Hindu Gods Goddesses : Understanding Vedic Hi...
Thus Hinduism is a pantheistic religion: It equates God with the universe. Yet Hindu religion is also polytheistic: populated with myriad gods and goddesses who personify aspects of the one true God, allowing individuals an infinite number of ways to worship based on family tradition, community and regional practices, and other considerations.
Hindu gods goddesses : understanding Vedic Hi...
The Vedic gods are those gods who feature prominently in the four Vedas. These gods were worshipped by the Vedic people. Their mode of worshipping was through rituals and sacrifices to the gods. According to the Vedas, the Brahman created Gods and humans in such a way that they had to be dependent on each other. Gods had power but could not make food for themselves and humans did not have power but they could make their own food. So gods helped the humans and the humans provided food to the gods. They received the food externally and internally. Externally through the sacrifices burned in the fire and internally through the digestive fire of our stomach. The Vedas speak of a lot of gods but the important once are mentioned more often than the others. The following is a list of the important gods and goddesses in the Vedas
Saraswathi is the goddesses of the river. She has seven sisters. She is the helper of gods. She punishes people that look down upon god. She is also a giver of water to the people. She provides people with strength as well as wealth.
If you want to tap into these powerful gods and goddesses, you can cultivate a meditation practice with one in mind. You could even have a statue or image of your favorite god or goddess somewhere in your space of practice.
According to Hinduism, also referred to as Sanatan Dharma (Eternal Order), Brahman is the one supreme reality or the underlying divine entity behind everything. But there are also a multitude of individual gods and goddesses, each with different roles and dedicated worshippers. In this way, Hinduism can be viewed as both monotheistic, having only one god, and also polytheistic, having many gods. Hinduism consists of a compilation of different philosophies, rituals, cultural practices, and traditions. Because of this, there is a wide diversity in Hindu beliefs and practice, both throughout history and among different communities, with many considering Hinduism more a way of life than a religion.
In addition to the three central deities of the Trimurti, many other gods and goddesses are worshipped in Hinduism, some of them being different incarnations of Vishnu or Shiva. Specific Hindu deities often have temples dedicated to their worship with statues and images of one or more deities. Each of the individual Hindu deities is a manifestation or embodiment of some aspect or characteristic of Brahman. Yet Hindus also recognize and worship various deities as distinct gods and goddesses. Hindu worship, or puja , varies, but usually consists of rituals done at home or in the temple, and includes reciting chants and making offerings to the gods. Here are some of the most significant Hindu gods and goddesses:
Hinduism can be viewed as either monotheistic because it believes in one divine reality, called Brahman, or as polytheistic because of the multitude of gods and goddesses that are worshipped. Hinduism today is a compilation of many traditions, cultures and rituals, with its earliest origins traced to the Indus Valley Civilization. During the Vedic era , the oldest Hindu texts, the four Vedas, were put into writing.
When it comes to worship, or puja , there are many ways that Hindus show their devotion to the various deities. Puja can involve daily chants or rituals at home or more involved ceremonies and offerings made at temples on special occasions or festivals. Depending on the Hindu sect or particular community, specific gods or goddesses may be worshipped as supreme.
There are many Hindu gods and goddesses but some of the most significant are the three in the Hindu Trimurti - Brahma, Shiva, and Vishnu. Also significant is Shakti, or the Goddess, and all her different forms including Durga, Parvati, and Kali. Some other popular Hindu deities include Ganesh, Laxmi, Saraswati, Hanuman, Rama, and Krishna.
Imagine inviting a god or goddess into your home. You entertain and converse with the divine figure by offering a seat, water and then a bath, food, flowers, perfume and incense. You finish with songs and prayers, all in an effort to unite with the deity, a state westerners might call "grace." Your god's name and image may differ depending on your region, community or even neighborhood, but you have quite a variety of potential invitees to select -- some say 30,000 but others put the total as high as 330 million. The invitation is called puja, and the ceremony is the path that most Hindus follow when they want to meet and converse with the divine. Puja can occur at any time of day, in a simple shrine in a corner of your home or in a temple, where the image of the god is bathed, dressed in holy garments and adorned with flowers. Puja is only a small reflection of Hinduism's startling diversity, a brief stop in a long, winding journey in which ascetics live side by side with Hindus who are as worldly and modern as Americans but whose lives revolve around elaborate rituals. It is a journey in which worship of a single deity does not rule out belief in a pantheon of gods. At first glance, Hinduism seems full of contradictions, dizzying arrays of gods, goddesses, ways and modes of life. In reality, it is an expression of an extraordinary diversity of regions and locales, languages and dialects, cults and subcults and of the fact that the local cults coalesced into one religion over the last 4,000 years. Today, Hinduism is the world's third largest faith after Christianity and Islam. It is embraced by more than 80 percent of India's 937 million people and by about 5 million people elsewhere in the world, particularly Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sikkim, Malaysia, Guyana, Suriname and Sri Lanka. About 1.2 million Americans are Hindus. What may be most startling about Hinduism is how it differs from other major religions. Hinduism has no clear beginning marked by birth of a founder or prophet. It has no one supreme god, although divinity in general sometimes is called God, no single text, no central authority, and each of the many Hindu gods has several incarnations, each with more than one name. Two of the most prominent gods, Vishnu (who became a human named Krishna) and Siva (pronounced SHEE-vuh and sometimes spelled Shiva) are good examples of the complexity of the faith. Their personalities and attributes can be contradictory. Siva, for example, is both creator and destroyer of the universe. But the moral teachings of Hinduism -- nonviolence, vegetarianism and tolerance -- resonate with many in modern society. "When you consider how diverse Hinduism is, you begin to understand how difficult it is to identify how Hindu beliefs impact on a person's life," says Richard Davis, who teaches religion at Yale University. "One of the features of Indian thinking is the notion that dharma, or code of conduct, is thought of as being an individual matter. There is always a sense that there are multiple ways to be religious." The demands of dharma differ depending on caste, a classification inherited at birth, says Madhav Deshpande, who teaches in the Department of Asian Languages and Cultures at the University of Michigan. Today, India has almost 3,000 castes that can be traced to four traditional classes and a creation myth contained in the earliest of Hindu writings, the Rig-Veda, composed between 1200 B.C. and 900 B.C. The myth holds that a cosmic man called Purusha was partitioned during a primordial sacrifice. From his body emerged four classes. From his mouth came the Brahmans, who are Hinduism's highest class and originally were poet-priests responsible for orally transmitting Hindu hymns and prayers. Purusha's arms gave birth to the Rajanya, the warrior class. His thighs became the Vaisya, the farmers and traders, and from his feet emerged the largest class, the Sudra, or servants, who were to carry the burden of the other three classes. HISTORY The term "Hinduism" comes from the Indo-Aryan word, sindhu, for the Indus River. Persians modified the word to "hind" and applied it to the people of the Indus valley. European scholars used the word in an attempt to define and compare world religions. In the 19th century, the colonial British used "hindu" to describe the practices of Indians who were neither Christians nor Muslims. "So Hinduism was not a word that referred to a religion per se but a word referring to a region, its people and their practices," Deshpande says. "Eventually the word was picked up by the indigenous peoples and essentially became a term that described the residual religious tradition of India." Hindu belief recognizes the absolute authority of the Vedas, one of the world's oldest bodies of religious literature and a mirror of India's ancient history. "Veda" comes from the Sanskrit word "to know" and means "book of knowledge." The scriptures are a collection of hundreds of texts and essays that fed the mainstream of Hindu belief when Hinduism evolved into an integrated religion. The Vedas were written by an ancient community that called itself "Aryas," or noble ones. The term "arya" is shared by several ancient languages of the Indo-European family. According to philosophical and archaeological reconstructions, the Aryas were thought to be nomads from south-central Russia. Having domesticated the horse and invented the chariot, they enjoyed a major military advantage as they left their homeland about 4,000 B.C and invaded much of Europe and Asia. Those who went south into the Iranian plateau and the Indian subcontinent are called the Indo-Aryans. About 2000 B.C., Indo-Aryans began moving into the Indus River Valley. Between 1200 B.C. and 600 B.C., they moved into India, subduing native peoples. By 600 B.C., they had established authority throughout much of Northern India and shed nomadic status to become farmers. The Vedas introduced the concept of Brahman. In the abstract, the word refers not to people but to the essence of the universe. Brahman is eternal and infinite. Hindus believe that it is the source of all existence, that it is everywhere and in everything and is the soul, or self, of every living being. Brahman, in the concrete sense, has been personalized in the gods Vishnu and Siva. Later additions to the Vedas introduced the central concepts of samsara and karma. The former is the repeating cycle of birth, death and rebirth of the soul into a new body, and the latter are actions in this life that determine what one will be in the next. The Vedas also put forth the concept of ahimsa, or non-injury. This teaching includes nonviolence but goes further in saying people should not hurt others, even psychologically. Ahimsa was the root of Mahatma Gandhi's powerful campaign of passive resistance that won India's independence from British colonial rule in 1947. It also was a source of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s tactics during his struggle for civil rights. Beyond these points, scholars say, it is difficult to understand the Vedas without focusing on the theme of sacrifice. The role of sacrifice in Hindu religion has changed dramatically since its debut in the earliest books of the Vedas, when a sacrifice was like that of the ancient Jews, an animal burned on an altar. Then, sacrifices were made by a small circle of poet-priests who viewed the ritual as the way to preserve the order of the world. Today, animals are deemed holy, and Hindu sacrifice is largely a symbolic effort to communicate with the divine, as in puja. RIG-VEDA AND BRAHMANS The Rig-Veda is the earliest recorded Vedic scripture. Compiled by Brahman poet-priests between 1200 B.C. and 1000 B.C., it contains 1,028 hymns praising a multiplicity of gods and addresses the practice of sacrifice. Sacrifice came to be seen as the way that Indo-Aryans could maintain the new social and cosmic order they established while moving into India. At this time, the Brahman class also emerged. The word "brahman" is used in the Rig-Veda to describe Vedic hymns as inherently powerful speech, but the word later was applied to a class of people, the Rig-Veda poets, who memorized and popularized the hymns. At that time, brahmans did not constitute a defined class, but later Vedic texts referred to them as a hereditary occupational group responsible for teaching the Vedas and performing sacrificial actions. They would become Hinduism's elite caste. In Vedic times, "blood sacrifices" of burned animals were central to Hinduism. Fire played a central role in these ceremonies, says David Gordon White, who teaches Hindu studies at the University of Virginia. Fire transformed mundane offerings from this world into proper food for the gods. However, in the 4th century B.C., the ruling Brahman class sought to set itself apart from society, and it became accepted that a "good" Brahman no longer would sacrifice animals but instead offer the deity vegetables and dairy products. Eventually, animals, particularly cows, were seen as holy, and Hindu society refrained from eating meat. Ahimsa (non-injury), White says, grew out of Hinduism's departure from blood sacrifice. Today, puja has all but replaced Vedic sacrifice, though certain traditional sacrificial features, such as use of fire, have carried over to modern times. TRANSMIGRATION The Aranyakas, which means "forest books," and the Upanishads, which means "sitting close to a teacher," were composed between 900 B.C. and 600 B.C. as additions to the Vedas. They recount discussions between teachers and students in the forest and take the concept of sacrifice in a new direction. The Upanishads featured a Brahman teacher named Yajnavalkya who infused traditional Vedic wisdom with new ideas. For instance, he and others introduced the great cycle of samsara, or transmigration, which holds that when a person or animal dies, its soul is reborn in a new body. A person may be reborn as another creature, lower or higher in the spiritual and physical hierarchy of beings. Yajnavalkya taught that what determined a person's fate in the next life was karman, or karma. Derived from the root kr, meaning "to do" or "to make," karma means "action." In the Vedic texts, karma refers to sacrificial action, the idea that good karma comes from performing sacrifices to the gods. All actions have consequences. Unhappy or immoral deeds in this life bring bad karma, which condemns one to unhappiness in the next life, usually by birth as a lower life form. Is there any way out of the endless cycle of samsara? Yajnavalkya said yes. Release is called "moksha," meaning "liberation" or "salvation." It is perhaps the most important Upanishad idea for later development of Hinduism. Moksha leads to a state similar to what Buddhists call nirvana. Moksha means a blowing out or extinction of the flame of life or a state of "passionless peace." According to Yajnavalkya, a person can achieve moksha by ceasing to desire, because desire drives action and perpetuates samsara. If sacrifice maintains the rhythms of the world, the search for moksha was a person's escape from that process. PATHS TO SALVATION To attain moksha, Yajnavalkya recommended renouncing worldly involvement. This, however, meant that moksha could be a goal only for a select few, not those who desired to participate in society. A central dilemma shaping development of Hindu belief was tension between the desire to participate in life, which perpetuates the cycle of samsara, and the attempt to break the cycle. The dharma texts, Indian religious law books written more than 2,000 years ago, attempted to reconcile this tension by outlining four stages of life that permitted Hindus to move from worldly involvement to moksha. First, the dharma scriptures taught, young Hindus should strive to be chaste students. Then they should grow to become married householders who procreate and participate in society according to Hindu ritual. After this, the devout Hindu could retire and move to the forest to contemplate. The fourth stage called for the Hindu to become a wandering ascetic. But in fact, few Hindus live the last two stages. Still, moksha remains an ideal for every practicing Hindu. A highly influential text, the Bhagavadgita (Song of the Lord) written in 200 B.C., introduces a form of religious devotion in which the ceremony of puja becomes the way to meet and fuse with the devine, moving closer to the highest goal while remaining in the everyday world. An important part of puja is darshana, in which the worshiper stares into the eyes of a statue that the god or goddess is invited to inhabit temporarily. After the ceremony, the deity leaves the statue. "Basically, the Bhagavadgita states that intense, personal devotion to a loving god is reciprocated by that god's grace," White says. "Grace takes the form of union between the devotee with the divine, generally after death. Most Hindus would identify that with moksha, that is, a release from the world of suffering where a god is always at a distance, present momentarily through worship but never there in a permanent way. Puja becomes the way to be with God at any given moment of the day." Still, puja is only one of many rituals designed to bring a person closer to the deity. Hindus perform many other ceremonies, each designed to refine their life and bring them closer to such fusion. RITUALS Ritual and sacrifice are at the heart of daily practice of Hinduism. Traditional rituals are called samskaras. These are rites of passage and apply to various stages of a Hindu's life. Samskaras are fascinatingly elaborate, and although they vary according to region, sect or caste, they guide Hindu life from conception through cremation. Some ritual manuals identify about 40 samskaras worthy of being performed, though most Hindus carry out only 10 or so in a lifetime, says R.H. Khare, an anthropologist at the University of Virginia. The earliest ceremonies start soon after pregnancy and involve offerings designed to affect the child's sex, personality and intelligence. "When a boy is born, there is a great deal of celebration," Khare says. "Instruments are played, and conch shells are blown. But when a girl is born, the mood is very subdued. Parents think she will be a social and economic burden. And, unfortunately, that is still prevalent today." After birth, the most important ritual is initiation, which marks a powerful turning point in a Hindu boy's life. According to Khare, initiation applies only to boys in higher castes. Traditionally, the boy is between 8 and 12 and undergoes a ceremony in which he is introduced to a teacher, or guru, for religious instruction. Today, the initiation ceremony marks the transition from youth and naivete to social and religious responsibility. After the ceremony, the boy is considered a man and referred to as a "twice-born one," symbolizing his natural birth and his spiritual rebirth. Once initiated, a boy is ready for marriage. In India, parents often choose spouses for their children. The samskara of marriage is beautiful and expensive, and preparatory rituals last for months. According to this samskara, man and woman are destined to be brought together by their karmas. The wedding ceremony confirms their union through karma. Fire is central to the marriage ceremony and serves as a witness to the couple's union. Hindu marriage, Khare says, "is a religious sacrament rather than a social contract. The couple is destined to be together, and so the ceremony itself is literally conducted in the presence of gods and goddesses." Finall