Thursday, March 22, 2012

Hindu Manifestations Of The Divine

From the reverence for Mother Earth to the honoring of the sacred cow, Hindus have long recognized the sanctity of nature. The Vedic gods of the Aryans possessed powers that were associated with the elements of nature; and the Rig Veda is filled with hymns that praise and appease these divinities. Each of the important natural forces – fire, earth, wind, atmosphere and sky – was represented by an individual deity, led by the heroic Indra, god of thunder. Different deities are still believed to preside over different seasons, months and days of the year: Shiva, with the crescent moon in his hair, is the guardian of Monday, and Surya, the sun god, presides over Sunday. Although the Hindu tradition recognizes a multiplicity of gods, all are often considered to be manifestations of the one ultimate god, conceived of as Brahman.

Divinity In Hindu Way

In Hindu thought, divinity is a natural part of this world, not separate from it. It exists in rocks and rivers, mountains and caves, plants and trees. Other natural forms are worshiped as spontaneous manifestations of the divine. Certain plants are revered because they are associated with a particular deity. For example tulsi (sacred basil plant) is identified with Vishnu, and is believed to be dear to his avatar Krishna: the prayer beads of Vishnu devotees are often made from wood of the tulsi.

Water is a source of divinity in Hinduism, because it purifies and nourishes. At the end of a given cosmic cycle, after the world has been destroyed by flames, everything is absorbed into the ocean of dissolution, from which the process of recreation begins. Rivers are sacred because they descend from the heavens to purify and fertilize the earth. Unusual or spectacular natural phenomena, such as fords for rivers and crevices in mountains are identified as tirthas where the presence of the sacred is especially intense. In these places, cosmic and historical time intersects and the distinction between the transcendent and the mundane is blurred, giving individuals a glimpse of the purity and the blissful nature of the divine.

Hindu Deities And Demons

The divine also manifests itself within the human imagination, giving rise to a plethora of anthropomorphic images in Hinduism. Many deities are depicted with multiple arms or heads, symbolic of their superhuman powers. The triad of deities representing the powers of creation, preservation and destruction are Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. Brahma, his four heads denoting the four Vedas, controls the process of creation.

Everything is touched by the sacred, even the demonic beings of Hindu mythology. These demons are blessed with superhuman powers but cursed with subhuman personalities, symbolized by their grotesque features. Evil is recognized as a part of nature that can cause havoc in the world of humans and gods; the goal is to overcome it with righteous, dharmic behavior. However, the battle between dharma and adharma is not easy, especially during the dismal Kali Yuga when morality is at its lowest.

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