Table of Contents

  Index
  About the Author
  Books by Bansi Pandit
  What is Hindu Dharma?
  Hindu View of God
  Why Hindus Worship Deities
  Hindu Scriptures
  Principal Hindu Doctrines
  Law of Karma
  Popular Systems 
  Moral & Ethical Ideals of Hindus
  Hindu View ...
  Hindu Reverence for Elders
  Daily Routine of a Devout Hindu
  Hindu Dharma
  Hindu View of Ecology
  Some Philosophical Aspects
  Hindu Response 
  Contribution of Hindus
  Practicing Hindu Dharma
  Timeless Wisdom 
  Swămi Vivekănanda's Address
  Works Cited
  Color Plates
  Download Book

Koshur Music

An Introduction to Spoken Kashmiri

Matrimonial

 
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Chapter 3: Why Hindus Worship Deities

Just as a single force in space can be mathematically conceived as having various spatial components, the Supreme Being or God, the personal form of the Ultimate Reality, is conceived by Hindus as having various aspects (see Chapter 2). A Hindu deity (god or goddess; note small g) represents a particular aspect of the Supreme Being. For example, Saraswatî represents the learning and knowledge aspect of the Supreme Being. Thus, if a Hindu wants to pray for acquiring knowledge and understanding, he prays to Saraswatî. Just as sunlight cannot have a separate and independent existence from the sun itself, a Hindu deity does not have a separate and independent existence from the Supreme Being. Thus, Hindu worship of deities is monotheistic polytheism and not simple polytheism.

Hindus declare that there is only one Supreme Being and He is the God of all religions.3 There is no "other God." Thus the Biblical Commandment "Thou shalt have no other God before me," really means, "Thou shalt not deny the Ultimate Reality or worship any power other than the Ultimate Reality." (See also Reference 5 in Works Cited.)

Hindus view cosmic activity of the Supreme Being as comprised of three tasks: creation, preservation, and dissolution and recreation. Hindus associate these three cosmic tasks with the three deities, Brahmă, Vishnu and Shiva. Lord Brahmă brings forth the creation and represents the creative principle of the Supreme Being. Lord Vishnu maintains the universe and represents the eternal principle of preservation. Lord Shiva represents the principle of dissolution and recreation. These three deities together form the Hindu Trinity.

One must clearly understand that Brahmă, Vishnu and Shiva are not three independent deities. They represent the same power (the Supreme Being), but in three different aspects. Just as a man may be called a doctor, father or husband based upon the tasks he performs, the Supreme Being is called Brahmă, Vishnu or Shiva when conceived as performing the three different cosmic tasks of creation, preser-vation, and dissolution/recreation. "The oneness of the three gods Brahmă, Vishnu and Shiva is brought out by the mystic symbol AUM () where 'A' represents Vishnu, 'U' Shiva and 'M' Brahmă."6

Hindu religion is often labeled as a religion of 330 million gods. This misunderstanding arises when people fail to grasp the symbolism of the Hindu pantheon. According to the Hindu scriptures, living beings are not apart from God, since He lives in each and every one of them in the form of ătman (BG 10.39). Thus each living being is a unique manifestation of God. In ancient times it was believed that there were 330 million living beings. This gave rise to the idea of 330 million deities or gods. Actually, this vast number of gods could not have been possibly worshipped, since 330 million names could not have been designed for them. The number 330 million was simply used to give a symbolic expression to the fundamental Hindu doctrine that God lives in the hearts of all living beings.11

"The Hindus have discovered that the absolute can only be realized, or thought of, or stated through the relative, and the images, crosses and crescents are simply so many symbolsso many pegs to hang spiritual ideas on," explained Swami Vivekănanda at the World Parliament of Religions in 1893 (see Chapter 19). A Hindu thus uses a picture or an idol (usually made of metal, wood or clay) to symbolize a deity. The picture or the idol is used as an object of concentration to help concentrate one's mind on the worship, contemplation and meditation. The idol itself is not God, but serves as a symbol of God.

Just as people associate their ideas of infinity with the image of the blue sky or of the sea, or connect their ideas of holiness with the image of a church, a mosque, or a cross, Hindus associate their ideas of holiness, purity, truth, and omnipresence with different images and forms. If somebody were to ask me, "Where is the sky?" I would most probably raise my finger up pointing towards the sky. My finger is not the sky, but it points towards the sky. Similarly, an idol is not God, but a pointer which directs the attention of the devotee towards the Divine.

The whole fabric of Hindu religious thought revolves around the freedom to worship whichever aspect of the Divine one reveres most, based upon one's own mental constitution. This catholicity of Hindu religious outlook is deeply rooted in numerous revelations in Hindu scriptures, such as:

"In whatever way they [human beings] love Me [God],
in the same way they find My love. Various are the ways for them, but in the end they all come to Me." (Bhagavad Gîtă 4.11)

"Truth is one, wise call it by various names."
(Rig Veda 1.164.46)

"He is the One, the One alone; in Him all deities become One alone." (Atharva Veda)

"Just as the rain water that falls from the sky eventually reaches the ocean, so also the worship offered to Him, by whatever name you wish, or in whatever form you like, ultimately goes to the One (the only One) Ultimate, Infinite Supreme Reality. (Mahăbhărata)

The symbolism used in Hindu scriptures expresses the attributes and the qualities of the personal aspect of the Ultimate Reality (Saguna Brahman) as conceived by rishis of the yore. Just as a map is used by a traveler as an aid for reaching the destination, symbolism is used by Hindus as an aid in comprehending the Infinite Reality, and for traveling on the spiritual path to the final destination of union with God. The following discussion, based upon the common symbols used in Hindu scriptures, illustrates the symbolism associated with some of the popular deities worshipped in contemporary Hindu religion. Following this discussion is a color plate of each of these deities.

Lord Ganesha

Lord Ganesha-the Hindu deity in a human form but with the head of an elephant-represents the power of the Supreme Being that removes obstacles and ensures success in human endeavors. For this reason, Hindus worship Ganesha first before beginning any religious, spiritual or worldly activity. In Hindu mythology, Lord Ganesha is the first son of Lord Shiva and the Divine Mother Părvati. Their second son is Lord Subramanya and their daughter is Jyoti. As explained below, the portrayal of Lord Ganesha as the blend of human and animal parts (see color plate 2) symbolizes the ideals of perfection as conceived by Hindu sages and illustrates some philosophical concepts of profound spiritual significance.

  • Elephant head, wide mouth, and large ears: the large head of an elephant symbolizes wisdom, understanding, and a discriminating intellect that one must possess to attain perfection in life. The wide mouth represents the natural human desire to enjoy life in the world. The large ears signify that a perfect person is the one who possesses a great capacity to listen to others and assimilate ideas.
  • The trunk and two tusks with the left tusk broken: there is no known human instrument that has an operating range as wide as that of an elephant's trunk. It can uproot a tree and yet lift a needle off the ground. Likewise, the human mind must be strong enough to face the ups and downs of the external world and yet delicate enough to explore the subtle realms of the inner world. The two tusks denote the two aspects of the human personality, wisdom and emotion. The right tusk represents wisdom and the left tusk represents emotion. The broken left tusk conveys the idea that one must conquer emotions with wisdom to attain perfection.
  • Elephant eyes: the elephant eyes are said to possess natural deceptiveness that allows them to perceive objects to be bigger than what they really are. Thus the elephant eyes symbolize the idea that even if an individual gets "bigger and bigger" in wealth and wisdom, he should perceive others to be bigger than himself; that is, surrender one's pride and attain humility.
  • The four arms and various objects in the four hands: the four arms indicate that the Lord is omnipresent and omnipotent. The left side of the body symbolizes emotion and the right side symbolizes reason. An ax in the upper left hand and a lotus in the upper right hand signify that in order to attain spiritual perfection, one should cut worldly attachments and conquer emotions. This enables one to live in the world without being affected by earthly temptations, just as a lotus remains in water but is not affected by it. A tray of Laddűs (a popular snack) near the Lord denotes that He bestows wealth and prosperity upon His devotees. The lower right hand is shown in a blessing pose, which signifies that Ganesha always blesses His devotees.
  • A human body with a big belly: the human body possesses a human heart, which is a symbol of kindness and compassion toward all. Ganesha's body is usually portrayed wearing red and yellow clothes. Yellow symbolizes purity, peace and truthfulness. Red symbolizes the activity in the world. These are the qualities of a perfect person who performs all duties in the world, with purity, peace, and truthfulness. The big belly signifies that a perfect individual must have a large capacity to face all pleasant and unpleasant experiences of the world.
  • A mouse sitting near the feet of Ganesha and gazing at the tray of Laddűs: a mouse symbolizes the ego that can nibble all that is good and noble in a person. A mouse sitting near the feet of Ganesha indicates that a perfect person is one who has conquered his (or her) ego. A mouse gazing at the Laddűs, but not consuming them, denotes that a purified or controlled ego can live in the world without being affected by the worldly temptations. The mouse is also the vehicle of Ganesha, signifying that one must control ego in order for wisdom to shine forth.
  • Right foot dangling over the left foot: as stated above, the left side of the body symbolizes emotion and the right side symbolizes reason and knowledge. The right foot dangling over the left foot illustrates that in order to live a successful life one should utilize knowledge and reason to overcome emotions.

Lord Subramanya - Kărttikeya

Lord Subramanya symbolizes a perfect individual who has realized the Self (i.e. attained union with God). Hindus worship Lord Subramanya to acquire worldly as well as spiritual prosperity. In mythology, Lord Subramanya, also called by other names such as Kărttikeya, Murugan, Kumăra, Skanda, and Shanmukha, is the second son of Lord Shiva and Goddess Părvati, their other son is Lord Ganesha and their daughter is Jyoti.

In His popular images, Lord Subramanya is depicted in the human form possessing six faces. He holds a spear in His hand. A peacock is shown next to the Lord. This symbolism associated with Lord Subramanya illustrates the following spiritual theme:

  • Blue color symbolizes infinity. The blue background in the image of the Lord (see color plate 3) denotes that the spiritual essence in all human beings is the Infinite Reality in the form of ătman.
  • The six faces of the Lord (for simplicity the color plate shows only one face) signify that the Infinite Reality manifests Itself as God-in-man through the six instruments comprised of the mind and its associated five sense organs-sight, sound, smell, touch and taste.
  • A spear in the hands of Lord Subramanya symbolizes His power to destroy the enemies of man, such as lust, greed, fear, anger, pride, and hatred.
  • A peacock feels extremely delighted to see its colorful feathers spread out beautifully when it dances. A blue peacock next to the Lord conveys the idea that man should be very delighted to know that he is essentially ătman-symbolized by the blue color of the peacock-and is not limited by the body and mind.
  • Some images show the peacock holding a live snake in its grip. Just as a snake carries poison for its protection, the ego carries the mind for its survival. The peacock holding the snake captive, but not killing it, conveys the idea that man does not have to destroy the ego, but must control it so that its energies can be channeled to discover the Supreme Self.

Lord Shiva

Lord Shiva represents the aspect of the Supreme Being (Brahman of the Upanishads) that continuously dissolves to recreate in the cyclic process of creation, preservation, dissolution and recreation of the universe. As stated earlier, Lord Shiva is the third member of the Hindu Trinity, the other two being Lord Brahmă and Lord Vishnu.

Owing to His cosmic activity of dissolution and recreation, the words destroyer and destruction have been erroneously associated with Lord Shiva. This difficulty arises when people fail to grasp the true significance of His cosmic role. The creation sustains itself by a delicate balance between the opposing forces of good and evil. When this balance is disturbed and sustenance of life becomes impossible, Lord Shiva dissolves the universe for creation of the next cycle so that the unliberated souls will have another opportunity to liberate themselves from bondage with the physical world. Thus, Lord Shiva protects the souls from pain and suffering that would be caused by a dysfunctional universe. In analogous cyclic processes, winter is essential for spring to appear and the night is necessary for the morning to follow. To further illustrate, a goldsmith does not destroy gold when he melts old irreparable golden jewelry to create beautiful new ornaments.

Lord Shiva is the Lord of mercy and compassion. He protects devotees from evil forces such as lust, greed, and anger. He grants boons, bestows grace and awakens wisdom in His devotees. The symbolism discussed below (see color plate 4) includes major symbols that are common to all pictures and images of Shiva venerated by Hindus. Since the tasks of Lord Shiva are numerous, He cannot be symbolized in one form. For this reason the images of Shiva vary significantly in their symbolism.

  • The unclad body covered with ashes: the unclad body symbolizes the transcendental aspect of the Lord. Since most things reduce to ashes when burned, ashes symbolize the physical universe. The ashes on the unclad body of the Lord signify that Shiva is the source of the entire universe which emanates from Him, but He transcends the physical phenomena and is not affected by it.
  • Matted locks: Lord Shiva is the Master of yoga. The three matted locks on the head of the Lord convey the idea that integration of the physical, mental and spiritual energies is the ideal of yoga.
  • Gangă: Gangă (river Ganges) is associated with Hindu mythology and is the most sacred river of Hindus. According to tradition, one who bathes in Gangă (revered as Mother Gangă) in accordance with traditional rites and ceremonies on religious occasions in combination with certain astrological events, is freed from sin and attains knowledge, purity and peace. Gangă, symbolically represented on the head of the Lord by a female (Mother Gangă) with a jet of water emanating from her mouth and falling on the ground, signifies that the Lord destroys sin, removes ignorance, and bestows knowledge, purity and peace on the devotees.
  • The crescent moon: is shown on the side of the Lord's head as an ornament, and not as an integral part of His countenance. The waxing and waning phenomenon of the moon symbolizes the time cycle through which creation evolves from the beginning to the end. Since the Lord is the Eternal Reality, He is beyond time. Thus, the crescent moon is only one of His ornaments, and not an integral part of Him.
  • Three eyes: Lord Shiva, also called Tryambaka Deva (literally, "three-eyed Lord"), is depicted as having three eyes: the sun is His right eye, the moon the left eye and fire the third eye. The two eyes on the right and left indicate His activity in the physical world. The third eye in the center of the forehead symbolizes spiritual knowledge and power, and is thus called the eye of wisdom or knowledge. Like fire, the powerful gaze of Shiva's third eye annihilates evil, and thus the evil-doers fear His third eye.
  • Half-open eyes: when the Lord opens His eyes, a new cycle of creation emerges and when He closes them, the universe dissolves for creation of the next cycle. The half-open eyes convey the idea that creation is going through cyclic process, with no beginning and no end. Lord Shiva is the Master of Yoga, as He uses His yogic power to project the universe from Himself. The half-open eyes also symbolize His yogic posture.
  • Kundalas (two ear rings): two Kundalas, Alakshya (meaning "which cannot be shown by any sign") and Niranjan (meaning "which cannot be seen by mortal eyes") in the ears of the Lord signify that He is beyond ordinary perception. Since the kundala in the left ear of the Lord is of the type used by women and the one in His right ear is of the type used by men, these Kundalas also symbolize the Shiva and Shakti (male and female) principle of creation.
  • Snake around the neck: sages have used snakes to symbolize the yogic power of Lord Shiva with which He dissolves and recreates the universe. Like a yogi, a snake hoards nothing, carries nothing, builds nothing, lives on air alone for a long time, and lives in mountains and forests. The venom of a snake, therefore, symbolizes the yogic power.
  • A snake (Vasuki Năga): is shown curled three times around the neck of the Lord and is looking towards His right side. The three coils of the snake symbolize the past, present and future-time in cycles. The Lord wearing the curled snake like an ornament signifies that creation proceeds in cycles and is time dependent, but the Lord Himself transcends time. The right side of the body symbolizes the human activities based upon knowledge, reason and logic. The snake looking towards the right side of the Lord signifies that the Lord's eternal laws of reason and justice preserve natural order in the universe.
  • Rudrăksha necklace: Rudra is another name of Shiva. Rudra also means "strict or uncompromising" and ăksha means "eye." Rudrăksha necklace worn by the Lord illustrates that He uses His cosmic laws firmly-without compromise-to maintain law and order in the universe. The necklace has 108 beads which symbolize the elements used in the creation of the world.
  • Varda Mudră: the Lord's right hand is shown in a boon-bestowing and blessing pose. As stated earlier, Lord Shiva annihilates evil, grants boons, bestows grace, destroys ignorance, and awakens wisdom in His devotees.
  • Trident (trîsűla): a three-pronged trident shown adjacent to the Lord symbolizes His three fundamental powers (shakti) of will (icchă), action (kriyă) and knowledge (jnăna). The trident also symbolizes the Lord's power to destroy evil and ignorance.
  • Damaru (drum): a small drum with two sides separated from each other by a thin neck-like structure symbolizes the two utterly dissimilar states of existence, unmanifest and manifest. When a damaru is vibrated, it produces dissimilar sounds which are fused together by resonance to create one sound. The sound thus produced symbolizes Năda, the cosmic sound of AUM (), which can be heard during deep meditation. According to Hindu scriptures, Năda is the source of creation.
  • Kămandalu: a water pot (Kămandalu) made from a dry pumpkin contains nectar and is shown on the ground next to Shiva. The process of making Kămandalu has deep spiritual significance. A ripe pumpkin is plucked from a plant, its fruit is removed and the shell is cleaned for containing the nectar. In the same way, an individual must break away from attachment to the physical world and clean his inner self of egoistic desires in order to experience the bliss of the Self, symbolized by the nectar in the Kămandalu.
  • Nandi: the bull is associated with Shiva and is said to be His vehicle. The bull symbolizes both power and ignorance. Lord Shiva's use of the bull as a vehicle conveys the idea that He removes ignorance and bestows power of wisdom on His devotees. The bull is called Vrisha in Sanskrit. Vrisha also means dharma (righteousness). Thus a bull shown next to Shiva also indicates that He is the eternal companion of righteousness.
  • Tiger skin:. a tiger skin symbolizes potential energy. Lord Shiva, sitting on or wearing a tiger skin, illustrates the idea that He is the source of the creative energy that remains in potential form during the dissolution state of the universe. Of His own Divine Will, the Lord activates the potential form of the creative energy to project the universe in endless cycles.
  • Cremation ground: Shiva sitting in the cremation ground signifies that He is the controller of death in the physical world. Since birth and death are cyclic, controlling one implies controlling the other. Thus, Lord Shiva is revered as the ultimate controller of birth and death in the phenomenal world.

Goddess Durgă

Goddess Durgă represents the power of the Supreme Being that preserves moral order and righteousness in the creation. The Sanskrit word Durgă means a fort or a place that is protected and thus difficult to reach. Durgă, also called Divine Mother, protects mankind from evil and misery by destroying evil forces such as selfishness, jealousy, prejudice, hatred, anger, and ego.

The worship of Goddess Durgă is very popular among Hindus. She is also called by many other names, such as Părvati, Ambikă, and Kălî. In the form of Părvati, She is known as the divine spouse of Lord Shiva and is the mother of Her two sons, Ganesha and Kărttikeya, and daughter Jyoti. There are many temples dedicated to Durgă's worship in India.

In Her images, Goddess Durgă is shown (see color plate 5) in a female form, wearing red clothes. She has eighteen arms (for simplicity the color plate shows only eight arms), carrying many objects in Her hands. The red color symbolizes action and the red clothes signify that She is always busy destroying evil and protecting mankind from pain and suffering caused by evil forces. Following is the symbolism associated with Goddess Durgă:

  • A tiger symbolizes unlimited power. Durgă riding a tiger indicates that She possesses unlimited power and uses it to protect virtue and destroy evil. The eighteen arms of Durgă signify that She possesses combined power of the nine incarnations of Lord Vishnu that have appeared on the earth at different times in the past. The tenth incarnation, the Kălkin (a man on a white horse), is still to come. Thus, Goddess Durgă represents a united front of all Divine forces against the negative forces of evil and wickedness.
  • The sound that emanates from a conch is the sound of the sacred syllable AUM (), which is said to be the sound of creation. A conch in one of the Goddess's hands signifies the ultimate victory of virtue over evil and righteousness over unrighteousness.
  • Other weapons in the hands of Durgă such as a mace, sword, disc, arrow, and trident convey the idea that one weapon cannot destroy all different kinds of enemies. Different weapons must be used to fight enemies depending upon the circumstances. For example, selfishness must be destroyed by detachment, jealousy by desirelessness, prejudice by self-knowledge, and ego by discrimination.

Goddess Lakshmî

Lakshmî 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), kăma (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.

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 Brahmă, the Creator of the universe. Since knowledge is necessary for creation, Saraswatî symbolizes the creative power of Brahmă. 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 (ahankăra) 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 samădhi, 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.

Sîtă, Răma, Lakshmana and Hanűmăn

Lord Răma is the seventh incarnation of Lord Vishnu. The worship of Lord Răma is very popular among all Hindus, as is evident by the numerous temples dedicated to him in India. In the temple images, Răma is usually shown with his faithful wife Sîtă, devoted brother Lakshmana, and his beloved devotee Hanűmăn (see color plate 8). The life story of Răma and the main purpose of his incarnation (to destroy the demon king Răvana) is described in the great epic Rămăyana. A study of the epic Rămăyana reveals the following theme:

  • Răma represents an ideal man, as conceived by the Hindu mind. In the story of Rămăyana, Răma's personality depicts him as the perfect son, devoted brother, true husband, trusted friend, ideal king, and a noble adversary.
  • In images and pictures, Răma is shown carrying a bow and arrow. The bow and arrow convey that Răma is always ready to destroy evil and protect righteousness. He is himself an embodiment of dharma.
  • Sîtă symbolizes an ideal daughter, wife, mother, and queen. Whereas Răma symbolizes standards of perfection that can be conceived in all the facets of a man's life, Mother Sîtă 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 (Răma) in exile. He sacrifices the amenities of his personal life to serve his elder brother.
  • Hanűmăn, the great monkey hero, also called Maruti, assists Răma in his battle with Răvana to rescue Sîtă, who had been kidnapped by Răvana. Hanűmăn 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 = Nishkăma-karma (selfless work in service of God)

After his coronation, following victory in the battle with Răvana, Răma distributed gifts to all those who had assisted him in his battle with Răvana. Turning towards Hanűmăn, Răma 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, Hanűmăn stood by Răma, in all humility, with hands joined together in front of his (Hanűmăn's) mouth, and head slightly bent in the pose of service for Răma. To this day, this picture of Hanűmăn, as a humble devotee of the Lord, is the most popular among the admirers and worshippers of Hanűmăn.

The worship of Hanűmăn, 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.

Rădhă and Krishna

Lord Krishna (see color plate 9) is the eighth and the most popular incarnation of Lord Vishnu. He was born in approximately 3200 BCE in Vrindăvan, where he was brought up by the cowherd family of Yashodă and Nanda. His childhood playmates were gopas (cowherd boys) and gopis (cowherd girls), who were greatly devoted to him. Of all gopis, Rădhă loved Krishna the most.

In the forests of Vrindăvan, Krishna often played his flute and gopis danced with him in ecstasy. The Gopis represent the individual souls trapped in physical bodies. Rădhă 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 (Răsa Lîlă) 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 (pűrna avatăra) of Lord Vishnu. He commands love, respect, and adoration from all Hindus of all walks of life.

Goddess Jyoti

Jyoti means "light" and Goddess Jyoti (see color plate 1) repre-sents the power of the Ultimate Reality (Brahman) that illuminates our minds and gives shape and form to all created things and beings of the world.

According to the Taittiriya Upanishad 2.1, the five great elements (Panchamahăbhutas)earth, water, fire, air and spaceemanate from Brahman.32 These five elements, together with the omnipresent cosmic consciousness of Brahman, constitute all created things and beings in the universe. In Hindu mythology, this creative process is symbolized by the family of Lord Shiva. The members of this divine family are Lord Shiva, His spouse the Divine Mother, their two sons Ganesha and Skanda, and their daughter Jyoti. Lord Shiva represents the cosmic consciousness, the Divine Mother denotes the creative energy, Ganesha symbolizes the elements of earth and water, Skanda represents the element of fire, and Jyoti symbolizes the two elements of air and space. Since fire uses air and burns in space, in Hindu mythology Jyoti is always associated with Skanda and is known more as Skanda's sister than as Ganesha's sister. She is worshipped in Her formless (arupa) aspect in all temples where Lord Skanda is worshipped.

According to Tantra Yoga, Jyoti is the aroused kundalini shakti (latent energy) that resides in the ajna chakra (energy center between the eyebrows in the forehead) and is experienced as light in deep meditation.32 In Her popular images, Jyoti is represented as a young girl, dressed in bright clothes. The brightness of Her attire symbolizes the light of knowledge that dispels the darkness of ignorance. Wherever a lamp is lit, Jyoti shines. By worshipping Jyoti, a Hindu seeks God's blessings to acquire intelligence and wisdom (jnăna), attain love for all of God's creatures and secure divine guidance for spiritual progress, leading to spiritual perfection.

Since Jyoti is present in all beings as the light of consciousness, social service and reverence for all forms of life are the hallmarks of Jyoti worship. Jyoti shrines have been erected at many temples, including Houston Sri Meenakshi Temple, New York Maha Vallabh Ganapati Temple, and Los Angeles Sri Venkateswara Temple.

 

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