Essentially there are three main Hindu Gods (similar to the Christian Trinity*):
Brahma, the Creator, then joins with primordial Matter to produce
One way to understand the significance of the main personal Hindu Gods is to look at their relationship with the Elements of Creation and the Chakra system in the human body:
|Diety||Element||Chakra||Role||Ray||Energy/Quality (From Theosophy)|
|Shiva (the Father)||Spirit (Paramatma)||7||Sahasrara/Crown||Destroyer/Transformer||1||Will, Purpose or Power|
|Vishnu (the Son)||Rama, Krishna, (Jesus)||Soul (Atma)||6||Ajna/Eyebrows||Sustainer/Savior||2||Love and Wisdom|
|Brahma (the Holy Spirit) +
|Saraswati||Mind+Body||Ether/Space (Akash)||5||Vishuddha/Throat||Sound/Speech/Learning||3||Active, Creative Intelligence|
|Hanuman||Wind/Air (Vayu)||4||Anahata/Heart||Strength/Support/Healer||4||Harmony through Conflict, or Beauty or Art|
|Laxmi||Fire (Agni)||3||Manipura/Solar Plexus||Prosperity/Abundance||5||Concrete Knowledge or Science|
|Parvati||Water (Jala)||2||Swadhisthana/Sacral||Passion/Self Sacrifice||6||Devotion or Idealism|
|Ganesha||Earth (Prithvi)||1||Muladhara/Root||Ritual/Mantras||7||Ceremonial Order or Magic or Ritual|
In the Ramayana, Sita is the Kundalini Shakti that rises from the Muladhara Chakra to meet Rama at the Ajna center. The goal is of course to go beyond that to meet Shiva at the Crown Chakra for ultimate liberation.
According to Adi Shankaracharya (8th Century Hindu scholar, teacher, philosopher, leader), all Hindus should worship the five following Gods (Panchayatana/Pancha Devata) in order:
I have added some information based on Theosophical literature and clearly marked it in green color to indicate that it may not be main-stream Hindu thought (in my opinion, Theosophy is to Hindu Thought as Quantum Physics is to Newtonian Physics - there is no contradiction, one just expands on the other). Incidentally, the energies of the Chakras are referred to in Theosophy as the energies of the Seven Rays - however they are numbered in reverse. So Ray One, is the energy of the Crown or seventh Chakra and Ray Seven is that of the Muladhara or first Chakra.
Please click on each name to read more (or Expand All):
The Hindu Trinity consists of Brahma the Creator, Vishnu the Sustainer and Shiva the Destroyer. As in a human being, these three can be considered to be the Mind, Soul and Spirit of the Universe respectively. They are really energies or forces rather than persons, but when a person embodying one of these energies incarnates, he can act as the actual God himself.
The attributes/qualities of the three Gods:
Shiva is the first of the Hindu Trinity (though Vishnu devotees may argue about it). He is not just the Destroyer, he is actually the Transformer, who destroys the old and makes way for the new. He is there at the beginning of the Universe to get it started. Though Brahma creates the Universe and Vishnu sustains it, Shiva is the one who wills the Universe into existence through Brahma. After creation is complete, he sits alone in a state of Samadhi (the Supreme Yogi), watching the world with his eyes closed. With respect to the Chakras in the human body, Shiva is at the crown or seventh chakra. At the final stages of enlightenment, the kundalini shakti rises to meet Shiva at the crown chakra as the disciple finally achieves Nirvikalpa Samadhi. At the end of the cycle of Universe, Shiva again becomes active and destroys the structures of the old Universe to make way for rebirth and renewal.
The Myth : The famous myth about him is that of 'Samudra Manthan'. The Churning of the Primordial Ocean, at the beginning of the Universe where the primacy of Good over Evil was established (though the primacy is only marginal and Evil is not eliminated). The churning by the forces of good (devas) as well as the forces of evil (asuras) is supposed to have produced many supernatural and precious beings as well as materials, but also produced a dangerous poison which could have destroyed the world. Shiva saves the world by swallowing this poison himself and as result his throat becomes permanently blue.
Some have speculated that this churning is really describing the formation of our galaxy - the Milky Way. The Meru mountain at the center of the churning is at the center of the Milky Way and the spiral shape is the result of the churning. On the individual human being's level, a similar churning is experienced on the path to self-realization as the kundalini awakens and rises thru the chakras.
Shiva is often worshipped in the form on the 'linga' - a phallic symbol together with the female counterpart - the yoni. This symbol is considered the most abstract symbol of God that you can visualize - the source of all Creation.
Other Names : Bhairav, Bholenath, Chandrashekhar, Gangadhara, Kashinath, Mahadeva, Mahesha, Nagesh, Nataraja, Nilakantha, Rudra, Sadashiva, Shambhu, Shankara, Umapati
Regional Equivalents : Khandoba (Maharashtra), Mangesh (Goa), Ayyappan - actually a combination of Shiva and Vishnu (Kerala)
Vishnu is the second of the Hindu Trinity. He is the Sustainer who after the Universe has been created, actively takes part in protecting, rescuing and maintaining it through its various cycles. In order to perform this task, he periodically incarnates in specific humans called Avatars, who act as Saviors and Teachers for the age in which they are born. In Hinduism, the most prominent amongst these Avatars are Shri Rama and Shri Krishna. With respect to the Chakras in the human body, Vishnu is at the sixth chakra (Ajna Center) where the disciple achieves Savikalpa Samadhi.
The last two Avatars of Vishnu (Rama and Krishna) appear to be historical figures. The other first seven seem to be symbolic of the process of evolution on earth (from fish to turtle to boar to half lion-man to dwarf) rather than actual historical figures. Rama and Krishna are the only Avatars which are actively worshipped today. The last Avatar, that of Kalki, is yet to come.
The Myth : Maha Vishnu is said to be reclining and resting on the Ananta Sesha (endless celestial serpent) floating in space. As he lies on this vast bed of a snake with one thousand heads, he dreams. As he dreams, a lotus emerges from his navel. The lotus blooms into a full flower and in the middle of it is an egg. The egg soon hatches and Brahma emerges from the egg and starts to create the Universe. So the entire Universe is the dream of Narayana. Sesha also means remainder (as in mathematics) - the Sesha is made of left over 'stuff' from the previous universe.
Other Names : Jagannath, Vishwanath, Narayana, Jagadish, Achyut, Keshava, Madhava, Balaji, Madhusudana, a thousand more names
Regional Equivalents : Vithoba or Panduranga (Maharashtra)
Mohini: Mohini is a special female form of Vishnu (it is more of a disguise rather than a full avatar). Vishnu assumed this guise for the first time during 'Samudra Manthan' (see Shiva myth above). During the churning, when it looked like the Asuras (or anti-Gods) would also like to share in the resulting nectar of immortality, Vishnu took the form of a beautiful, alluring female and deceived the asuras by offering them water instead of the nectar while giving the Gods the real stuff. Mohini appears again to destroy the demon Bhasmaura when he becomes too powerful and dangerous (you can read about it here.)
Brahma is the third of the Hindu Trinity. He is the Creator of the Universe. Some say that once the Universe is created, Brahma's job is done, hence nobody worships him any more. Others give a more slanderous, mythical reason for not worshipping Brahma (we will talk about this myth in a minute). But the actual fact is that Brahma creates the Universe and then animates and gives it life, so he is present in every aspect of Creation. There is no longer a Brahma separate from his Creation. So we actually worship Brahma in the form of the living, breathing Universe, though we may not worship him directly. With respect to the Chakras in the human body, Brahma resides at all of the lower Five Chakras. These five chakras also represent the Five Primordial elements: Earth, Water, Fire, Wind, Space - hence Brahma has five heads. The legend is that Shiva was angry at one of these heads and cut it off, leaving Brahma with only four heads. The fifth head is said to have stuck to Shiva.
The Cycles of the Universe:The Universe is continuously going through a process of Creation, Destruction and Rebirth. A specific Universe lasts as long as the Life of its Brahma (equivalent to about 311.04 trillion years). During this period, the Universe goes through multiple deaths and rebirths that correspond to the days in Brahmas life - the dead period being during the night of Brahma's full day(about 4.32 billion human years). Hinduism like modern physics does not preclude the existence of multiple universes each with its own Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. Here is another explanation of the cycles in more modern terms.
Some periods associated with the cycles of the Universe and Brahma:
The Unfortunate, Slanderous Myth: There are many versions of the myth of Creation with different persons and phases involved, but it is obvious that the first task for the Creator was to create Matter (Note: While Spirit is considered to be Male, Matter (Mater/Mother) is considered to be Female). So the first thing Brahma creates is Sandhya - Sandhya means twilight - that would be the transitional thing between 'No Universe' and a 'Real Universe'. Sandhya actually is 'primordial matter', she is female and as she is his creation, she is Brahma's 'daughter'. Brahma needs to give this 'primordial matter' life and form, to do that he needs to enter it and literally become part of it. So now comes the myth (probably produced by some overly clever, poetic rishi) - the story goes that Brahma lusts after his own daughter Sandhya and has sex with her - ie commits incest. For one thing, Brahma is a God, not so much a real person, but a force or energy. Such a being does not have sex, does not have lust, does not have children (sons or daughters) or any other such thing. But the aforementioned rishi thought he was inventing a wonderful myth that also explains the absence of Brahma in religious lives of Hindus - he declared that for committing this sin Brahma is now cursed so that he will never be worshipped by any one. The rishi never anticipated the narrow, dirty, lascivious minds of the internet generation (especially of the Urdu speaking variety) that would now pass judgment on Brahma because they heard the taboo word 'incest'. But the fact is that Brahma does indeed enter ('has sex with') primordial matter to create the five primordial elements and eventually the entire living Universe which through evolution produced its magical diversity of creatures. Everytime we worship Creation, the Mother, Mother Nature, Mother Earth, the Goddess; we are worshipping Brahma. Brahma does not exist in time and space as a separate being, but exists in the form of all beings - animate and inanimate from entire planets and constellations to individual creatures - great and small (He so to speak 'impregnates' all of them). Brahma is now present in every atom (or subatomic particle) as well as in every celestial body. He enters into and becomes part of everything, he no longer exists apart from his creation. Goddess worship now replaces the worship of Brahma.
Celestial objects like planets, stars, comets etc, may appear to us, as dead objects without a will or a mind of their own or the ability to act outside their apparent fixed orbits. This is totally incorrect. Almost all celestial bodies are ensoled by a heavenly, living being. In fact all the beings that ensole each planet of our solar system can be considered to be like a 'God' with the Sun being the highest God in our solar system.
There is another class of Divine Incarnations that take place in India - unlike the human incarnations listed above (where divinity descends into mortal humans). These are incarnations of Divine Beings, themselves, as mortal humans. To put it a bit simplistically, in the previous case, a man becomes God and in this case a God becomes man, i.e. in one case a man like Rama becomes an Avatar when the divine spirit descends into him and in the other case, a God like Saibaba becomes a man by taking birth in a human body. To understand the difference better, please read this webpage. The first type of Avatars (Rama, Krishna, Jesus) come only approximately every 2160 years, while the second type occur every century in India (often several living at the same time). India and Hinduism have been very lucky and very blessed that these second type of divine beings (Gods from outside our system) take birth regularly in India as mortal humans (the first type of Avatars can occur in any country). The main task of these type of Avatars is anchoring of 'Good' on this planet and help balance out the 'evil'.
I have listed them below in the order of their importance (in my opinion). There are many of them, but I have just listed the most important and well known ones.
Just as planets are ensouled by 'Gods', bodies of water, particularly rivers, are ensouled by 'Goddesses'. These are highly evolved, spiritually advanced beings from the angelic evolution who play a role in not only nourishing the land but purifying it as well as making it sacred. The many rivers of India are one of the main reasons that the land is sacred (in spite of filth and squalor which seems to be everywhere).
Below are the seven main rivers of India approximately in the order of their spiritual status and importance. All rivers are feminine and can be considered to be incarnations of Parvati.
|Though Hinduism has so many Gods worshipped devotedly by all Hindus, Hindu philosophy as given in the Upanishads states unequivocally that there is only one entity or being that underlies all existence including all the Gods. This entity pervades all of creation but it also stands apart from creation. It is totally impersonal (this is in sharp contrast to major monotheistic religions which all believe in a single personal God). This entity is named brahmn (not Brahma with a long 'a' at the end, it is usually spelt as brahman). I hesitate to capitalize it since it is not a person. It is totally beyond human understanding, human knowledge, human thought or human comprehension. It is not a thing nor is it a non-thing, it is not a person nor is it a non-person, it has no gender neither does it have a number, it is infinite and endless. After all the Universes and the Gods are dissolved/destroyed in the final MahaPralaya, this entity still remains and out of it new Universes will be born. It is not possible to relate to this entity or to worship it, the only thing that we can do is ultimately become one with it and experience being it - Tat Tvam Asi (Thou Art That). The process of union with the Absolute takes many lifetimes of spiritual practice and service (one lifetime of meditation will not do it). Brahmn is indescribable, so the only thing possible to know is what it is not (Neti, Neti). However, we do know three attributes of this 'substance' - it is existence/being (Sat), it is consciousness (Chit) and it is bliss (Ananda) - Satchidananda.|
A Note on Hindu Temples:
Many monotheists find the worship by Hindus in front of an idol to be quite ridiculous and may accuse Hindus of idolatory or something even worse. The educated Hindu will then often become defensive and protest that he is only using the idol as a 'symbol' similar to the Christian cross and he does not believe that the idol itself is a God. Actually both of them are wrong to some extent.
When a temple is built and the idol established and consecrated, the priests perform a ritual called Prana Pratishta in which the deity is invited to enter the idol and become part of it. The priests use various tests to verify that the spirit of the deity has indeed entered the idol (some of these tests are supposed to be secret, so I won't mention them here). Regular daily aarti/puja has to be conducted from then on, to ensure that the spirit remains resident in the idol. If ever the temple is desecrated (by some person or a natural event), the Prana Pratishta ritual has to be repeated. So the idol is not just a symbol, it does indeed contain a part of the God (to whom the temple is dedicated) and a sensitive person can experience this fact when entering the temple.
Sabarimala controversy: Sabarimala Temple is a temple in Kerala, South India dedicated to the God, Ayyappa. As mentioned earlier, this God is considered 'celibate' and women (of child bearing age) are usually not allowed inside such temples. Recently, the Supreme Court of India declared this practice discriminatory and ordered that all women should be allowed to enter. But the locals, especially priests have refused to obey the order and still do not allow women to enter. There have been major, impassioned protests by women as well as traditionalists for and against the court's decision.
An explanation of a God's 'celibacy': There are some Gods (the Lord of our Planet among them) who do not participate in the 'creation' aspect of divinity. As theosophists have put it: these Gods 'refuse to create'. This not a big problem, since there are separate Gods who actually specialize in the process of creation, so there is really no need for all Gods to participate in it. However, ancient Indian Rishis in their 'wisdom', declared these Gods as 'celibate'. They are often known as 'Kumaras' (virgin boys). Of course the fact that these Gods do not create has nothing to do with human sexuality or gender or celibacy or any antipathy towards women. It is perfectly fine for women to enter their temples and the Supreme Court of India was quite correct in prohibiting the custom of denying women entrance to the temples (and the traditionalists should just suck it up and accept the decision).
Having said that, it is true that while a woman is menstruating (having her period), her spiritual level is indeed pretty low and it is best that she does not enter any temple during those few days. Her presence does indeed lower the spiritual level of the temple premises. Other persons who can also lower the spiritual level of a place:
Created: March 17, 2013
This page is still under constructon...
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