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Durable Link to this BlogSaturday, May 23, 2009

Freedom of Worship and Myriad of Gods

The Hindu custom of worshiping innumerable gods, their symbols, trees, animals and stones may appear very strange to followers of other regions. Even those scholars who know that the highest philosophy of monism or adwaita is of one God and merger of the individual self with Him, of one formless God and merger of the individual self with Him, are baffled to see the myriad gods, their symbols, strange idols and at times ghastly modes of worship throughout the country of India.

Self-realization, which should ultimately lead to formless God-realization is a very difficult concept to follow. Hindu ethos paved a pragmatic approach to pray and worship God, the way a devotee would like and visualize Him. "He is what you perceive" ("bhav taso dev"), is the sublime idea that has given full freedom to Hindus of worshiping their favorite deity. For instance Lord Krishna is worshiped as a child (Balagopal), as romantic hero (Radhakrishna or Gopikrishna), as killer of giants like Mura. Hence he is Murari. He is holder of mountain (Giridhar) or finally, Lord of spiritual knowledge (Yogeshwar). So is Shiva a Tandava murty (dancer) Dakshina murty (teacher) or Bhikshatana murty (infatuating beggar). He is seen in varied forms from originator to destroyer of universe. But it is as sustainer of their cosmic form that grateful devotees pray and worship these gods again in innumerable forms!

Myriad of Gods

Four Handed Lord Vishnu Five Headed Goddess Lakshmi Chandra Mouli, Bell-Metal Icon of Lord Shiva
Wall Painting of Hanuman in Rajasthan Idol of Lord Ganesh Granite Ishwar Linga

The freedom of individual worship has led to creation of colorful mythology with umpteen number of anecdotes in puranas. But most devotees are aware of the underlying philosophy that God is one but manifests in different forms. The idol of the deity is only a symbol. It is only a means of remembering God. Formless God is inconceivable to the majority of Hindus, who like to worship their individual or family deity, with whom they are too familiar. This underlying belief does not deter the faithful from attending temples and participate in puja and worship rituals like aratis and receive prasad of any number of deities.

A well known Sanskrit verse says : Worshipping the idol is the first step. Repititon of holy name and singing ( japa beads, stotras and bhajans ) are better. Still better is meditation ( dhyana ) and the best or highest state an individual is to realize "I am He" ( soham).

Sanskrit :

Prathama pratima puja
Japastotradi madhyama
Uttama manasi puja
Soham pujottmottama

Ordinary mortals need different symbols in the form of idols. The medium (material ) verbal or mental signified by puja, singing, or meditation could be taken up singly or jointly. All these do help to remember God who otherwise remains a vague concept

See Also:
• List of Hindu Gods and Goddesses
• Religion of Non-belief
• Idolatry and Freedom of Worship

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Jyotsna Kamat

Jyotsna Kamat Ph.D. lives in Bangalore.


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