( This article is
conveyed to us by Sri. Surendra Nath Majhi, Managing Trustee - Sri
Jagannath Temple Trust, Chennai )
Why there are so many Gods in Hindu religion? We keep getting this
question from several quarters. Actually there is not much
complexity involved in explaining this aspect, if we understand some
basic principles of Hinduism. We do not need to be a very big Hindu
philosopher for this. My opinion is that there are not many Gods in
Hindu religion as is usually perceived by people of other religions.
Actually there is only one god. There is only one god generally
called "Brahman or Bhagawan". The God has been given several names
and several forms by the people following the Hindu religion.
The question is why the Hindus created so many names and forms of
God if they believe in only one god? We think there could be a few
interpretations or reasons that could have prompted Hindu people to
think of several forms and names.
One of such interpretation is that the god as an all capable entity,
can take any form and will be available to help common people in the
form that they wish to see him. Hence, whenever common people wanted
see the god as creator, they created a form called "Brahma" and
called him god of creator. Similarly, "Vishnu" is the god
representing the sustenance of the world and "Shiva" the Destroyer.
Where as "Ganapati" represents the "solver of all the troubles", "Lakshmi"
became goddess of "Wealth", so on and so forth. God is one but can
take any form, when people genuinely wish to see him in such a form.
My understanding is that the Hinduism has not put any restrictions
on the thinking process of individuals on which way they want to
realise the existence of the God and the ultimate unification with
the god, the eternal energy of this world. It is not improper, in
Hindu religion, to think that the god being all powerful, can
manifest into any of the myriad of "Sakara" forms including gods and
goddesses. As Prof. Jeaneane Fowler of the University of Wales
College, Newport beautifully puts it in his book "Hinduism: Beliefs,
Practices and Scriptures", the relationship between the many
manifest deities and the unmanifest Brahman is rather like that
between the sun and its rays. One cannot experience the sun itself
but one can experience its rays and the qualities, which those rays
have. And, although the sun's rays are many, ultimately, there is
only one source, one sun. So the gods and goddesses of Hinduism
amount to thousands, all representing the many aspects of Brahman.
Hindu thought teaches humankind to see god in every aspect of life.
Thus they tried to see divinity in every force of nature they came
across-the rain (Indra), the wind (Vayu), the water (Varuna), the
fire (Agni) etc. By seeing themselves as a minuscule part of the
infinite Brahman and by seeing the Brahman all around them, Hindu
people tried to establish a divine, devout, righteous and selfless
society. Several schools of Hinduism believe that individual soul
has to undergo several cycles of birth and death to reach the
present human form and be ready to achieve the constant
companionship (or oneness) with the god. The soul that thus
undergoes several rebirths slowly attains spiritual elevation in
each of those births and slowly becomes closer and closer to the
Rigveda says "Ekam Sat, Viprah Bahudha Vadanti" which means, "Truth
is one but learned men describe it differently". Hence this forms
the theoretical basis of allowing the people or society at large to
have and form their own form and name of that one supreme god. Since
Hindu scriptures consider god as one true, eternal, infinite,
transcendent and omnipotent "Energy" or "Supreme Cosmic Spirit",
theoretically it represents God without any form and without any
beginning and an end. It is one formless, timeless and all pervasive
entity. It is the truth that is "Beyond Description" as stated by
few great individuals.
Since the common man can not understand and appreciate any thing
without a form, for the sake of common folk, there could be a god
who has some specific form such as Ganesha, Hanuman, Vishnu etc, but
for the individuals with higher order of thinking, there need not be
any form to god and god might be simply an entity which is so
complex, and endless that can not be understood. For some other
individuals, god could simply be a concept to create an orderly
social life. Thus, in Hinduism, it is perfectly acceptable that
every individual-whether he is a simple ignorant common man or
whether he is a well studied philosopher, to have his own form of
"God". Hence Hinduism sets itself apart from any other religion in
two very important conceptual differences discussed above, that is:
God is one, but can be described by several ways and that there
could be many ways to attain the unity / constant companionship of
god. It is important to note that the Hindu thought has been
developed for more than 5000 years in the past and there were
several significant contributions to this thought by many
knowledgeable human beings.