from snakes. Hindus traditionally revere or worship everything by personifying it as a deity in the nature that sustain or revitalize their life. They even worship mountains, rivers and trees treating them as divine objects of devotion. For instance, among the rivers Ganga, Yamuna, Narmada and Godavari fall in this category, Similarly, among trees and plants Pippala (Ficus Religiosa), Banyan (Ficus indica), legendary Kalp-vriksha and Tulsi fall in this category.

Epilogue


In Vedic time, various forces of nature including some moral values were revered as devas and devis as the rishis and sages discovered their worth for sustaining and revitalizing the life of the human beings. Some of them such as the Adityas, Varuna, and Mitra were treated as the epitomes of the specialized knowledge, creative energy, exalted and magical powers (Siddhis). Sacrificial offerings evolved for these natural forces were most probably their way of acknowledging gratitude to these forces. While exploring the nature of universe, they perceived that there had to be an ultimate force behind all creation, sustenance and ultimate destruction only to begin recreation, and they visualized this Supreme Authority as Brahman (God).

This concept is in sharp contrast to the much later evolved Abrahamic religions where God supposedly blessed their follower human beings and rest of the resources in the nature were earmarked for their consumption. Hence while others civilizations, what to talk of expressing gratitude, appear simply, or rather ruthlessly, exploiting and consuming these resources of the nature, the devout Hindus tend to pay back to these natural forces in the form of reverential offerings in return of what they receive (for consumption) from them. This basic points makes all the difference why to the followers of other religions, the Hinduism appear polytheistic and chaotic.

The hundreds of gods and goddesses portrayed in Hinduism are, in fact, manifestations of the same Supreme reality, the Brahman or Universal God. This God is all pervasive, omnipotent and omniscient in the true Vedic sense. The Hinduism is able to perceive and see the presence of the Universal God in every animate or inanimate thing that pervades the universe. According to Hindu philosophy, this all-pervasive God is the creator of all living and non-living as also everything thus created represents a part of Him. The same holds good in the case of the idol worship as well which serves as a medium or channel to concentrate on during the devotees prayers and meditation. This aspect has been well explained previously through the concepts of Sadhya (Godhead), Sadhak (devotee), Sadhan (medium) and Sadhna (devotion).

Continued to Part XXV
 

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