Posts

An introduction to the various Gods in Hinduism

Hinduism is not just a religion. It is known as ‘Sanatana Dharma‘ a righteous way of life. Hinduism has multiple facets, multiple schools of philosophies and multiple sub-sects but all ultimately leading to one highest truth. Hinduism is not a religion of multiple Gods as some non-Hindus wrongly believe. Hinduism actually accepts worshiping and adoring varying forms of the One God – called Brahman,Parabrahman or Paramatman. Hinduism recognizes the fact that different people have different tastes, temperaments and capacity of intake in the matter of religion. Hence it offers ‘different strokes for different folks’. 

In real life, a woman found distasteful to one man can be the soul stirring sweet-heart of another man. When such a difference is taste can exist, why not allow different tastes in worshiping the God? This is precisely the logic behind the idea of multiple God forms in Hinduism.

Thus, Hinduism permits you to choose a specific God form most appealing and lovable to you; it encourages you to believe wholeheartedly that that particular God form indeed is the one supreme God. A chaste woman considers her husband alone to be the most handsome and most wonderful person; likewise, at the lower steps of religion, a believer’s conviction that his personal God alone to be the most powerful and the “only true God” is also encouraged.

One essential feature of Hinduism is Yoga – meaning Union. The purpose of human birth is to attain this yoga – union of the individual soul with the supreme soul. One of the path for this Yoga is the emotion-laden – the path of Love towards God which is Known as Bhakthi Yoga (path of devotion). It is the most suited path for the majority. The other approach is intellectual – the Path of inquiry – known as Gnyana Yoga (Path of knowledge). Only in the path of Bhakti, worship of Gods in various forms are involved. In the later path (Gyana), God is perceived as formless and the ultimate goal is to realize by experience that the Individual soul and the Supreme soul are one and the same.

Both the paths are not strictly compartmentalized; They can co exist in an earnest aspirant and one path can lead to another. One can be more predominant than the other.

Now let us know more about the popular forms of Hindu Gods worshiped by the followers of Bhakti – devotees of God. Some of these Gods have their origin in Veda (The Supreme Holy Book of Hinduism) and also are found elaborated in Puranas and Itihas (Holy Mythological stories).

The holy trinity: Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva

In Hinduism, God is the omnipresent and the omnipotent who creates, protects and destroys the worlds and the beings. The ‘Creation’ function of God is worshiped as Brahma; The ‘Protection/sustenance’ aspect of God is worshiped as Vishnu and the ‘Destruction’ aspect of God is worshiped as Siva. These 3 are male Gods. They are endowed with human form conducive for loving worship.

 

Trimurti – (from left) Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva

 

The 3 goddesses – From left Saraswathi, the consort of Lord Brahma, Lakshmi (consort of Lord Vishnu) and Parvati (consort of Lord Shiva)

 Brahma, the creator

Brahma, is not commonly worshiped as a personal deity.

He is described as four headed. Worship of Brahma as a popular deity is not widely in practice. Worshipers of Vishnu treat Brahma as one who was created by Vishnu out from his Navel. The Female aspect of Brahma (his wife) is Saraswati and she is the Goddess of learning and Art. Seeking the blessings of Saraswati is normally practiced for getting success in Education and fine arts.

 

Traditionally, Brahma, the creator, is never worshiped as a deity in temples. However, Saraswati is worshiped as a deity, though there are virtually no temples dedicated to Saraswati, except the one in Koothanoor, near Mayiladuthurai, Tamil Nadu.

The only historically old temple dedicated to Sarawati, at Koothanur.

Vishnu, the protector

Worshiping of Vishnu as Prime God is very widely practiced in Hinduism. Followers of this sect are known as Vaishnavas. Vaishnav believers will consider Brahma and Siva either as “part of the Whole” or as “Gods of lesser significance”. Vishnu, the protector is worshiped along with his divine female counterpart (wife) Lakshmi or Sri. Vishnu’s abode is Vaikunta. Vishnu the dark skinned and handsome God, with 6 hands and carries Sangu Chakra and Gatha (Conch, Wheel and a Maze) and he lies in the bed of a 5-headed snake.

Lord Vishnu at Vaikutha – His consort Lakshmi is at his feet. He is lying on the snake bed (Adisesha). On the left, stands Garuda his vehicle, Lord Brahma in a lotus emanating from his naval, Sage Narada and at the right, his ardent devotee Hanuman in Ramavatar.

Lakshmi is the goddess of wealth, prosperity and she is the holy mother who is very compassionate. She is the one who recommends to Vishnu to bless his devotees irrespective of their limitations and sins. Goddess Laksmi resides in the lotus heart of Vishnu. Vishnu in association with Lakshmi is called Sriman Narayana. Vaishanavaite temples have a separate Sannadhi (Sanctum Sanctorum) for Goddess Lakshmi. Worshiping Goddess Lakshmi alone as a stand-alone deity’ is not generally very prevalent (except in some specific holy places and occasions). Vishnu is a God of thousand names and every name of him is holy.

Avatars of Vishnu too are worshiped as gods

A fundamental belief in Hinduism is that God descends to earth to take birth as human (or other) forms whenever the good and piety suffer and the evil ones have an upper hand. God protects the good, destroy the evil and restore dharma (righteousness). Such a person is known as an avatar. Lord Vishnu is attributed with taking 10 such avatars. Rama, Krishna, Narasimha and other such divine personalities are Vishnu’s Avatars and they are worshiped as varying forms Vishnu. All forms of Vishnu or his Avatars can be worshiped in Idols and each of the idol is treated as Archavatar – God’s descended form for the purpose of worship.

Rama, an Avatar of Vishnu. He is a ruler with all noble qualities personified. His life history is elaborated in Ramayana.

 

Lord Krishna – Krishnavatar

 

Narasimha, a ferocious Avatar of Vishnu. He killed demon Hiranyakashipu, with his nails.

Shiva, the destroyer

Everything in the universe is subject to birth/evolution, growth, decay and finally destruction and these keep repeating in cycles. The destruction too is part of divine play and the Lord Shiva is the one attributed to it. Lord Shiva is associated with the profoundest religious knowledge –Gnyana. Worship of Siva as the prime deity is also very widely prevalent. Worshipers of Siva are known as saivas. Shiva is a God with the color of flame, wears a tiger skin, has smeared his body with ash and he carries a TriSul (3 pronged weapon). The holy river Ganges flows from his head.

Shiva, the lord of Gnyana (spiritual knowledge) and the destroyer.

Shiva’s divine consort is Shakti (also known as Parvati, Maya, Kali, Jagadamba and so on). She occupies the left-half body of Siva. Shiva and Shakti are like Matter and Energy. Shiva is the unfathomable, all pervading, passive representation of God while Shakti is associated with the prime-ordinal power without which no activity can ever take place. Puranas and hymns associated with Shiva declare that he is the prime God, the one above Vishnu and Brahma who has delegated the powers of creation and protection them.

Shakthi is worshiped as separate identity

Unlike Vaishnavism where Lakshmi is mostly worshiped as associated with Vishnu, Shiva’s divine consort on the other hand is also worshiped as a separate deity as Para Sakthi, the Universal Mother. Worshipers of Shakthi are known as Shaktas. Worship of Shakti as Divine Mother in innumerable names and forms (like the Kali, Parvati, Bhavani, Bhavatarini, Kamakshi and so on) is very widely prevalent all over India. Puranas and Hymns associated with Shakti will hail her as the Supreme God for whom all other gods like Vishnu, Shiva and Brahma are subservient.

Worship of Shakti as Univeral Mother is the sect of Saktam.

Sons of shiva-shakti viz. Ganesha and Subramanya are also worshiped

According to Puranas, Ganapathi (or Ganesha) and Lord Subramanya (or Muruga) are the sons of Shiva-Shakthi. Ganesha is a God with the head of an Elephant; He represents ‘Om‘ – the prime-ordinal Sound. He is hailed as the lord who removes obstacles in our endeavors. Subramanya is the knower of the supreme spiritual knowledge hidden behind Om. The sect worshiping Ganapathi as the prime God is known as Ganapatyam. The sect worshiping Subramanya as the Prime God is known as Koumaram. Worship of Ganapathi in the beginning of any new venture seeking his blessings is very common across believers of other God forms too. Worship of Ganapathi is very popular in Maharashtra region in India. Worship of Muruga (Subramanya) is quite popular in Tamil Nadu region of India.

Ganesha or Vinayaga. The first son of Shiva. He is elephant headed. He is symbolizes Om, the secret symbol of Hinduism.

Muruga or Subrahmanya, the younger son of Shiva. He is the knower of the knowledge behind Om.

Lord Subrahmanya (Murugan)

Lord Subrahmanya is worshipped as Muruga in South India (Tamil Nadu) and He is one of the most popular God of Tamils. For more on Lord Muruga, please read : Murugan, the God of the Tamils

Lord Aiyappa (Harihara Putra) is another popular God of South India

Aiyappa according to some Purana story is born by the union of Shiva and Vishnu (when Vishnu once took a female form as Mohini) and he is a popular godhead in Kerala and Tamil Nadu of South India. He is an extremely benevolent God who fulfills wishes of his followers who are willing to undertake take a physically taxing journey to his abode in hills after practicing austerities in a prescribed manner.

Anjaneya, the servant of lord Rama is another popular godhead

Anjaneya, (or Hanuman) according to Ramayana (the Holy life history of Lord Rama) is a monkey (or a monkey faced native clan) who is extremely powerful yet very wise and humble, is fully devoted to Rama and ever ready in serving his Lord. He is a Nitya-suri (a deathless person), who loves all the devotees of his lord dearly and melts in emotion hearing the name Rama. He is a combination of power, knowledge, humility and devotion. Though he is not a God per se, he is one of the widely worshiped divine-personality in India cutting across the various followers of Gods.

Lord Anjaneya (Hanuman, Bajrangbali)

Anjaneya or Hanuman, the humble sevant of Lord Rama. Wherever the name of Rama is chanted he will be there with eyes overflowing with tears of joy, to bless the devotees of Rama.

There are other Avatara Purushas worshipped, not limited to the ten of lord Vishnu

Any human being, extremely endowed with divine qualities, who has realized God or attained the supreme knowledge of the Brahman, who has transcended birth and death, who continues to live in Human body a Jivan Mukta, who has the power to guide or initiate his followers to the attainment of the supreme bliss is treated as Avatara Purusha or a Sat Guru (Religious guide of the Supreme Order). Hinduism permits worship of these great souls as though Gods by the respective believers. Hinduism abounds with such great masters – Chaitanya Deva, Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, Ramana Maharshi, Saibaba, Ramanuja, Shankara, Madhva, Shivananda, Mata Amritanandamayi and so on.

With so many gods around, where to start?

Every Hindu family invariably worships a ‘Family Deity’, based on their tradition and the sect they normally belong to. Thus a Vaishnavaite family traditionally worships the form of Vishnu or any of his Avatars and a Saivaite family member worships Shiva. There is again scope for finer focusing – the idea of ‘Ishta Devata’ – the divine form most attractive and adorable to one’s heart. If you are lured by Rama, you can worship Rama with all your focus on him without really bothering about Krishna, Vamana or Narasimha who are none other than the supreme Lord Vishnu! Likewise, a Saivaite can chose the form of Nataraja (Siva the cosmic Dancer) for worship. A saivaite can also worship Linga which symbolically represents the form as well as formless aspect of Shiva. Though elders generally expect their off springs to follow their traditional God, there is really no bar for a Saivaite to worship Vishnu or any other God of his choice or vice versa.

What if one is not sure?

If an earnest seeker is not sure about his path or if he is not charmed by a particular path of Hinduism that his family practices, the prescribed way is that he should go and surrender to a Satguru of his liking and seek guidance. The Satguru will guide him appropriately. A true Satguru will use his inner vision to judge the capacity of the seeker and put him on a path most suited to him. A satguru may even recommend a person who seeks Bhakthi to follow the path of knowledge; he may divert a person most keen in the path of knowledge, to go and worship a specific God form.

Hinduism basically is built on the fact that name and form can not be dispensed with for the vast majority of people in the worship of God. Every form of God is only a representation of the one ultimate truth. The more a seeker progresses in his path, the better he grasps this fact. But those who are at the lower levels of spirituality are the ones who get sentimentally attached to their chosen Idol and argue or fight with believers of other forms of God.

 

Loading

Moral lessons you can learn from the story of Ramayana

Ramayana is just not a mythological story—it is one of the two most widely read “Itihas,” and revered by Hindus everywhere. Itihas means “thus happened.” As per Hindu belief, Ramayana is the true story of Rama—the king of Ayodhya who is considered to be the very incarnation of Lord Vishnu. Great sage poet Valmiki, who wrote the magnum opus “Ramayana,” was a caretaker for Sita, Rama’s wife during the turbulent, tail end period of her life.

The historic period (or Yuga) that Rama lived in was known as Treta Yuga. This was during a time when people’s righteousness (dharma) and moral standards were of a high order. In subsequent yugas (namely Dwapar Yuga, when the story of Mahabharata took place; and the present day Kali yuga that we live in), dharma and morality seem to be steadily declining. Thus, the story of “Ramayana,” whenever read, tends to give us great insight to the very high moral and ethical standards of yore. During times of mental turmoil, we can often find enlightenment from reading “Ramayana.”

Rama, an Avatar of Vishnu, the Hero of the epic story Ramayana.

Here are some of the lessons one can learn from reading Ramayana:

  1. The relationship between Dharma, ArthaKama and Moksha.

Human life is often lost while chasing materialism—known as Artha, and sensory pleasures—known as Kama. The story of “Ramayana” makes it clear that these two pursuits should never be sought at the cost of righteousness—Dharma. The ultimate goal of life is liberation—or Moksha, and this can be attained only by relinquishing Artha and Kama and by strictly following a life of Dharma.

  1. The importance of one man being wedded to only one wife

During the Ramayana period, practice of polygamy (by men) was quite prevalent and it was quite an acceptable social norm for kings to marry many women. Rama’s own father, Dasaratha, was wedded to three wives, and he also had innumerable concubines at his palace. In a stark contrast to his father, Rama remained wedded and staunchly loyal to his only wife, Sita. From this practice, he held his head high as the greatest king ever to rule in Bharat, India. He set a good example for future generations of men as to what was considered the gold standard for a respectable man in society.

  1. Adherence to truth and the need to honor one’s word

When Rama was a young boy, the love and affection his father Dasarata had for him was immense. He would never want to get separated from his loving son. When Sage Viswamitra visited his palace and asked for help to ward off demons who were disturbing his spiritual practices at his forest hermitage, Dasarata promised to offer whatever help he could give. The Sage asked the king to send young Rama with him to fight the demons at the forest and naturally Dasarata was terribly shocked. Still, though, he agreed to part with Rama, to honor his promise to the Sage.

Later on, his third wife Kaikeyi wanted the throne of Ayodhya for her own son Bharata. She also wanted Rama to be exiled to the forest. This was nothing short of a deathly blow to Dasarata, but, still, he never used his authority as king to veto her request. This is because of the promise he had made long ago to Kaikeyi to grant her two boons whenever she chose to ask.

  1. Respecting a father’s word of honor

On the night before Rama’s crowning ceremony, Kaikeyi made use of her boons not only to deny Rama his rightful ascend to the kingdom, but also to send him into exile in the forest. Rama, as a kshatriya (a person belonging to a ruler or warrior class), had every right to question such an injustice. He was also not duty bound to honor his father’s unjust promises, either. However, true to his greatness, Rama, with total mental equipoise and without even a trace of disappointment on his face, conceded to both the demands. For him, “pitru vakya paripalanam” (honoring his father’s words) was one of the highest dharmas.

  1. The futility of listening to vicious counseling

Kaikeyi, who was an essentially good-natured woman, meekly allowed her very loyal maid servant Mandara to brainwash her into demanding these two atrocious boons from Dasarata. Though she was not enthusiastic in the beginning, she gradually allowed Mandara’s venomous words to poison her mind. Did she gain anything finally? No. In fact, she lost her beloved husband Dasarata who died very soon thereafter, on account of the shock and the pain of separation he experienced from having from his beloved son Rama being sent off. Bharata, Kaikeyi’s son, for whom she obtained the very kingdom, reprimanded her for her atrocious act. He never ever took charge of the kingdom as a King.

Now, notice this contrast: Upon hearing about these developments, Lakshmana, Rama’s brother, (who was very short-tempered), like a true Kshatriya, got angry. He could not tolerate the injustice doled out to Rama. He wanted Rama to fight for his rights, he also wanted to proceed and fight with his father and imprison Kaikeyi. However, Rama never heeded to his counsel. He pacified Lakshmana with calming words, pointing out the need for adhering to dharma. The effect of Rama’s counseling not only pacified Lakshmana, but this also gave him a steely resolution to relinquish his own comforts of the palace to accompany Rama to the forest, despite the latter’s objections to it.

  1. Not accepting any booty that came in an unjust way

Bharata, Kaikeyi’s son, also could not tolerate the very idea of bequeathing the throne that rightfully belong to his elder brother Rama, which was wrongly acquired for his sake by his mother. He felt wrath towards his mother on this issue and took her to task for having asked for such a boon. So, he went to the forest in search of his brother and pled for his return to the country to rightfully rule it. Rama refused to concede, of course, so he took Rama’s shoes, carried it on his head, and placed them on Ayodhya’s throne. He took care of administration of the country as a representative of Rama till Rama returned from exile.

  1. The futility of getting swayed by dubious attractions

Sita, who was in the forest, grew madly attracted to a beautiful golden deer. She wanted her husband Rama to catch the deer. She refused to listen to Lakshmana’s warning that such a deer was not natural, and that it could be a demon in disguise. Because of her incessant pestering to acquire the deer to be her playmate, Rama had to go behind it. Unfortunately, this led to her getting separated from him, and she then got forcibly abducted by Ravana, the demon.

  1. The importance of being watchful about one’s utterances

Afterwards, Rama killed the demon. Then, Maricha, the demon who was disguised as the golden deer, called out “Ha Lakshmana! Ha Sita!” mimicking Rama’s voice, and died. Sita, upon hearing it, urged Lakshmana, who was standing guard next to her, to go and help Rama (who was actually not in any trouble). Lakshmana tried his best to counsel her, but he could not convince her that Rama was fine. In a fit of rage, Sita accused Lakshmana of wanting to have an illicit relationship with her in Rama’s absence. Lakshmana, who was then shell-shocked from hearing such an abominable accusation, left immediately, leaving her alone. Ravana then utilized this opportunity to abduct her.

Some interpreters of Ramayana say that Sita was forced to prove her chastity by the test of fire by Rama (after she was freed from the clutches of Ravana) only because of her intemperate and terrible accusation against the saintly and devout Lakshmana.

  1. The importance of fighting against atrocity done to woman

Jatayu, the old and once powerful bird, noticed Ravana abducting Sita forcefully and flying with her in his vehicle towards his country Lanka. Jatayu fought valiantly with Ravana in an effort to release Sita. Unfortunately, he could not succeed in this effort. The bird sacrificed its very own life on such a noble effort. Before taking his last breath, though, Jatayu managed to convey the news to Rama, who was moved to tears by the old bird’s gallantry. Rama performed its last rites and funeral, as though he was the bird’s son.

  1. Divine love transcends all barriers of caste and creed

Lowly fisherman Guha was was full of devotion to Rama. He helped Rama, Lakshmana, and Sita cross the Ganges river in a boat. Impressed by his devotion and service, Rama accepted him as if his brother. Sabari, an old hunter woman of low caste, became a staunch devotee of Rama, just by hearing about Rama’s greatness.

When Rama was wandering the forests in search of Sita, he happened to visit Sabari’s hut. The old lady, overwhelmed with love for Rama, reportedly offered him fruits after nibbling each a bit to make sure that she did not offer sour fruits to her beloved Rama. Rama treated Sabari as though she was his own mother and showered his grace on her.

  1. The importance of humility as a great virtue

Hanuman, estranged Vanar King Sugriva’s minister, was one of the greatest characters of Ramayana. Hanuman was physically very powerful, a great diplomat, very articulate, and very wise. Despite all his great traits, his humility was still unsurpassed. The moment he met Rama, he was bowled over by Rama’s divinity and charm and he committed himself to be Rama’s lifelong servant. The great feats he subsequently performed in serving Rama were unparalleled. The humility he displayed despite his greatness was unfathomable.

  1. The greatness of true friendship

Rama befriended the estranged Vanar King Sugriva with a mutual promise of help. Sugriva’s brother Vali had forcefully taken Sugriva’s wife. Not only that, but he also denied him his share of the Vanar kingdom. Sugriva and Rama teamed up in an effort to eliminate the immensely powerful Vali. Sugriva, in turn, helped Rama in seeking and locating Sita. He also helped Rama to wage war against Ravana in order to retrieve Sita. Both did a commendable job in honoring their words.

  1. Showing mercy, even to the enemy.

Ravana’s younger brother Vibhishan was an extremely righteous person. In fact, he was bold enough to warn and advise Ravana against abducting another person’s wife just to satisfy his own carnal desires. When the furious Ravana showed his brother to the door, Vibhishana went to Rama and surrendered to him. Despite reservations from Sugriva and others, Rama accepted Vibhishana into his fold.

During the first fiery combat between Rama and Ravana, Rama destroyed all of Ravana’s weapons and armor. So, Ravana stood on the war field unprotected. Rama, who could have easily killed Ravana at that moment, in one of the greatest acts of graciousness, then asked Ravana to retire for the day and return to the war field the next day, fully rearmed, as it was against dharma to kill an un-armed person.

  1. The need for the highest standards in a King

After annihilating Ravana and freeing Sita from confinement, Rama performed one of the most controversial and oft-criticized demands in asking Sita to jump into the fire to prove her chastity. Sita did it, and she came out unscathed. Rama took her into his loving fold once again.

Later, when he became King of Ayodhya, he came to know that  a washerman who spoke ill words about Rama for having accepted his wife Sita who had stayed in the confinement of his enemy for months. Rama, whose love for Sita was unfathomable, then made the most painful decision in relinquishing her—simply because he had to maintain a very high order of personal probity as the ruler of Ayodhya.

One can go on discussing many more lessons of morality and dharma that can be found from an in-depth reading of Ramayana. It is no wonder that Ramayana is a wonderful story for both children and elders alike. It’s both a wondrous piece of literature and a great source of guidance on righteous living that has stood up to the test of time. It continues to inspire millions of people, breaking through both religion and linguistic barriers across the world.

======= ======== =========

For the Attention of Tamil Parents:

 

Loading