Further development of the Indian society brought about changes in religious concepts and an increase in the size of the pantheon. This grew by a process of absorption and combination, adopting popular (including female) deities into a sophisticated and well-developed assembly and merging several deities into one. Thus the minor Vedic deity Vishnu was identified with Vasudeva and another epic hero Krishna. It is likely that the ten incarnations of Vishnu that eventually became conventional were attributed to him in a similar way.
Beginning about the 4th or 5th century A.D., attempts were made to create some sort of order out of the mass of myths and legends that had evolved around a large number of deities. Eventually these traditional tales were incorporated into the Puranas (Ancient Stories) summing up all that was known about the gods, with their elaborate genealogies, and providing religious instructions. In consequence, many of the deities who subsequently made their appearance are the result of formalization given to them in the Puranas. At the same time a further impetus was given to Hindu mythology (and thus a corresponding increase in the number of deities) by the development of Tantrism which emphasized the cult of the female partner (shakti) in association with a male deity, often Shiva.
Brahma has four faces, through only three can be seen. He has matted hair, wears a pointed beard and the eyes are usually closed in meditation. He has four hands which may hold a variety of objects such as a rosary, a water-pot, a book (the Vedas), a scepter, a spoon, a bow or a lotus. Sometimes two of his hands may be in a boon-giving and protective attitudes. His four faces represent the four Vedas and the four hands the four directions. The rosary which he is counting represents time. The whole universe evolves out of water, therefore Brahma carries water in the water-pot.
Hinduism - IntroductionMarch 13th, 2007 by ramnath rajaram Leave a reply »
OM OM OM OM OM
Sarve Janaah Sukhino Bhavanthu
Hinduism - Introduction
It is hard to define Hinduism. It is not a religion in a narrow sense associated with the word religion. Its comprehensiveness bypasses the human mind. No single approach is able to enunciate its basic concept and philosophy. In a very broad sense Hinduism is a way of life. From time immemorial indigenous religious consciousness ahs continuously enriched it. It has been influenced by the aspirations and needs of the human society from time to time. It embraces the indigenous religious of India which have been modified almost continuously with the development of ideas and the needs of local communities. As a result Hinduism is a mixture of sects, cults and doctrines which have had a profound effect on Indian culture. In spite of this diversity, there are few of its aspects which do not rely in some way or the other on the authority of Indian religious literature ' the Vedas, the Epics and the Puranas.
The Vedic gods who eventually became established in India may have been the result of the fusion of ideas brought by migrants and those of the indigenous people.
These deities were defined in the Vedas, along with meticulous descriptions of the ceremonies that were intended to propitiate them.
There is a popular school of thought which disputes the theory of the migrants having brought in ideas and is of the opinion that Hinduism was highly developed much before. It is not within the scope of this book to go into this controversy.
It is evident from the Vedas that these deities were, to a certain extent, visualized as having human or animal forms. But it is not certain whether they were worshipped in the form of images. There remains the possibility, important for its effect on the later development of images, that some of the lower castes worshipped images in human or animal form and that this practice gradually spread upwards to the higher sections of society. At a much later period, the Vedic deities were given human form and reproduced as images.
In response to the forces of development, the old Vedic religion underwent several changes. These chiefly concerned the deities that were worshipped, and the forms of ritual. Some deities changed their function, or gained or lost popularity, while the powers of mediation between the deity and the devotee became monopolized by the priests (Brahmins) who alone could perform the necessary rites and rituals. This made the deities remote and some of them acquired awesome aspects. Consequently, while many of the old deities were relegated to minor positions in the pantheon, others were elevated, and new deities were introduced. Parallel with this, and as a possible reaction against the strict orthodoxy of the priests, the need gradually arose for a more satisfying relationship between the worshipper and the worshipped. This need for devotion (bhakti) towards a personal god stimulated the desire for images which would make the deity more approachable. Their introduction was a slow, uneven process and it is likely that images were made at first only of minor deities in the pantheon. One of the earliest references to images for worship is around the 5th century B.C, of the Yakshas (tree spirits) and Nagas (snake gods).
Further stimulus to a more personal relationship between gods and men was given by the two great epics of Indian literature, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. The stories of these epics are secular in nature but they not only describe the feats of their heroes but refer to the influence that the gods had on their exploits. Thus the stories of the gods were supplemented and expanded as they were woven into the narratives and the heroes themselves got assimilated into Indian popular religion and became deified.
Later, Krishna himself got assimilated with a pastoral flute ' playing deity and became the subject of many poems and legends. At the same time, an ancient fertility god, Shiva was elevated to the higher ranks of the pantheon and became an important deity with a variety of forms that gave him a popularity equal to that of Vishnu. Shiva and Vishnu were visualized as forming a triad with Brahma. But, in spite of his ancient prestige, Brahma never received the widespread adoration enjoyed by the other two gods.
From the 15th century onwards a revival of interest in the bhakti movement brought about a widespread devotion to the cult of Krishna, one of the earliest gods to have human-like qualities.
The creative powers of India's religious life have not declined but continue with the same energy as they had earlier. For example recently (in the 1960's), in Northern India, the goddess Santoshi Mata appeared complete with her own mythology and legends.
Why Do Hindu Deities Have so many Arms?
Image worship crept almost imperceptibly into Indian religions and was not only finally sanctioned in the religious scriptures but the images themselves, and the rituals for their worship were also described in greater detail. One of the results of this process, more especially the merging of two or more deities, was that some of the gods were shown as having several qualities. The visual problem that this created for the sculptor or artist when he made images of the gods was solved by showing them with several arms. Each hand would hold some object which would symbolize or represent the various qualities of that particular deity. Some of the hands would be empty but the position of the fingers and the palms would signify the character of that god. For example, if the fingers are pointing towards the ground, it means that the god is of a charitable disposition whereas the fingers pointing upwards, as in a blessing, signify a protector (see illustration). These gestures (mudras) symbolized their individual powers and differentiated them from other deities.
Hindu worship (puja) is not congregational, except in sects which put great emphasis on devotion (bhakti). In the temple, the devotee may be present at fixed ceremonies or he may employ a priest to carry out a ritual for him, or summon the god's attention on his own. Puja varies with the size of the sect, the size of the temple etc. Domestic worship varies in accordance with the individual needs. A rich household may employ a full time priest while others may invite one to perform ceremonies on special occasions. A busy person may restrict himself to a prayer in the morning or in the evening, and may make an occasional visit to a large temple on important festivals.
In a temple normal religious observances are performed throughout the day: waking the deity in the morning and the bathing, feeding and putting to rest at night. When entering the temple the devotee rings a bell which is suspended from the ceiling at the entrance. This is done in order to shut out external sounds and to enable the devotee to make the mind go inward and get concentrated. It also indicates the presence of the devotee in front of god. Lights are waved before the deity denoting that the Lord is "all light" and also as a mark of respect conveying the devotee's reverence. Incense is lighted to denote that the Lord is all-pervasive. The incense acts as a disinfectant also. The burning of camphor denotes that the ego should melt like it and the individual soul should become one with the Supreme. The devotee offers sweets, rice, fruit, etc., to the Lord. These are then distributed among the members of the household or the devotees present at the temple. This is called prasad. The priest puts a red or yellow paste on the forehead of the devotee. This is called tilak and is applied on the forehead between the eyebrows at a point called the 'ajna chakra', indicating where the third or the spiritual eye is. This is not to be confused with the bindi mark which Indian ladies put on the forehead which is decorative or to indicate their marital status.
Circumambulation around the idol is done after the prayers. The idol is supposed to generate a halo the advantage of which can be taken on going around it in the clockwise direction. Worship is of two kinds. The first is saguna, in which the worshipper uses a concrete symbol or idol which helps him to concentrate more easily. The second is nirguna which is a higher step in which concentration is done on the Absolute by drawing the mind inward, without the help of any physical symbol to fix the mind on. In Hindu worship it is not compulsory to go to a temple. One can meditate on the Absolute anywhere.
Gods and Godesses
He may wear a tigerskin or the skin of a black antelope as a garment and the sacred cord over his left shoulder. If coloured, he is pink or red. He is sometimes shown riding the goose, or sitting in the lotus position in a chariot being pulled by seven swans. The swan which is the symbol of knowledge, is his vehicle.
In the Rig-Veda the word Brahman (or Brahma) was used to indicate the mysterious power contained in sacred utterances. Later, this was associated with the skill of the priest who spoke the 'words' and he was described as a Brahmin. In the Upanishads, by a further development, this power was regarded as being universal and forming the elemental matter from which everything (including the gods themselves) originally emerged. Eventually this supreme creative spirit became fully personalized under the name of Brahma.
Since this idea is linked with the origin of the universe, it was inevitable that Brahma should become associated with Hindu cosmogony. Many legends grew, particularly in the later texts, surrounding the connection with the origin and control of the universe. In one of them the supreme soul and self-existent lord created the waters of the earth and deposited in them a seed which became the golden egg, out of which He was born as Brahma. According to other texts, he became a boar who raised the earth from the primeval waters and thus created the world. He is described as assuming the appearance of a fish or a tortoise at the beginning of the ages. In much later developments of Hindu mythology these aspects are attributed to Vishnu and Brahma assumes a secondary role. His worship slowly declined and has not been widespread since the 6th century A.D.
Sarve Janaah Sukhino Bhavanthu