Why do Hindus have so many gods?

Hindu Dharma is known to be a supermarket of gods. Why is this so? The Vedas are the basic books of Hindu Dharma and they proclaim without any ambiguity that God is One. The Upanishads also affirm this. The Supreme is One and is known as the Brahman and its reflection in the human being is known as the Atman. So why has Hindu Dharma, as it is projected to the uninitiated and to the majority of Hindus themselves, expose a facade of so many gods?

This is a very interesting question and one has to go to the minds of the rishis who were the founders of the Hindu religion to find an answer to it. First of all we have to realise that according to Hindu Dharma, the goal of life is to attain emancipation from the dualities of life and find its source of bliss within itself, in the atman, which is a reflection of the supreme source of bliss which is the Brahman.

Ananda or bliss is the only word which has no opposite. Happiness however, is inextricably connected with its counter correlative which is unhappiness. This can be said of all the things that we experience in the world. They all have their counter correlatives without which they cannot exist. Joy cannot exist without sorrow, beauty cannot exist without ugliness, and good cannot exist without bad and so on. These opposites come and go in our lives.

The human being tries to grab at only the so-called, positive aspect of these dualities and naturally we are always frustrated because these positives cannot exist by themselves. Negatives are always aligned to them. Life is a coin with two sides, good and bad and our demand is for a coin with only one side which just does not exist. But the rishis have given us a solution to this eternal human problem. They have pointed out an existence which is pure consciousness and is ever in a state of bliss which is the supreme foundation of everything in this cosmos. This they called the Brahman.

The only way out of the dilemma which faces the human being is to reach this source of bliss which does not carry a counter correlative. So this is the goal of life in Hindu Dharma but to make an ordinary person understand this deep insight to the nature of life would be quite impossible. It would be like trying to teach a 5 year old the intricacies of calculus and trigonometry!

The mind of the ordinary human being is always filled with expectations and desires and is in a state of anxiety most of the time. It is always fixed on the duality of the world and never looks for the unity which is to be found within him. This sort of mind is unfit for meditation and will not lead to a single-pointed concentration on the Supreme, which is the only source of bliss. The mind is always fixed on something in the world which is always dualistic and which therefore, can never confer peace and bliss.

The religion of the rishis known as Hindu Dharma is ingeniously designed to treat this particular disorder of the mind to always hanker after the ephemeral and transient which will never give it the bliss it longs for sub- consciously.

The master plan of the rishis was to divine-ize everything in this world since our attention is always fixed on the outside world. This was a clear cut and well-thought out plan which was psychologically and scientifically accurate. By this the mind is reminded of the supreme even when it is engaged in acquiring the desired objects of the world.

Hence, we have the plethora of gods and goddesses in Hindu Dharma who are all aspects of that Brahman. The goddess Lakshmi is the personification of wealth and auspiciousness. The man who runs after wealth is constantly made to remember her in all his doings. All business men have a portrait of Lakshmi in their shops. The one who longs for knowledge and wisdom is given goddess Saraswati who is the embodiment of wisdom. Thus, you find that there are numerous gods and goddesses covering the entire sphere of human activities.

Everything is divine-ized from the cradle to the grave. There is some ritual or god that is associated with every aspect of Hindu life. The rishis were master psychologists and these type of religious ideas were given to the human being in order to remind him constantly of the purpose of his existence in the world, that is to unfold his divine potential and realise his own godhood. By concentrating on these gods outside himself, he reaches the goal of self-realization and understands that he is indeed a god amongst all the gods that he worships.

Every Hindu, however, uneducated he may be, seems to have an intuitive grasp of the one Reality which is hidden behind the superficial absurdities. That is why a devotee of Krishna can as easily go to a Shiva or Kali or Ganesha temple. In fact in a puja, the first step is to invoke the divine within us and install it in the idol which is placed before us. Only then is the puja conducted. At the end of the puja, the reverse procedure is done and the divinity is revoked back to the person who is doing the puja.

The Vedas are the foundation of the Hindu religion. But their knowledge was confined to an exclusive set of people who were erudite and well tutored. The rishis thus found this ingenious method of preserving this great culture by presenting these Vedic truths to the common man through the stories of the gods as found in the Puranas which were easily digestible by all. All Hindus, regardless of whether they are educated or illiterate, treat the Puranas with utmost devotion and derive spiritual sustenance from them.

The Hindu is aware of the allegorical reference to the supreme truth within the seemingly absurd stories. This was the method by which the Vedic truths were handed down from generation to generation. This is how Hindu Dharma has survived the ravages of time and the onslaught of many of the belligerent Semitic religions.

Unfortunately, the onslaughts of western religions and thought seem to have coloured the youth of Bharat so that they see these narratives as a set of superstitious nonsense. This is how the western world saw it and the our youth now are beginning to question it since they see through western eyes.

Another method used by rishis was to present the unknown and transcendental through the use of symbols. A symbol is a known form representing an unknown ideal. These symbols help both the literate and illiterate. Symbolism plays an important role in the life of a Hindu. You will find many symbols or yantras which are drawn in front of Hindu houses. Ordinary language is also a type of symbolism. To some extent symbolism has also been used in other religions like the cross for the Christians but no other religion has ever developed this art to the extent that Hindu Dharma has done.

Unfortunately, the modern generation has not studied this art in the proper manner. Seeing them through bigoted western eyes, they have rejected them as meaningless and superstitious. This is an ancient science which has withstood the ravages of time and is meant for the whole of humanity since the aim of the rishis was to make the human, a god man.

Hence, there is an urgent need today to revive this art and science and educate the world with an understanding of the great psychological significance of the gods and symbols used in Hindu Dharma.

Hari Aum Tat Sat.

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About the Author

Vanmali Mataji
Vanamali Mata ji is an exemplary yogini and sadhvi who resides in Vanamali Ashram, Rishikesh. Vanamali is one of the names of Bhagwan Krishna and she is an ardent Krishna bhakta. Mataji always dresses in lavender as that is the colour of Krishna in transcendence. She has published many books on the Hindu pantheon of gods: The Complete Life of Krishna, The Complete Life of Rama, Shiva -- Stories and teachings from the Shiva Mahapurana; The Science of the Rishis; In the lost city of Krishna: Nitya Yoga -- Essays on the Bhagavad Gita. Mata ji regularly conducts classes on the Vedic Way of Life and the Sreemad Bhagavad Gita both in the Ashram and abroad. The Ashram does a lot of charitable work in both Rishikesh and in a small Himalyan village called Gaja. About a hundred widows are being given rations and many have also been adopted by various philanthropists the world over. They also help in running a small village school in Gaja, and a tribal school in Kerala.