Pandit Vasudev has come to visit Govindhji. The two are good friends and have interesting discussions on the scriptures, religious matters and such. Sometimes when Sitha is around, she loves to listen to their conversations. Today, she has a question for Panditji.
SITHA: Panditji, I was talking to my friend Salma in school. She tells me that she prays to only one God but we pray to so many gods and go to so many different temples, all with different gods. Tell me, are there really so many gods or is there only one God in this world?
PANDITJI: That’s a very good question Sitha. In Hinduism, we believe that there is One God who is supreme and formless, whom we call Brahman. This God is also referred to as the Supreme Being or the Universal Soul.
SITHA: (puzzled) Then why do we pray to so many Gods?
PANDITJI: You see my girl, in Hinduism, all the gods and goddesses you see are different manifestations or different forms of the One God who is also called the Supreme Being or Brahman. They represent different aspects of the one Supreme God. You could even think of it this way. Like we have the prime minister who is the head of the government and he gives the different ministers various cabinets or departments to head, the Supreme God gives the different gods different “departments” or aspects to take care of. For example, we have Goddess Lakshmi who is the Goddess of wealth and Goddess Saraswathy is the one who bestows knowledge. Then you have Surya who is the Sun God and Chandra, the Moon God. Have you ever thought what would happen if the Sun were to move a little toward or away from us? Why we would perish either due to the heat or the cold! Well don’t worry, Surya Bhagavan will take care of that.
We are all free to choose whichever form of God we want to pray to. Why, you can even pray to many different forms of Gods if you want. You might like the colour pink and your brother Krishna might like orange while your friend likes yellow. Likewise different gods will appeal to different people and one can worship whichever form of god one finds appealing to him or her. Some people have a favourite god like say Krishna or Shiva who is their “Ishta Devatha”. It is said that whichever form of God a devotee prays to with true devotion and sincerity, God will appear before him in that form. For example, Saint Thyagaraja who sang devotional songs on Lord Rama with utmost bhakthi, was blessed with dharshan of Rama. Ramakrishna Paramahansa saw Goddess Kali in whose temple he worshipped ardently.
As the Supreme Being or Brahman is formless, when we pray, it is very difficult for us to talk to or imagine someone without a form. When Brahman is represented as Gods and Goddesses with different forms, we can focus our attention on them easily. When we see a picture or an idol of God or when we close our eyes to pray or meditate, it is easy to visualize a God with a form rather than a formless God.
SITHA: How many gods are there Panditji?
PANDITJI: Well, I would say countless. You see, since we are free to worship god in any form we want, over the years, many, many different forms of god have emerged. In the early times, gods of the natural forces such as Indra (god of heaven), Varuna (god of oceans), Agni (fire god), Vayu (god of wind), etc were worshipped. Later on, in different regions and at different times, different gods were worshipped. Sometimes there were gods specific to people of different castes and areas.
So you see, we have a remarkable pantheon of Hindu gods and goddesses. Just remember that they are all different aspects of the one god and we are free to worship god in any of these forms that appeal to us. For the true devotee or believer, God exists in whatever form in which he prays to him and will protect and bless him.
HERE ARE SOME OF THE POPULAR HINDU GODS AND GODDESSES AND THE DIFFERENT ASPECTS THEY REPRESENT.
BRAHMA – The creator of the universe
VISHNU – The Supreme Being and preserver who maintains harmony in the universe
SHIVA – The destroyer who destroys or withdraws the universe in order to renew or recreate
SARASWATHI – The goddess of learning and knowledge and of different types of art and music. Students, teachers, artists, scholars and all people in pursuit knowledge seek her blessings
LAKSHMI – The goddess of wealth and good fortune
PARVATHI – The consort of Shiva and goddess of love and devotion
GANESHA – The remover of obstacles . He is therefore worshipped in the beginning of any activity
KARTHIKEYA – Represents perfection and is also a fierce war god
RAMA – Follows dharma strictly and is perfect in every way, being the perfect son, husband, brother and king. He is an incarnation of Lord Vishnu
KRISHNA – The incarnation of Lord Vishnu who has given us the wisdom of the Bhagavad Gita
DURGA – The powerful goddess who fights evil, destroys the bad and protects the good
HANUMAN – Known for strength, loyalty, honesty, sincerity and bravery
SHAKTHI – Is the divine mother goddess or female force who destroys evil. Parvathi, Kali, Durga are different forms of Shakthi
ANNAPOORNA – The goddess of food who nourishes people
Pantheon – The gods of a particular group of people.