Rãdhã and Krishna Lord Krishna is the eighth and the most popular incarnation of Lord Vishnu. He was born in approximately 3200 BCE in Vrindãvan, where he was brought up by the cowherd family of Yashodã and Nanda. His childhood playmates were gopas (cowherd boys) and gopis (cowherd girls), who were greatly devoted to him. Of all gopis, Rãdhã loved Krishna the most.
In the forests of Vrindãvan, Krishna often played his flute and gopis danced with him in ecstasy. The Gopis represent the individual souls trapped in physical bodies. Rãdhã symbolizes the individual soul that is awakened to the love of God and is absorbed in such love. The sound of Krishna's flute represents the call of the divine for the individual souls.
The gopis' love for Krishna signifies the eternal bond between the individual soul and God. The dance of the gopis and Krishna (Rãsa Lîlã) signifies the union of the human and Divine, the dance of the souls. In the forest, the gopis dance with Krishna and are absorbed in their love for him. This illustrates that when an individual soul responds to the call of the Divine, the soul enjoys union with the Lord and becomes absorbed in the divine ecstasy.
Of all the incarnations, Lord Krishna is revered as a full and complete incarnation (pûrna avatãra) of Lord Vishnu. He commands love, respect, and adoration from all Hindus of all walks of life. Source: Hindu Dharma by Bansi Pandit
Sîtã, Rãma, Lakshmana and Hanûmãn Lord Rãma is the seventh incarnation of Lord Vishnu. The worship of Lord Rãma is very popular among all Hindus, as is evident by the numerous temples dedicated to him in India. In the temple images, Rãma is usually shown with his faithful wife Sîtã, devoted brother Lakshmana, and his beloved devotee Hanûmãn (see color plate 8). The life story of Rãma and the main purpose of his incarnation (to destroy the demon king Rãvana) is described in the great epic Rãmãyana. A study of the epic Rãmãyana reveals the following theme:
Rãma represents an ideal man, as conceived by the Hindu mind. In the story of Rãmãyana, Rãma's personality depicts him as the perfect son, devoted brother, true husband, trusted friend, ideal king, and a noble adversary.
In images and pictures, Rãma is shown carrying a bow and arrow. The bow and arrow convey that Rãma is always ready to destroy evil and protect righteousness. He is himself an embodiment of dharma.
Sîtã symbolizes an ideal daughter, wife, mother, and queen. Whereas Rãma symbolizes standards of perfection that can be conceived in all the facets of a man's life, Mother Sîtã represents all that is great and noble in womanhood. She is revered as an incarnation of Goddess Lakshmî, the divine consort of Lord Vishnu.
Lakshmana symbolizes the ideal of sacrifice. He leaves his young wife behind in the palace and chooses to accompany his brother (Rãma) in exile. He sacrifices the amenities of his personal life to serve his elder brother.
Hanûmãn, the great monkey hero, also called Maruti, assists Rãma in his battle with Rãvana to rescue Sîtã, who had been kidnapped by Rãvana. Hanûmãn symbolizes the qualities of an ideal devotee of God, which can be represented by the letters of his name, as follows:
H = Humility and hopefulness (optimism)
A = Admiration (truthfulness, devotion)
N = Nobility (sincerity, loyalty, modesty)
U = Understanding (knowledge)
M = Mastery over ego (kindness, compassion)
A = Achievements (strength)
N = Nishkãma-karma (selfless work in service of God)
After his coronation, following victory in the battle with Rãvana, Rãma distributed gifts to all those who had assisted him in his battle with Rãvana. Turning towards Hanûmãn, Rãma said, "There is nothing I can give you that would match the service you have rendered to me. All I can do is to give you my own self." Upon hearing these words, Hanûmãn stood by Rãma, in all humility, with hands joined together in front of his (Hanûmãn's) mouth, and head slightly bent in the pose of service for Rãma. To this day, this picture of Hanûmãn, as a humble devotee of the Lord, is the most popular among the admirers and worshippers of Hanûmãn.
The worship of Hanûmãn, therefore, symbolizes the worship of the Supreme Lord, for acquiring knowledge, physical and mental strength, truthfulness, sincerity, selflessness, humility, loyalty, and profound devotion to the Lord. Source: Hindu Dharma by Bansi Pandit
Goddess Saraswatî Saraswatî is the Goddess of learning, knowledge, and wisdom. The Sanskrit word sara means "essence" and swa means "self." Thus Saraswatî means "the essence of the self." Saraswatî is represented in Hindu mythology as the divine consort of Lord Brahmã, the Creator of the universe. Since knowledge is necessary for creation, Saraswatî symbolizes the creative power of Brahmã. Goddess Saraswatî is worshipped by all persons interested in knowledge, especially students, teachers, scholars, and scientists.
In Her popular images and pictures, Goddess Saraswatî is generally depicted with four arms (some pictures may show only two arms), wearing a white sari and seated on a white lotus (see color plate 7). She holds a book and a rosary in Her rear two hands, while the front two hands are engaged in the playing of a lute (veena). Her right leg is shown slightly pushing against Her left leg. She uses a swan as Her vehicle. There is a peacock by Her side gazing at Her. This symbolism illustrates the following spiritual ideas:
The lotus is a symbol of the Supreme Reality, and a white lotus also denotes supreme knowledge. By sitting on a lotus, Saraswatî signifies that She is Herself rooted in the Supreme Reality, and symbolizes supreme knowledge. The white color symbolizes purity and knowledge. The white sari that the Goddess is wearing denotes that She is the embodiment of pure knowledge.
The four arms denote Her omnipresence and omnipotence. The two front arms indicate Her activity in the physical world and the two back arms signify Her presence in the spiritual world. The four hands represent the four elements of the inner personality. The mind (manas) is represented by the front right hand, the intellect (buddhi) by the front left hand, the conditioned consciousness (chitta) by the rear left hand, and the ego (ahankãra) by the rear right hand.
The left side of the body symbolizes the qualities of the heart and the right side symbolizes activities of the mind and intellect. A book in the rear left hand signifies that knowledge acquired must be used with love and kindness to promote prosperity of mankind.
The rosary signifies concentration, meditation, and contemplation, leading to samãdhi, or union with God. A rosary in the rear right hand representing ego conveys that true knowledge acquired with love and devotion melts the ego and results in liberation (moksha) of the seeker from the bondage to the physical world.
The Goddess is shown playing a musical instrument that is held in Her front hands, which denote mind and intellect. This symbol conveys that the seeker must tune his mind and intellect in order to live in perfect harmony with the world. Such harmonious living enables the individual to utilize acquired knowledge for the welfare of all mankind.
Two swans are depicted on the left side of the Goddess. A swan is said to have a sensitive beak that enables it to distinguish pure milk from a mixture of milk and water. A swan, therefore, symbolizes the power of discrimination, or the ability to discriminate between right and wrong or good and bad. Saraswatî uses the swan as Her carrier. This indicates that one must acquire and apply knowledge with discrimination for the good of mankind. Knowledge that is dominated by ego can destroy the world.
A peacock is sitting next to Saraswatî and is anxiously waiting to serve as Her vehicle. A peacock depicts unpredictable behavior as its moods can be influenced by the changes in the weather. Saraswatî is using a swan as a vehicle and not the peacock. This signifies that one should overcome fear, indecision, and fickleness in order to acquire true knowledge. Source: Hindu Dharma by Bansi Pandit
Goddess LakshmîLakshmî is the Goddess of wealth and prosperity, both material and spiritual. The word "Lakshmî" is derived from the Sanskrit word Laksme, meaning "goal." Lakshmî, therefore, represents the goal of life, which includes worldly as well as spiritual prosperity. In Hindu mythology, Goddess Lakshmî, also called Shri, is the divine spouse of Lord Vishnu and provides Him with wealth for the maintenance and preservation of the creation.
In Her images and pictures, Lakshmî is depicted in a female form with four arms and four hands (see color plate 6). She wears red clothes with a golden lining and is standing on a lotus. She has golden coins and lotuses in her hands. Two elephants (some pictures show four) are shown next to the Goddess. This symbolism conveys the following spiritual theme:
The four arms represent the four directions in space and thus symbolize omnipresence and omnipotence of the Goddess. The red color symbolizes activity. The golden lining (embroidery) on Her red dress denotes prosperity. The idea conveyed here is that the Goddess is always busy distributing wealth and prosperity to the devotees. The lotus seat, which Lakshmî is standing upon, signifies that while living in this world, one should enjoy its wealth, but not become obsessed with it. Such a living is analogous to a lotus that grows in water but is not wetted by water.
The four hands represent the four ends (see page 55) of human life: dharma (righteousness), kãma (genuine desires), artha (wealth), and moksha (liberation from birth and death). The front hands represent the activity in the physical world and the back hands indicate the spiritual activities that lead to spiritual perfection.
Since the right side of the body symbolizes activity, a lotus in the back right hand conveys the idea that one must perform all duties in the world in accordance with dharma. This leads to moksha (liberation), which is symbolized by a lotus in the back left hand of Lakshmî. The golden coins falling on the ground from the front left hand of Lakshmî illustrate that She provides wealth and prosperity to Her devotees. Her front right hand is shown bestowing blessings upon the devotees.
The two elephants standing next to the Goddess symbolize the name and fame associated with worldly wealth. The idea conveyed here is that a true devotee should not earn wealth merely to acquire name and fame or only to satisfy his own material desires, but should share it with others in order to bring happiness to others in addition to himself.
Some pictures show four elephants spraying water from golden vessels onto Goddess Lakshmî. The four elephants represent the four ends of human life as discussed above. The spraying of water denotes activity. The golden vessels denote wisdom and purity. The four elephants spraying water from the golden vessels on the Goddess illustrate the theme that continuous self-effort, in accordance with one's dharma and governed by wisdom and purity, leads to both material and spiritual prosperity.
Goddess Lakshmî is regularly worshipped in home shrines and temples by Her devotees. A special worship is offered to Her annually on the auspicious day of Diwalî, with religious rituals and colorful ceremonies specifically devoted to Her. Source: Hindu Dharma by Bansi Pandit