Deciphering the Deities of Hinduism

Published on: ancient-origins

There are no ancient civilizations that have not practiced some kind of religion. When we study the history of the oldest and the earliest civilizations, we do not find exact dates or traces of events with much accuracy. With the help of preserved manuscripts, stone inscriptions, artifacts, and archaeological findings, we find many traces of civilization and its religions. When we explore the origin of Hinduism, it appears very different from other religions.

In Hinduism, we do not find a specific founder or events as might be recognized in Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and Buddhism. The sacred texts of Hinduism were not discovered in written form, such as carved stones or recorded on papyrus. What we discover about Hinduism is a vast amount of scriptures and texts that were preserved by great seers for many centuries over millennia. These seers safeguarded the sacred heritage and comprehensive knowledge from century to century in their memories. This knowledge was transferred over the ages by the teachers and their disciples, without ever writing them down, and was later organized by the sage Veda Vyasa as “Vedas”.

Hinduism has survived for thousands of years despite many invasions and influences. Dating back more than 5000 years, Hinduism has embraced ideas from all parts of the globe. One of the oldest sacred scriptures of Hinduism, known as Rigveda says: “Let the noble thoughts come to us from all the directions”.

How Many Gods?

Present day Hinduism is the third largest religion in the world. A survey reveals that 95% of Hindus believe in god, however, the number of gods worshiped in Hinduism is a complicated theology. Hinduism has many traditions, philosophies, heritage, saints, and scriptures. In Hinduism, idols are worshiped everywhere. Idols can be found all over India made of stone, wood, and metal and can be found in all sizes. Each idol is bright, gleaming, and mostly covered with red vermilion. Hindus worship many gods, deities, demigods, and legends.

Hinduism views worship as anything to do with the nine planets, mother earth, gods, goddesses, family ancestors, saints, legends, the cow, the monkey, the river Ganga, and many, many more. The roots of Hindu gods are embraced and closely knit to its source of ancient Vedas and Upanishads. Together, they create a complex structure. When we try to understand and segregate the deities of Hinduism, one of the most obvious divisions might be:

● The Vedic Deities

● The Puranic Deities

● The Inferior Deities and Demigods

Vedic Deities

Vedas is one of the oldest sacred scriptures available in Hinduism, and the most authoritative. Many of the Rigveda manuscripts are included in the UNESCO Memory of the World Register . It is noted for being among the first literary documents in the history of humankind. Vedas are also known as Shruti literature, one “which is heard and should be remembered”. Vedas are represented as Anaadi in Sanskrit, as something which has no beginning or end and hence, are eternal. The Vedic gods are the principal foundation of Hinduism. The primary objective of human life during the Vedic period was the fulfilment of four duties, including Dharma, Karma, Artha, and Moksha. The sacrifices (Yajna) and worships mentioned in Vedas are directed towards these duties. Vedic hymns mostly speak about Nature Gods.

Due to the limited number of Vedic scriptures available today, we do not know the exact number of ancient gods worshiped during this period. There are approximately 33 major deities identified in Vedas today, each with their own unique story and symbolism. Vedas generally refers to them as Devas (devatas) and are not meant to represent supreme gods. Some Devas manifest the glory of the supreme god and are divided into eight Vasus, 11 Rudras, and 12 Aditya, including Indra and Prajapati. The Vedic Deities can be further divided into major and minor Deities.

Major Deities worshiped were Indra (god of thunder and storm), Surya (sun god), Agni (god of fire), Varuna (god of sky), Yama (god of death), and Soma ( god of drink ). Some of the Minor Deities focused on were Ushas (goddess of dawn), Ashvins (twin Vedic god), Vishwakarma (god of architecture), and Dyaus (god of father sky).

While some of the gods from the Vedic period have lost their popularity or become forgotten, some are still worshiped in modern Hinduism. The gods still worshiped in Hinduism are Surya (sun god), Agni (god of fire), and Yama, along with a few others. Yajna is an important ritual described more than 1184 times in Vedas and remains a common practice to this day. There is no major ceremony in Hinduism that is completed without inviting the Agni or god of fire for the offering.

In the later or post-Vedic period, most of the gods mentioned in Vedas were set to inferior positions, as compared to the god of Puranas. One such example is Indra, the most prominent deity of the early Vedic period and also the king of heaven. Indra is the god of thunder, rain, and storms. He resides in the celestial city of Amravati in his palace. Indra is similar to Zeus, the king of the ancient Greek god. Indra is also mentioned for governing the eastern quarter of the world and often found with many Apsaras, the celestial girls. Lord Indra rides the Airavata elephant, which evolved during the churning of the ocean.

Puranic Deities

The Puranas are anonymous texts and were utilized by many seers and authors over the centuries. There are 18 Maha Puranas (including main Puranas) and 14 Upa Puranas (the minor Puranas) and include more than 400,000 verses. The Puranas did not enjoy the authority of scripture in Hinduism. They are considered Smritis. Puranic gods are currently known as Hindu gods and goddesses, which are very popular in modern society. Most of the present-day gods and goddesses of Hinduism come from the stories of Puranas, along with a description of their significance during the Puranic period. Another important source of gods in modern Hinduism are the two great epics, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. Mahabharata, which contains 220,000 verses, states that “what is not in the Mahabharata is not in Bharata (India)” . Similarly, Ramayana contains more than 50,000 verses which are the narrative by the seer Valmiki and greatly admired. The Puranic period in India evolved soon after the Vedic period.

The Puranas narrate most of the stories of Vishnu, Siva, and Lord Brahma. Lord Vishnu was the minor Vedic deity who was identified with Vasudeva in Vedas. Later on in the Puranic period, Lord Vishnu is mentioned as having ten incarnations (avatars). Lord Krishna and Lord Rama emerged as the most powerful incarnations of Lord Vishnu. Lord Shiva is another Puranic god who was an ancient minor Vedic god. In Puranas, Lord Shiva is one of the main gods of Trinity and is worshiped in various forms, such as Nataraja, Lingam, and the five headed Ardhanarishvara.

The female ensemble of Siva, Shakti, and Durga are also regarded to be among the Puranic deities, as is Lord Ganesh . Altogether, there are eighteen Puranas, two great epics, and many tantras that are the main source of knowledge of the gods of modern Hinduism. The most powerful gods of the Hindu Trinity include Brahma-Vishnu-Maheshwara, which stands for Brahma the creator, Vishnu the preserver, and Shiva the destroyer from the Puranas period. The most powerful goddesses are the consorts of Hindu Trimurtis; goddess Saraswathi, goddess Lakshmi, goddess Parvati, or Shakti, and the goddess known as Trivedi.

Puranic stories are illustrated as Indra (major god of Vedas), seen riding the white elephant and worshiping Siva, Parvati, and Lord Ganesh (son of Lord Shiva), on the sacred bull Nandi. It is noticed that these gods of Vedas are degraded in the Brahmanas (a part of Vedas) and further up the lower levels in Puranas.

Hindu dharma is further divided into more sects based on the gods of Puranas. Sects include Vaishnavism (Vishnu), Shaivism (Shiva), Shaktism (Devi), and Smartism (five deities treated as the same) in Hinduism today.

The Inferior Gods and Demigods

There is a third classification of deities in Hinduism, including demigods, which are mostly worshiped by local or specific communities. Gods from this period are similar to inferior gods, which are worshiped by fewer people from specific sects or villages or a particular region. Sometimes, evil demigods were also added to the lists of deities and mostly worshiped in small villages in India.

Generally, these gods have a specific purpose and serve a specific object with a cause, such as the Goddess of Cholera, still worshiped in many villages of India. Another example is the worship of sage Naarad, who is the messenger of the gods and has a reputation as a gossiping and meddling person. As Hinduism has always been close to nature, many of these minor gods originate directly or indirectly from nature, and result in the worshiping of trees, rivers, and mountains.
Worship of some of the planets or heavenly bodies can also be added to the list of inferior gods. Two of these planets are mentioned in Vedas as Vedic God, Surya the Sun, and the Moon, as Soma. The other five planets are Mercury (Budha), Venus (Sukra), Mars (Mangala), Jupiter (Brihaspati), and Saturn (Sani). Even in modern Hinduism, during all great festivals, a small offering is presented to the planets. Some of the planets are not worshiped together and some are always worshiped in groups. Even the planets are assigned names to align with the days of the week and have a great influence on Hindu life. Two additional connections include Rahu and Ketu, the eclipse demons, who are also worshiped in Hinduism. In Vishnu Purana, there are stories in which Rahu and Ketu cover the sun and moon with their hands and swallow them.

Hinduism Today

All three categories of god play an important part in strengthening the great Hindu society and give inspiration to millions of Hindu devotees across the world.

It would be not wrong to consider Hinduism as polytheistic in its worshiping of many deities. At the same time, Hinduism also supports the monotheistic belief of one supreme god called Brahman, also referred to as Parmataman. The supreme god has three forms; Brahma-the creator, Vishnu-the sustainer, and Shiva-the destroyer. The Hindu concept also supports the henotheistic belief, which suggests the worship of a single god while not denying the existence or possible existence of other deities and demigods. Henotheism was first used by western scholar, Max Müller, to describe the theology of Vedic religion during pre-ancient Aryan culture. Collectively, the complex structure of gods in Hinduism indicate a liberal and committed religious freedom for its devotees.

Nothing is more wonderful in today’s world than the sight of the countless crowds at the Banaras Ghat, swarming into the sacred river of Ganga for cleansing the soul or watching vibrant Aarti with the serene beauty of the calm sacred river, at one of the 4000-year-old ancient heritages mentioned in Vedas and Puranas.

The Last Ritual

Published On: Sivanaspirit

Antyeṣṭi Sanskara (अन्त्येष्टि)– The Last Ritual, is to pay tribute to the departed soul following to sacred tradition in Hindu Scriptures. There are altogether sixteen samskara (rituals) performed in Hinduism. Starting from the Garbhadhan which is performed at the conception for the purpose of conceiving a child as the first samskara, to the last which is called as Antyeshti samskara. After Antyeshti is completed, it is considered that Atma is permanently separated from the deceased body and has left the physical world. There is a close bonding between the Atma (soul) and the body all over the life. Once the physical body has served its purpose and is unable to sustain life further, the Jiva (soul) has to give up the current form of the body and has to move to the next form of life. The next form is as per his Karma.

Cremation is the most common method of funeral ceremony performed in Hinduism. However, certain groups and castes do not cremate in Hinduism. They bury the physical body. Ascetics and children are also generally buried or floated in the running water.

In Hinduism the body and soul are two separate entities. The ancient scriptures says- the soul once it is separated from the deceased body it is reluctant to leave the body, since it has desire and is attached with the corpse. The soul is very broken to see all his family and friends in pain and agony. Soul do not want to leave the physical body. It has a connection with the world through the body it has known so long. Once the cremation of the deceased body is fulfilled, in which Agni Sanskara is performed it cuts off atma feeling and attachment with the physical body.

In Hinduism, everything in the universe including the human body is made of basic five elements. These five elements (called as Panchtatva) connotes the elements i.e. Sky (Akash), Wind (Vayu), Fire (Agni), Water (Jal) and Earth (Prithvi). The Agni (Fire) which is the last rite is the passage of returning the body back to the five elements to its origin.

In cremation, the family and friends take the deceased body to the cremation ground. The cremation ground, which should be purified and the fire is lit with 100 kgs of wood, ghee(cow clarified butter) and body. Mantras are recited and the body is offered to fire. This is the final purification rite of the physical body. And the body is reduced to its five elements. Also post death rituals, the surviving family makes donations to charity on the deceased’s behalf, which also helps to give peace to the soul.

The roots of this sanskara are also found in Vedas. Rigveda says-

Burn him not up, nor quite consume him, Agni: let not his body or his skin be scattered,
O all possessing Fire, when thou hast matured him, then send him on his way unto the Fathers.
When thou hast made him ready, all possessing Fire, then do thou give him over to the Fathers,
When he attains unto the life that waits him, he shall become subject to the will of gods.
The Sun receives thine eye, the Wind thy Prana (life-principle, breathe); go, to earth or heaven.
Go, if it be thy lot, unto the waters; go, make thine home in plants with all thy members. 

— Rigveda 10.16[11]

Funeral ceremonies are also described in detail in other scriptures, like Atharvaveda, In the Arnayaka of Krishna Yajurveda and later Sutras as well.

After the soul leaves the body it maintains some connection with the existing physical world. This period is around 13 days. The family also maintained a very close connection with the deceased during this period and recalls the person. All the final ceremonies related with cremation and mourning are performed during this period. The ceremonies help to maintain the separation of both deceased between the family and the deceased.

For these 13 days, Hindus recite the Garuda Purana with the other prayers to help the soul get departed and reach its final destination. It is believed when the Aatma leaves the body it adopts another spiritual form which is a subtle body and grows slowly day by day. The tenth day after the death, the interim spiritual soul grows completely and the family of the deceased offers the Pindas (food balls made of rice and water) for the development of Jivas for the next life. During this period the soul is called as pret on which one is departed from the physical world and not reached to next.

On the eleventh day the prayers are performed for the soul to reach in witness of God Vishnu and Yama(God Of death). On twelve and thirteen day the soul reaches to the next world and resides with the forefather called Pitra (ancestors). And the Antyeṣṭi is considered as completed. Every year the family performs the ritual in a specific month called Sharaad as the symbol of remembrance and respect of ancestors for the deceased.

In the end the truth is- anyone who is born will die and only karma goes with the soul..

Yajna: Ancient Purification Practice

Published On: Sivanaspirit

Yajna (यज्ञ) is one of the oldest rituals practiced in Hinduism for thousands of years. There is no major ceremony in Hinduism that is completed without inviting the Agni or God of Fire for the offering. Yajna is described more than “1184″ times in Vedas and “580” times in Rigveda alone. They are also prevalent in current-day Buddhism and Jainism. Yajna is a medium to establish an appendage with your inner self, soul, and peace of mind. It is believed that any offering done with gratitude and belief is reached to God through the fire, during Yajna. There are different terms used for Yajna like Hawan, Hotrah, Yajnah, Meghah, Agnihotra, etc.

The process of Yagna is also considered the most important Karma in the karmakand of the Vēdas. It is mentioned in Shatpath Brahman that:

यज्ञो वै श्रेष्ठतमं कर्म (यज्ञ सबसे श्रेष्ठ कर्म है।)
“Yagyo Vai Shreshtam Karmah”
“Which means the Yajna is the best Karma”

As it is said, “Heal the atmosphere and the healed atmosphere will heal you” After the Yajna is fulfilled, there is a complete purification of the environment, Yajna is the ancient science of healing. Yajna brings all types of rewards including material, environmental, psychological, and spiritual. Yajna purifies the surrounding in many ways.

When a Yajna is performed it removes the foul odors from the environment. Soon after the Yajna, a smoky aroma can be experienced. As the substances used in aahuti(sacrifice) during Yajna like Ghee(Cow clarified butter), Sandalwood, clove, camphor, etc.. It creates a natural, organic pleasing fragrance.

Yajana

Yajna removes plenty of bacteria, viruses, insects from the atmosphere. The smoke also disinfects indoor air. The antiseptic and antibiotic effects of the yajna are like the ancient disinfectants of the atmosphere. One can feel the disinfectant is sprayed all around. After yajna is performed it also restricts the growth or spread of pathogenic bacteria from the environment. Many scientific experiments were conducted in the past to check the impact of yajna on mother nature like seed germination, growth of plants, and water purification. The results were truly amazing which showed the reduction of contaminating microorganisms in the environment. Although smoke has a bad impact on your health and that is why yajna is suggested to be performed in the open space and direct smoke should be always avoided. After the Yajna is performed it reduces the noxious level of the surrounding air due to the combustion of substance used in Yajna. Evidence suggested that Yagya reduces air pollution generated Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) and Sulfur Dioxide (SO2) and other secondary Air Quality levels along with biological air pollutants such as microorganisms from the environment up to substantial level. Yajna also reduces the negativity from the mind, body, and the surrounding. Yajna reduces stress and over addiction.

Embrace the Power of Yajna

There are almost more than 400 types of Yajnas mentioned in Vedas. Before performing any Yajna the one needs to understand the purpose of performing the Yajna. There can be hundreds of reasons for Yajnas: like to worship the Devas/Deities. Yajna is also performed to achieve divine calmness, satisfaction, ensure health, cleanse sinful karma, improve relationships. Sometimes Yajnas are also performed for overcoming obstacles and difficulties in life. Yajnas are also performed to achieve goals like Dharma, Artha, Moksha. Yajna is also performed on specific occasions like birthday, house warming, anniversaries, etc. In some parts of India, Yajnas are also performed for good rains, better crop harvesting, evil spirits, natural disasters, the sin of the ancestors, and many such reasons.

Yajna can be classified in multiple ways. Some Yajnas are performed every day, some are performed weekly, monthly, yearly. Some are performed on specific situation, occasions. And some yajna is performed once in a lifetime. There are almost more than 400 types of Yajnas mentioned in Vedas. Yajna which is performed at the home, office, or in the family is generally called Havan. Yajnas are mostly performed in the morning or during daylight and in open space. There are different types of mantras to chant while performing Yajna. Without chanting Mantras it will not be possible to get benefits that are expected from Yajna.

Anyone can perform a Yagna. To start with one can always perform his small ritual of Yajna at home or when you’re about to begin a new venture or to give a more emphatic direction in your current journey. There are unlimited benefits of Yajna which can not be explained in full length. Altogether from Yajna one can use the power of fire to drive into our inner consciousness and self-delight.

Published Date : 19 May 2020