By Kumkum Bhatia
Hinduism states that the Absolute God is formless and without attributes. For most of us, it becomes extremely difficult to venerate a formless and impersonal entity. Our mind demands a symbol to focus on; a personal image to love and worship.
Thus, when the Infinite acts through his creative power, we call Him the Creator – Brahma; when He expresses through His sustaining power, He is Vishnu and when He uses His destructive power, He is Shiva. It is the one God manifesting in different ways.
Brahma and Saraswati
Brahma is seated on a lotus. His four heads indicates that he created the entire universe along with its total knowledge, the Vedas. His arms represent the four aspects of man’s inner personality – the mind (mana), intellect (buddhi), ego (ahamkar) and conditioned consciousness (chitta). The lotus is a symbol of purity. It grows from water, but is not affected by it. The fully bloomed lotus is the soul awakened to the joy of Bliss.
Creation is impossible without right knowledge. Thus, Brahma cannot create without His consort, Saraswati, the goddess of learning and wisdom. The veena, in Her hands, represents the music and rhythm of the universe. Saraswati’s vehicle is a hamsa. All gods have animals as their vehicles. It indicates mutual dependence and reverence for all life. They also represent either a trait that should be nurtured or a failing that has to be overcome to attain the Higher. The mythical hamsa which can separate water from milk shows the faculty of discrimination – the ability to differentiate between the real and the unreal, between the changing and changeless, between right and wrong.
Vishnu and Laxmi
Acting through His sustaining power the Absolute is Vishnu, the Preserver of the universe, and appears in different forms to protect the good and destroy evil. Rama, Krishna and Buddha are His seventh, eighth and ninth incarnations.
Vishnu is married to the goddess of wealth – Laxmi. Wealth is essential to maintain anything. Here wealth is not just money but the nobler values of life, moral and ethical qualities.
Shiva and Shakti
The third aspect of the Supreme is Shiva where the Lord destroys in order to create. It is He who sets the cycle of life and death in motion. Shiva is worshiped in many forms. As the Lord of Dance, He holds the drum that indicates the sound of creation. On His head is the river Ganga. She represents knowledge and devotion. “Why does Shiva have the Ganga on His head?” somebody asked a master. “He is showing you that you should keep your head cool!” was the reply.
Lord Shiva’s image shows many paradoxes: on one side is the gentle moon, while the other has the snake: there is the cool Ganga flowing from His head and burning poison in His throat. And yet Shiva remains serene, balanced and calm. Such is life – full of joys and sorrows, pains and pleasures – but we should strive to face them all with equanimity. Shiva’s consort, Shakti, symbolizes cosmic energy; power and energy are needed for destruction.
Freedom of Choice
Since each one of us is different, Hinduism gives us a wide range of deities to worship. One chooses in accordance to one’s temperament and attraction. All the images are complete and help the mind to understand and concentrate on the All-pervading Divinity – to evolve and grow – in order to live a happy, peaceful and meaningful life.