Worship of Gods and Goddess inHindusim

Sagar Manthan

by Jayaram V

Hinduism is perhaps the only major religion in the world with a credible theory of creation and a concept of reality characterized by an universal order managed and sustained by a rich variety of universal forces.

Why Hindus worship many gods and goddesses?

According to the tenets of Hinduism, the whole universe is pervaded by one Universal God, who is imperishable, indestructible, infinite, without form and beyond human thought. There goes neither the mind, nor the intellect nor the senses and none can truly define Him and comprehend Him. In His unmanifested state He is unknown, vast emptiness or nothingness, and since He is prior to all, no one is actually aware how He wakes up and manifests all this that we know as His creation.

For some unknown, mysterious and inexplicable reasons, He wakes Himself up, setting in process a massive chain reaction that explodes into this gigantic, dynamic, astounding and material universe, which we perceive through our senses and intellect to be this universe. Thus He who is One, beyond and transcendental, descends into the lower levels of His own creation to become many individual things, both living and non living, suffused with His tremendous energy, dormant in some, active in some other, and in varying degrees of purity and permanence evolution and involution.

Of this diversity so produced, some are divinities, some are ordinary beings, some demons and evil beings and some purely inanimate and inert. The divinities, whom we recognize in Hinduism as gods and goddesses, possess tremendous energies, higher knowledge and unified wisdom and inhabit the higher planes or worlds, free from the troubles of old age and death, playing their dutiful roles in maintaining and managing the various aspects of creation as manifestations of the one Supreme God. Below them are a series of worlds, inhabited by different beings, with varying capabilities and celestial qualities, prone to destruction and mutation.

The ordinary mortals, which include human beings, live on earth and are subject to the cycle of births and deaths, the laws of karma and illusion. Below the earthly plane are some darker worlds where live dark and dangerous forces, pure evil, subject to wicked and egoistic impulses, whose primary task it is to oppose the divine forces and create terror and chaos in all the worlds including ours. They are actually the terrorists of the divine order who use their destructive and wicked powers to create fear and terror everywhere.

A constant battle between the gods and the demons goes on for supremacy of the heavens, while the greater gods, like the Trinity, keep a benevolent watch upon the worlds and interfere if they feel that the quarrel between the two is becoming a bit too noisy for the worlds to bear with.

The fate of the divinities and the demons is almost fixed forever because their existence is rooted in the nature of their roles as the good and evil forces of the universe, while the mortal beings like us possess both the qualities and are capable of moving in either direction through the exercise of their individual wills and awareness. The divinities and the demons cannot actually evolve unless they comedown to earth and subject themselves to our reality in physical form. Thus of all the beings in the universe, the mortals, and among mortals man, occupy an unique and enviable position that gives them a rare ability to evolve further and ascend into higher realms through their personal effort.

When the demons succeed in creating chaos and anarchy in the worlds and when the divinities fail to contain them, they all beseech the higher gods to intervene and help them by restoring dharma and order. If the situation has really become serious and warrants intervention because some of the demons have become disproportionately strong and unbearably cruel, it results in the incarnation of Vishnu upon earth as a mortal being with a physical form to restore order, destroy evil and protect the good. This is known as incarnation of God. Sometimes instead of incarnating completely He incarnates partially either as a prophet, a saint or a sage to educate people on some finer aspects of religion or inspire them to follow the path of righteousness through his Messages.

Thus the Hindu pantheon is actually a schematic representation of the cosmic order in which various universal forces are organized and operate as a part of the Divine Will, comprising God in His purest and Highest form, all His incarnations, emanations, manifestations, partial incarnations, with varying degrees of energies and capabilities. Besides these, there are those who evolve themselves into higher divinities by virtue of their sheer effort and inner transformation. All these operate at various levels with varying degrees of qualities and energies. In essence and in their fundamental nature, they are illumined by the same Supreme Self. Because we cannot understand the concept of non duality clearly without experiencing the oneness of creation, the difference whatever exists in our imagination and thinking.

Thus Hinduism is perhaps the only major religion in the world with a credible theory of creation and a concept of reality characterized by an universal order managed and sustained by a rich variety of universal forces. It is our firm belief that by understanding them we can develop an insight into the way this universe is created, organized and managed by the Supreme God.

Since they play a positive and crucial role in maintaining the order of the universe that has a direct bearing upon our lives and activities and since we are inherently incapable of dealing with the problems of our existence entirely on our own, it makes perfect sense to worship them with sincere devotion and seek their help and guidance for our material and spiritual welfare. There is fundamentally no difference, whether we worship God as One or as Many as long as we worship Him with sincerity and devotion and are not causing trouble to others.

How the gods are generally worshipped?

Over a period of time Hinduism evolved a diverse range of ritualistic worship of various gods and goddesses, characterized in many ways by the fundamental notion of God as the benefactor and giver of boons who descends upon us and into our hearts and homes as a divine guest to shower his grace and benediction to the extent we are earnest and sincere in our faith and devotion. Complicated in many ways like the work of an artist or a scientist and seemingly naive and superstitious, they demand precision and perfection in their execution. Their efficacy depends upon the degree of sincerity, purity of purpose and the extent of devotion that go into their performance.

A standard form of Hindu ritualistic worship proceeds in the following manner. It begins with the invocation of a personal god (avahana) through prayers to draw his attention. Then he is welcomed into the house and to the place of worship where he is offered a high seat (asana). Once seated, the devotee washes his feet with sacred water (padya) and offers him a mixture of sandal wood paste and rice (arghya) as a mark of respect. A sacred thread of cotton (upavita) is put on the idol and sandalwood paste (chandana) is smeared once again to fill the place with a pleasant aroma. This is followed by the offering of flowers (pushpa), incense (dhupa), light (dipa), food (naivedya), betel leaves with nuts (tambula), camphor (nirajana), a gift of golden flower (suvarnapushpa) and distribution of prasad or blessed food. At the end of the worship the idol is slightly moved and the deity is given a hearty farewell (visarjana). This in brief is the method of performing a Hindu puja which usually lasts anytime between five minutes to even five hours. (For more information on this subject readers are requested to go through our articles on the various aspects of Hindu worship.)

What is the nature of worship in Hindu temples?

While the household worship of gods is built around the notion of God as the divine guest, that of temple worship revolves around the notion of God as the King and Emperor of this world who spends his time from morning till evening in the discharge of his kingly duties and in alleviating the suffering of his devotees. The process is more or less uniform in every temple, where the principal deity is treated like a divine emperor and attended upon with great sincerity and loyalty by the temple priests. Early in the morning, generally before sunrise, they wake him up to the accompaniment of music and devotional hymns, give him a bath, dress him up fully and gloriously and then worship him with all ardor and fervor making various offerings and chanting hymns of encomiums.

Thereupon he is worshipped and petitioned through out the day by the priests as well as the visiting devotees with periods of rest in between till it is time for him to retire into his chambers with his consort. After preparing his bed and offering him the night meal, the priests lock the temple doors or the sanctum and sanctorum and retire to their houses to take rest while the god sleeps in his chambers. This process goes on day after day and throughout the year without break and the expenses for all this is borne by the temple administration supported either by its own sources of traditional income or donations from generous devotees. On some special occasions, such as festivals, an image of the temple deity which is specially meant for processions (utsvava murthy) is carried in a chariot or in palanquin through the main streets of the town or village where the temple is situated.

Is idol worship justified in Hinduism?

The purpose of idol worship is not to perpetuate superstition, but to draw the people into religious life and there by open their minds to divine thoughts. Idol worship is a very effective means of drawing the average minds towards the path of devotion who may not otherwise understand the concept of divine worship of a formless universal entity. By all means it is a good karma, better than wasting ones life and energies in meaningless pursuits that neither bring happiness nor develop character. It is a very convenient and natural means to communicate with God and contemplate upon God (bhagavad chintana) and relate ourselves to Him. Idol worship is better than religious hatred and persecution and discrimination in the name of religion. An idol worshipper has as much right to worship god as any and if he derives some meaning and satisfaction out of that why not? Any day, it is a better way of spending time than wasting our time in watching useless movies or indulging in worthless gossip!

Why gods allow the destruction of temples and idols?

Death and destruction are a part of this reality. Impermanence and change are very much the attributes of this mortal and unstable world. Nothing in this world is permanent and nothing really lasts including the name and form of God. An idol is not immortal, nor indestructible. It is a physical aspect of God, a form we create with our thoughts and emotions and bring it to life through our faith and devotion. It receives our love and attention because we perceive in it the ubiquitous presence of God. Whether it is destroyed by an act of nature or the insane act of man, should not make any difference to the faithful and the devoted. In many instances in Hinduism an idol is dissolved by the worshippers themselves after it is worshipped. What matters most in these matters is how strong our faith is and whether it withstands the impact of delusion. As long as our faith is not broken, it does not matter what happens in this world including our human notions of God.

It is important to note that God is not vengeful and would not stop evil from doing what it wants to do. God would not draw a sword against evil for our benefit and amusement. God helps both good and evil to enact their drama in this world of illusion. He fulfills the wishes of both, according to their faith, as is evident from many stories from the Hindu mythology. (In many instances He granted boons to devoted demons, who were highly destructive.) What is more important in such matter is how strong your faith is and how much trust you can repose in God despite all the evil that goes on in this world.

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