About Hinduism and India

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Splashes – 7/72 – Fascinating Hindu Imagery

The learned sages of Hinduism explored the nature, identified properties of natural elements and passed down the knowledge to their disciples. Learning was then orally disseminated. Therefore for the sake of easy understanding and memorization, they humanized various phenomena and often interlinked their cause and effects by creating interesting stories. Later images were also added to the personifications and the narratives. Thereafter idols and sculptors also followed.

With passage to time, the humanized form of natural phenomena came to be worshipped or feared also. Super human power of gods and goddesses were suggested through four arms, multiple heads, and other such embellishments. Following traditions set by Santana Dharma, subsequent religions all over the worlds have also used icons or symbols to represent abstract and intangible objects. Since transmission of exploratory knowledge was oral due to which narratives sometimes got distorted, and the missing links were made up by local imagination all over the world. However, Hindu mythology has much more to offer to the world in the field of art and literature. It has combined and maintained scientific rationale in depiction of mythological art. In contrast most of the imagery created by Non Hindu faiths has no rationale of scientific backing.

Hindu Imagery is Universal

Hindu mythology is not confined to any particular geographical area and time. Hindu mythological characters have imprints left over the entire universe. There are several descriptions related to inter-planetary movements not only of gods and goddesses, but also of sages and mortal beings. The gods, goddesses and many of the sages like Narada, Ved Vyas, Durvasa, Jamavant, Hanuman, and Ashwathama are timeless and immortal.

Gods and godesses are capable to appear and disappear at any time and place. They remain clad in glittering costumes. They are powerful and resourceful to grant boons and can inflict destruction through curse as well. Every God possesses weapons to destroy the evil, as well as flowers to shower blessings.  No god is helpless that ordinary people could crucify him. By common sense, If a god is depicted in poor and helpless state certainly such god cannot help the mortal beings who repose their faith in his effectiveness. At the same time apart from being powerful and learned, Hindu gods possess human feelings also.

Representation of Environment

Hindus have laid greater importance on the preservation of environment. Animals and useful plants such as Peepal, Beil, Tulsi, and Banyan are associated with various gods and goddesses; to be loved, nurtured, and even worshiped. Sources of water, mountains and other elements of nature are also identified as abode of gods and goddesses. Recognizing their right to co-exist with others, animals are also included in Hindu mythology. No one is under rated. Even Pig and snakes, hated in other faiths have found a respectable place in mythology. Many animals are associated with Gods as their carriers. Animals like Varah, (pig) Kurma (tortoise) and Jatayu (vulture) were given the status of Gods and goddesses to impress the Omnipresence of the Almighty.

Carrying forward the importance of environment, Hindus have given utmost importance to the upkeep of ecology in daily life. The normal daily routines of individuals include purification of air through Yagnas and Havans, feeding of birds and animals, and watering of plants. Some of the trees that help in pollution free environment are planted in residential, near temples, and public places. All water sources, tanks, rivers, and lakes are regarded sacred.

Idea of Heaven and Hell

Every religion has drawn its own concept of heaven and hell. These concepts are identical to the conditions prevailing where the religion was originated.  Islam originated in heated desserts where nothing grew, so Islamic Heaven is cool, shady and has plenty of water sources. Fruit grow in plenty and nymphs are always on duty to serve the believers of Islamic faith. Their Hell is burning hot with lot-many apparatus of torture installed to punish the non-believers and worshipers of idols.

Christianity took its roots in chilly snow winds, therefore Biblical Heaven has perpatual Sun shine, but their hell is fully covered with ice. Hindus have conceptualized a rationalzed scenario. Death is caused when soul leaves the body. Once dead body of a Hindu is burnt, the departed soul does not feel any pleasure or pain. Therefore Hindus need not be afraid of the torture machines at work in hell nor should be over enthusiastic about the heaven.

In Hinduism Swarga and Narka are synonyms for happy and unhappy homes in their world of living. Pious people reside in heaven called Swarga and sinners are assigned to hell identified as Narka irrespective of their being believers or non-believers. The only difference is that Narka residents have chances of relocating themselves in Swarga with good deeds done when they are reborn. Because non-Hindu faiths do not believe in re-birth, obviously they do not get another chance to improve their fate. They continue waiting for the Day of Judgment in their respective graves.

Trinity of Supreme Power

Hindus believe in one God, but view the same God in three different modes of action that is known as the Trinity or Trimurti of Supreme God. The pictorial representation of Omnipresent, Omniscience and Omnipotent God performing creation, preservation and destruction of Universe is viewed separately as Brahma, Vishnu and Maheshwara personalities of the Almighty.

  • Brahma is the Creator God. He is traditionally depicted with four heads and four arms. Each head recites one of the four Vedas. One of the four hands hold a water-pot used for creating life, another a string of rosary beads to keep track of the Universal time, the third holds text of the Vedas, and the fourth hand holds a lotus flower. His spouse is goddess Saraswati to depict that without knowledge no creation can be made. Their mount is Hamsa (Swan). Brahma only occasionally interferes in the affairs of the gods and even more rarely that of mortal beings. He is known to do one time planning for the Universe and lets occurrences to happen as scheduled. He is generally depicted old to signify that creativity, wisdom, and experience without resources and power are like an old and helpless person. Since learned persons do not appreciate psycho-fancy, Brahma’s worshipers are few. There is only one temple of Brahma located at Pushkar in Rajasthan state.
  • Vishnu is the manifestation of almighty in the role of preserver of Universe. He is usually depicted as a four-armed humanoid with blue skin, either sitting or resting on a lotus flower or relaxing on coiled Sheshnag bed with His consort Lakshami (goddess of wealth) in attendance.  Being Omnipresent, his abode in Khsheer Sagar to signifies the scientific truth that all resources and life-giving substances and wealth originated from ocean. In his four arms, He carries a Conch shell to warn ill doers, a Celestial disc to chop their heads if necessary, a Mace being another weapon, and lotus flower to bless righteous persons. The posture of Vishnu thus indicates a person possessing resources and living in ultimate luxury. His mount is Garuda, the eagle. Being preserver of order in Universe, Vishnu is identified with his Avataras (Incarnations) to re-establish orderliness in the World on as required basis. He lets his viceroy Indra, the Chief of Devas, to manage the normal routines of Celestial Government and intervenes only when matters go out of Indra’s control. Resourceful persons usually have more people flocking around, so Vishnu mode of Almighty has large number of followers.
  • Maheshwara is the destroyer form of Almighty. He is represented as immersed in deep meditation, on Mount Kailasa. Though he represents destruction, but He is viewed as a positive force, the Destroyer of Evil. His vahana (mount) is ‘Nandi’, the Bull. He is usually represented by the symbol of Shivalinga. His consort is Parvati, a goddess of power (Shakti) who comes in many different forms, one of whom is Kaali, the goddess of death.  Maheshwara is Lord of all art forms. His image of Nataraja Shiva symbolizes the dance of the Universe, with all its delicately balanced heavenly bodies and natural laws which complement and balance each other. His great dance of destruction, called Taandava signifies Praleya – the doom’s day, resulting in total dissolution of the universe preceding recreation.  Powerful persons are feared, respected and flocked, thus Shiva also has large following.

Trinity inspired Division of Power Concept

All the three reflections are in fact one God performing three different functions of creation, preservation and finally destruction same way as a human can be son to the parents, husband to the wife, and father to his children. All the three separate functions are performed by the same person but the person is viewed differently by the parents, wife and children. The concept of Trinity wraps in itself the theory of ‘Division of power’ that was propounded much later by Montesquieu, political thinker of France for the modern Constitution writers.

Montesquieu however failed to visualize the necessity of providing mechanism for coordination between the water tight divisions of power. The Indian module of Trimurti has the remedy. Normally Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva function within their respective areas of creativity, preservation, and destruction respectively and do not trespass or interfere in to the field of each other’s. But whenever there is any crisis in the universe, they consult each other and are One Supreme Being. Thus ‘Government of the Universe’ reflects ‘division of power’ as well as ‘interdependence’ between the department chiefs that Montesquieu was to overlook.

Hindu supreme Gods are not confined to any geographical place and period. They neither have any beginning or any ending. They are universal. They do not have any ‘chosen seed’ or ‘own people’ to nourish and treat others with punishments. All said and done, there is no compulsion on any Hindu to accept the trilogy of Gods. Every Hindu is free to interpret the existence of one or more gods as per individual choice. This is the absolute secularity of Hinduism.

Chand K Sharma

(Next: Splashes – 8/72 – The management of Universe)

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