Solving the mystery of Gods of Hinduism

Solving the mystery of Gods of Hinduism

By Aparna Dandekar, D.O, AP

There is much confusion about so many gods in Hinduism and Vedic Culture. Lets try to demystify it a little.

Lets begin with who Devatas are. Devatas are demigods, or, angels in Hinduism and are also called Adityas. Aditya means "son of Aditi". Aditi is the mother of the Sun and the other devas, while her sister Diti was the mother of the asuras, or the demons. Diti's sons are also called Daityas.

The other clarification I wanted to make through this blog was about the Hindu Trinity of Brahma, Vishnu, and Mahesh (Shiva).

There is a general confusion for many people about the terms Brahma versus Brahmin versus Brahman. And this is but natural because they are spelled so similarly!

Brahma is the creator of the material universe, he is born of Vishnu, and operates as per Vishnu's command. He is often depicted as an elderly bearded man with three heads, sitting on a lotus flower whose long stalk emerges from Vishnu's navel, almost like an umbilical cord. There is deep symbology behind all of this, beyond the scope of this discussion. This Brahma, the creator, occupies a post or "office", and his job is to create. He is not worshipped as the Ultimate Truth or The One; he is considered a "demi-god".

Vishnu and Shiva are the ones who get to enjoy the title of "God" spelled with a capital "G", while other deities are "gods". These gods could be considered angels or divine officers, or divine beings who are highly evolved and have much power, yet they are not God.

The title of God goes to Vishnu, Shiva and Shakti. Of course, staunch worshippers Vishnu (Vaishnavas) may disagree, and say that only Vishnu get the big "G". Shaivites (those who worship Shiva) may argue that only Shiva is God and Vishnu is a demigod. Those who exclusively worship the Divine Mother Shakti (Shaktas) will say, nope; there's only one God and She is Kali/Durga/Laxmi. But for most people in India, God means Vishnu/Shiva/Shakti when God takes on a PERSONAL (saguna) form.

When God is IMPERSONAL (nirguna), He/She/It is incomprehensible, limitless, formless, genderless, ageless, beginingless, endless, boundless energy. Lord Krishna (God) talks about this in the Bhagavad Gita, particularly in chapters 10 and 11. He also states that those who worship the ancestors, the demigods, and other "lower" celestial beings will enjoy the planes of these divine beings and return to earth when their karma is exhausted, but those who worship GOD (Krishna) will attain Him alone and never have to re-enter the cycle of birth and death. Lord Krishna also says that whomever you choose to worship, your prayers ultimately reach Krishna.

The demi-gods are personifications of the planets, the elements, rivers, mountains, forces of nature, etc. They are revered as very highly evolved beings far superior to man. They hold boons and blessings and they have the power to influence human destiny. They have their own stories, their own glories, their own mantras, special days of the week, rituals of worship, magnificent temples, magical vehicles, weapons, and other divine opulences. They are worshipped as manifestations of the endless wondrous powers of God. However, there is a clear understanding in the mind of each Hindu that God is One, Many are the Manifestations. This is a central tenet of the religion.

I imagine that this is similar to the concept of Patron Saints in Catholicism. These are powerful and revered beings to whom prayers are made, but ultimately God is One. In fact, doubting His singularity in Christianity would be blasphemy. Similarly, Hinduism is very much a monotheistic philosophy; but seemingly polytheistic, with millions of deities who preside over the forces of nature, like stationed officers, under the command of The One.

You could also look at them as expansions of God. In the beginning there was One. In the Vedas, the sentence "Eko'ham, bahu syam", when translated means, "I am one; let Me be many". Thus God became everything and everyone--all of creation. This is why we look upon everyone as divine; as carrying a spark of God, which is the soul or atman. When God resides in us, how can we be doomed sinners?

When God/Atman resides in all other creatures around us, how can we kill and eat them? This is why vegetarianism is such a cultural concept in all Dharma religions. This is why cows and other animals are "worshipped" in India, much to the amusement and laughter of the rest of the world, who is exposed to such practices on documentaries which do not explain this cultural context. Without understanding this backstory, India is misunderstood as a backward country, and Hinduism as a religion of simpletons.

Now, lets move on to Brahmin and Brahman.

Brahmin is simply a man or woman whose occupation is scholarly or priestly.

Brahman is synonymous the The One, or the Supreme, or God.

Brahma, Brahmin and Brahman are the usual romanized spellings of these three words. But if I were to write them out in IAST format with diacritical marks, they would look like this : (1) ब्रह्मा brahmā ,the creator god (2) ब्राह्मण brāhmaṇa , the priest, and , (3) ब्रह्मन् brahman, The Supreme. The diacritical marks help us with the proper pronunciation.