Understanding The Concept Of God In Hinduism

By Uma Shankari

The gods of Hinduism are many, and include the triad, Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva, the gods of creation, nurture and destruction, and their consorts, as well as a myriad local community gods. Even though Hinduism is mistakenly regarded by many as being polytheistic, yet truly speaking, Hinduism is monotheistic or better still, pantheistic. Monotheism, in the Western sense, means belief in the existence of one God who created and is distinct from the universe. On the other hand, pantheism is the view that God is essentially identical with the universe and fully immanent in it. Hindu scriptures loudly proclaim Brahman as the highest God: formless, infinite and eternal, beyond space and time and a source of all life and consciousness. All these gods and goddesses represent different aspects of the absolute Brahman. One should understand the fact that each deity is a manifestation of Brahman. It symbolizes one particular aspect of Brahman, or ultimately Brahman itself. The term Brahman should not, however, be confused with lesser manifestation of Brahman, namely, the creator Brahma. The former is impersonal and in Sanskrit textual references is given no gender form, whilst the latter takes a male gender form.

Ordinary mortals may have difficulties in contemplating a formless God. Unlike God, human mind is finite; so, when we think about Him, we try to project our limitations on Him. This is the point where we associate certain kind of attributes to Him, like different forms, sexuality, personalities and duties. Physical attributes like the color (Vishnu is blue, but Durga or Kali, the warrior-like manifestation of Siva's consort Parvati, is red) and form (elephant-head of Ganesha, multiple arms of Shakti) have esoteric significance that the scholars can meditate upon, but the lesser mortals can simply show their devotion by singing and dancing. In fact, various art forms like drama, theatre, dance and music have been centered around epics like Mahabharata, Ramayana and Puranas, which impart ethical and moral values to the people through stories - you could say they are like the Complete Idiot's Guide to Hinduism.

The numerous ways in which the Hindu gods exist makes it easy for an ordinary man to identify with God. Many of the Gods have families and are fathers, mothers, husbands, wives, sons or daughters. Thus, instead of being an abstract concept, god becomes a personal being. Hinduism wanted to bring God to the doorsteps of people and weave it around their daily activities to give them a certain sense of direction and aim. Many texts specify to the minutest of details the daily ritualistic observances, the ways of worship etc. Hindu worship virtually always involves sculptures and images, to which offerings are made and rituals are performed. These are aimed at taming the mind. Devotion to these various deities is based primarily on one's region and needs. There are family gods, village gods and community gods - somehow one gets a feeling that being nearer to their devotee's dwellings, they would easily be able to understand and bring calm to the distressed mind.

Why smaller gods, even we human beings are manifestations of Brahman and the ultimate goal is to identify our connection with the absolute Brahman and realize our own godliness: "aham brahmasmi" (I am the Brahman).


Uma Shankari is a Bangalore-based freelance journalist. She is passionate about writing. She writes regularly on development issues, health and fitness, yoga/meditation, life and relationships. Read some her articles on http://www.helium.com/search/search?search_query=Uma+Shankari