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HINDU GODS AND GODDESSES
by Swami Sivananda
Table of Contents
About This Book (Back Cover) Swami Sivananda's Letters xii God xiv What Is God? 1 Varying Concepts of God 2 Law Governing the Lord’s Descent 3 Kinds of Avataras 4 The Divine Form of an Avatara 4 Philosophy, Mythology and Ritual 5 The Ancient Mythology of Hinduism 6 The Diverse Sects and Creeds of Hinduism 6 The Question of Idol-worship 7 When Idols Became Alive 8 All Deities Are Aspects of the One Lord 9 The Power of Anusuya’s Chastity 11 Lord Dattatreya’s Avatara 13
The Greatest of Avadhutas
13 His Twenty-Four Gurus 14 Manifestations of Sakti 21 Siva and Sakti 21 Matter, Energy and Spirit 22 The Divine Mother 23 Durga—Lakshmi—Saraswati 24 The Navaratri and Its Spiritual Significance 24 Worship of the Divine Mother 25 The Elephant-Head 27 Symbolic Philosophy of Lord Ganesha’s Form 28 Legends Connected With Lord Ganesha 29 Ganesha Mantra and Ganesha Gayatri 30 Ganesha Chaturthi and Ganesha Vrata 31 Birth of a Hero 33 His Greatness and Glory 34 His Superhuman Exploits 35 The Episode of the Pearl Necklace 38 First Among the Heroes of the World 39
Prince Among the Dasya Bhaktas
The Purna Avatara 44 Student Days with Sage Sandipani 45 The Lord’s Life of Selfless Action 45 Krishna, The Warrior 46 A Great Statesman 47 The Lord of Yogis 48 An Embodiment of Love and Mercy 49 The Lord’s Teachings 49
Call of the Flute
Ananda Aspect of Brahman 55 Madhurya Bhava 56 Radha’s Matchless Love for Krishna 57 The Mystery of the Rasa Lila 57 The Unselfish Love of the Gopis 59 Puranas That Expound the Radha Cult 60 Philosophy of the Word ‘Radha’ 61 Radha-Tattva 63 The Birth of the Lord 66 The Divine Virtues of Rama 68 Sri Rama’s Dedication to Truth and Duty 70 Rama Rajya 72
Rama Nama Mahima
74 Why Lord Rama Behaved Like a Man 76 The Transcendent Divinity That Is Rama 77 Sri Rama Navami 77
The Enticing Form of Mohini 79 Siva and Mohini 80 Legendary Stories About Lord Ayyappa 81 An Extremely Popular Deity in Kerala 84 The Mantra of Lord Ayyappa 84 The Pilgrimage to Sabarimalai 85 The Lord’s Darshan 87 An Avatara of Lord Siva 90 The Lord of Nature 91 Scriptures That Extol Lord Skanda 92 The Form of Shanmukha 93 Valli and Deivayanai 94 The Vel 95 The Peacock, the Snake and the Cock 96 Danda Pani 97 The Esoteric Significance of the Skanda Stories 97 The Wedding of Valli 98 Pratyaksha Devata of This Kali Yuga 98 The Kavadi 99
Incarnation of Lakshmi 101 Abduction By Ravana 103 A Goddess in Captivity 104 The Release 105 The Coronation of Lord Rama 107 Public Gossip 107 The Banishment 108 The Goddess Speaks 109 The Birth of Lava-Kusha 110 Back to Mother Earth 111 Symbol of Ideal Womanhood 112 Siva and Vishnu Are Identical 115 Lord Siva’s Form and Its Significance 117 Worship of Siva Lingam 118
120 The Glory of Hymns in Praise of Lord Siva 122 The Panchakshara Mantra 123 The Dance of Siva 124 Worship of Lord Siva 126
Sun and Sunlight 129 Surya Namaskara 129 Sun-Worship in Ancient and Modern Times 132 Sun-Temples in India 132 Sandhyopasana 134 The Glory of Gayatri 136 Scriptures That Extol the Sun-God 139 Makara Sankranti and Ratha Saptami 140 Eclipse 141 Conclusion 142
Aspects of the Lord 145
145 The Vaishnavite Schools 147 Vaishnava Literature 148 The Bhagavata Purana 148 The Ten Avataras of Lord Vishnu 149 The Alwar Saints of South India 150 The Worship of Vishnu 151 Glory of Ekadasi 152
The Universal Prayer 156 Invocatory Kirtan 157 Song of Arati 159
About This Book
GOD is one, but His aspects are many. The different aspects of God constitute the Hindu Pantheon.
The naturally pious Hindu delights in his Deities. He delights in singing the Lord’s glories, in chanting His Mantras, in visiting His temples, in worshipping His Murtis. These devotional practices expand his heart, enlarge his vision, aid him powerfully in his Sadhana, and ultimately lead him to the highest goal of his spiritual endeavour, viz., God-realisation.
The conception of the names and forms of various Deities in Hindu mythology is grand, sublime, unique. Every detail connected with every Hindu god and goddess has its inner meaning, its esoteric significance.
Swami Sivananda writes for the readers. His style is simple. His approach is direct. He writes with intense devotion and Prem.
We have great pleasure in releasing this beautiful book for the benefit of all those who want to understand Hinduism better. May God illumine the hearts of all and bring peace on earth.
Swami Sivananda's Letters
1st March 1953
Sri Santa Peta S.D.L.S Delhi,
God is all-pervading, all-permeating, interpenetrating Essence. In Him alone you can find eternal Bliss, everlasting Peace and Immortality.
Therefore Seek Him, attain Him through purity, selfless service, faith, devotion and wisdom.
1st November 1945
Hinduism has within it all the features of a universal religion. Its dharmas are universal. Its philosophy is unique. Its scriptures are wonderful. Its ethics is sublime.
Glorious has been its past. Still more glorious is its future.
It has a message to give to a world rent asunder by hatred, dissension and war--the message of cosmic love, truth and non-violence, the gospel of unity of Self or Vedantic oneness.
God only is. All Mortal things are shadows. God is the only real, immortal Substance.
God is One-in-all and All-in-one. God is certainly one. He has no second. The Upanishads profess only one God.
There are many gods in the Vedas. In the scriptures of other religions, they are known as angels.
Hindus worship many gods. But they are all different aspects of the one Reality.
God cannot be comprehended, but can be realised.
You need neither art nor science, neither study nor erudition for God-realisation, but faith, purity and devotion.
In the din and noise of the world, in the midst of sensual pleasures, the mind is led astray. But if you have firm faith in God, if you offer prayer, if you do Japa, Kirtan and meditation, you are lifted up. No worldly charms can attract or tempt you. You will rest peacefully in God.
O Lord of all life! O Heavenly flame!
Centre and Soul of every sphere!
Thy light is truth.
Thy warmth is love.
Grant us wisdom, to make us free.
Come, fill our hearts with peace.
Direct us, protect us, save us
Till we reach the other shore of immortality.
THE Petromax does not talk, but it shines and sheds light all around. The jessamine does not speak, but it wafts its fragrance everywhere. The lighthouse sounds no drum, but sends its friendly light to the mariner. The Unseen beats no gong, but its omnipresence; is felt by the dispassionate and discriminating sage.
Behind all names and forms is the one nameless, formless Essence. Behind all governors is the one Supreme Governor of governors. Behind all lights is the one Light of lights. Behind all sounds, there is the soundless Supreme Silence. Behind all teachers is the one Supreme Guru of Gurus.
Behind all these perishable is the one imperishable Absolute. Behind all these motions is the one motionless Infinite. Behind time, minutes and days is the one timeless Eternity. Behind hatred, riots and wars is the one hidden Love.
What Is God?
God is the totality of all that exists, both animate and inanimate, sentient and insentient. He is free from ills and limitations. He is omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent. He has no beginning. middle, or end. He is the Indweller in all beings. He controls from within.
God is all in all. God is the only Reality in this universe. The existence of things is by the light of God.
God is ever living. All depend on Him. He is not depending on any. He is the Truth.
God is the end or goal of all Yoga Sadhanas. He is the centre towards which all things strive. He is the Highest Purpose or Highest Good of the world.
You have the urge of hunger. There is food to appease the hunger. You have the urge of thirst. There is water to quench thirst. There is the urge to be always happy. There must be something to satisfy this urge. This something is God, an embodiment of happiness. God, Immortality, Freedom, Perfection, Peace, Bliss, Love are synonymous terms.
Varying Concepts of God
Every man has his own conception of God. The God of a military man wears a helmet. The God of a China-man has a flat nose and a pipe for smoking opium. The God of a Hindu has marks on His forehead, and wears rosary and garland of flowers. The God of a Christian wears a Cross. For some, God has wings. A buffalo will think that God is a very big buffalo.
What is God? It is hard to tell. But, when I look at the Ganga, I know it is God. When I see the jessamine, I know it is God. When I behold the blue sky, I know it is God. When I hear the chirping of birds, I know it is God. When I taste honey, I know it is God.
The Supreme is indefinable, though scholars give intellectual accounts of It which are not absolutely true.
Ocean can be compared to ocean alone. Akasa can be compared to Akasa alone. Even so, Brahman or the Absolute can be compared to Brahman alone.
Just as air is formless and at the same time takes the form as of a cyclone, so also, God who is formless in His unmanifested or transcendental state, assumes a form for the pious worship of His Bhaktas. He reveals Himself in the form in which the devotee loves Him the most.
Law Governing the Lord’s Descent
When Lord Jesus was born, the angels sang a beautiful song in praise of the Lord and, in so doing, revealed the purpose of His Descent:
Glory to God in the highest,
And on earth peace, good-will toward men.
Lord Jesus had come into this world of men in order to re-establish the true and the highest glory of God—peace on earth, and good-will in the hearts of men towards all fellow-beings.
The law governing the Lord’s Descent upon earth is the same at all times, everywhere. There is descent of God for the ascent of man. The aim of every Avatara is to save the world from some great danger, to destroy the wicked, and protect the virtuous. Says Lord Krishna: "Whenever there is decay of righteousness, then I Myself come forth. For the protection of the good, for the destruction of the evil-doers, for the sake of firmly establishing righteousness, I am born from age to age."
When unrighteousness grows and righteousness is on the wane, when the forces undivine seem to be stronger than the divine forces, when the Word of God or Commandments of His Messengers is forgotten or disobeyed, when religious fanaticism follows the letter of the scriptures killing their spirit, it is then that the Lord Incarnates Himself on earth, to save man, to save righteousness. He takes human form when He comes down on the physical plane. He is called an Avatara.
An Avatara is a mighty person. He removes the veil of ignorance of thousands of men and women, and takes them to the land of eternal rest, bliss and sunshine.
The Avataras are one with the Supreme. They are not parts like the individual souls. Avataras or Incarnations are rays of the Lord. When the work of Loka-Sangraha is over, they disappear from the world.
Kinds of Avataras
Avataras are of various kinds. There are Purna-Avataras, with full Kalas or rays. There are Amsa-Avataras or partial incarnations. There are Lila-Avataras.
Lord Krishna is a Purna-Avatara. Sri Sankaracharya was an Amsa-Avatara. Matsya, Kurma, Narasimha, Vamana, Varaha, Rama, etc., are Lila-Avataras.
Krishna and Rama were the Avataras of Lord Vishnu. Dakshinamurti was an incarnation of Lord Siva. Dattatreya was the Avatara of the three Murtis—Brahma, Vishnu and Siva. Brahma, Vishnu and Siva are the three aspects of God. Brahma is the creative aspect; Vishnu is the preservative aspect; and Siva is the destructive aspect. There is no polytheism in Hinduism. Siva, Vishnu, Brahma, Sakti are different aspects of the one Lord.
The Divine Form of an Avatara
Some people say: "How can we take Krishna as the Lord or Bhagavan? He took birth and died. He is only a man." This is a false statement. This is the utterance of an ignorant child. Lord Krishna only manifested Himself, for the time being, to do Loka-Sangraha work, to effect the solidarity or well-being of humanity, and then disappeared. Lord Krishna is Lord Hari Himself. There is no doubt of this.
Lord Rama is the Supreme Soul, the Antaryamin, the Protector of all beings. He is omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent. He is Lord Hari. He was never born. He never died. Lord Hari simply manifested in the form of Rama to do Loka-Sangraha, and then vanished.
Lord Rama and Lord Krishna had no physical bodies. Their bodies were not made of the five elements. They had divine forms. They had Chinmaya-bodies, though to all appearance it appeared like flesh. They had no real birth and death like human beings. They appeared and disappeared, just as a Yogi does. Their bodies were not left in this world. There is no destruction for their bodies.
Philosophy, Mythology and Ritual
In every religion, there are three parts, viz., philosophy, mythology and ritual. Philosophy is the essence of religion. It sets forth its basic principles or fundamental doctrines or tenets, the goal, and the means of attaining it. Mythology explains and illustrates philosophy by means of legendary lives of great men or of supernatural beings. Ritual gives a still more concrete form to philosophy so that everyone may understand it. Ritual consists of forms and ceremonies, etc.
Mythology is a part of every religion. Mythology is concretised philosophy. Mythology is the science which investigates myths or fables or legends founded on remote events, especially those made in the early period of a people’s existence. Mythology inspires the readers through precepts and laudable examples, and goads them to attain perfection or the highest ideal. The abstract teachings and high subtle ideas are made highly interesting and impressive to the masses through the garb of stories, parables, legends, allegories and narratives. The sublime and abstract philosophical ideas and ideals of Hinduism are taken straight to the heart of the masses through impressive stories.
Mythology is slightly mixed up with a little history. It is difficult to make a fine distinction between history and mythology.
The Ancient Mythology of Hinduism
There are great truths behind the ancient mythology of Hinduism. You cannot ignore a thing simply because it has a garb of mythology. Do not argue. Shut up your mouth. Keep your intellect at a respectable distance when you study mythology. Intellect is a hindrance. It will delude you. Give up arrogance, vanity. Cultivate love for imagery. Sit like a child and open your heart freely. You will comprehend the great truths revealed by mythology. You will penetrate into the hearts of the Rishis and sages who wrote the mythology. You will really enjoy mythology now.
You study geography through maps. There is no real country or town in a map, but it helps you to know a great deal about the different countries. Similar is the case with myths. You can grasp the subtle, philosophical truths through myths only. The object of myth and legend is merely to lure the mind to the truths of religion.
By studying mythology, you will get several object lessons for moulding your character and leading an ideal, divine life. The lives of Sri Rama, Sri Krishna, Bhishma, Nala, Harischandra, Lakshmana, Bharata, Hanuman, Yudhishthira, Arjuna, Sita, Savitri, Damayanti, Radha are sources of great spiritual inspiration for moulding your life, conduct and character. When you are in a dilemma as to what to do during puzzling situations, when there is conflict of duties, you will get the exact solutions through study of mythology.
The Diverse Sects and Creeds of Hinduism
A foreigner is struck with astonishment when he hears about the diverse sects and creeds of Hinduism. But, these varieties are really an ornament to Hinduism. They, certainly, are not its defects. There are various types of mind and temperament. So, there should be various faiths also. This is but natural. This is the cardinal tenet of Hinduism. There is room in Hinduism for all types of souls—from the highest to the lowest—for their growth and evolution.
The term Hinduism is most elastic. It includes a number of sects and cults, allied, but different in many important points. Hinduism has, within its fold, various schools of Vedanta—Saivism, Saktism, Vaishnavism, etc. It has various cults and creeds. It is more a league of religions than a single religion with a definite creed. It is a fellowship of faiths. It is a federation of philosophies. It accommodates all types of men. It prescribes spiritual food for everybody, according to his qualification and growth. This is the beauty of this magnanimous religion. This is the glory of Hinduism. Hence there is no conflict among the various cults and creeds. Lord Krishna says in the Gita: "However men approach Me, even so do I welcome them, for the path men take from every side is Mine." All diversities are organised and united in the body of Hinduism. Despite all the differences of metaphysical doctrines, modes of religious discipline, and forms of ritualistic practices and social habits prevalent in the Hindu society, there is an essential uniformity in the conception of religion, and in the outlook on life and the world, among all sections of Hindus.
The Question of Idol-worship
Idol-worship is not peculiar to Hinduism. Christians worship the Cross. They have the image of the Cross in their mind. The Mohammedans keep the image of the Kaaba stone when they kneel and do prayers. The people of the whole world—save a few Yogis and Vedantins—are all worshippers of idols. They keep some image or the other in the mind.
The mental image also is a form of idol. The difference is not one of kind, but only one of degree. All worshippers, however intellectual they may be, generate a form in the mind and make the mind dwell on that image.
Everyone is an idol-worshipper. Pictures, drawings, etc., are only a form of Pratima. A gross mind needs a concrete symbol as a prop or Alambana; a subtle mind requires an abstract symbol. Even a Vedantin has the symbol OM for fixing the wandering mind. It is not only the pictures or images in stone and wood that are idols. Dialecticians and leaders also become idols. So, why condemn idolatry?
When Idols Became Alive
The God in you has the power to awaken the latent Divinity in the idol. Regular worship, Puja and other modes of demonstrating our inner feeling of recognition of Divinity in the idol unveils the Divinity latent in it. This is truly a wonder and a miracle. The picture comes to life. The idol speaks. It will answer your questions and solve your problems.
For a devotee, the image is a mass of Chaitanya or consciousness. The devotee beholds actually the Lord in the idol. He draws inspiration from the image. The image guides him. It talks to him. It assumes human form to help him in a variety of ways.
The image of Lord Siva in the temple at Madurai, in South India, helped the fuel-cutter and the old woman. The image in the temple at Tirupati assumed human form and gave witness in the court to help His devotees. The idols in the temples of Tirupati, Pandharpur, Palani, Kathirgama, etc., are powerful Deities. They are Pratyaksha Devatas. They grant boons to the devotees, cure their ailments, and give Darshan. Wonderful Lilas are associated with these Deities.
For a Bhakta or a sage, there is no such thing as Jada or insentient matter. Everything is Vaasudeva or Chaitanya: Vaasudevah Sarvam Iti. Narsi Mehta was put to the test by a Raja. The Raja said, "O Narsi, if you are a sincere devotee of Lord Krishna, if as you say the idol is Lord Krishna Himself, let this idol move." According to the prayer of Narsi Mehta, the idol moved. The sacred Bull Nandi before Siva’s idol took the food offered by Tulsidas. The Murti played with Mira Bai. It was full of life and Chaitanya for her.
All Deities Are Aspects of the One Lord
You can attain God-realisation through worship of Avataras like Lord Krishna and Lord Rama. Many have already attained God-realisation in this manner. Tukaram, Ramdas, Surdas, Mira Bai and Tulsidas have seen God face to face. Their powerful writings bespeak of their high spiritual attainments.
Worship Lord Rama or Lord Krishna at all times with all your heart, and with all your mind. Glorify Him in your heart. He will soon reveal Himself to you and you will feel His Presence. You will attain immortality and eternal bliss.
God reveals Himself to His devotees in a variety of ways. He assumes the very form which the devotee has chosen for his worship. If you worship Him as Lord Hari with four hands, He will come to you as Hari. If you adore Him as Siva, He will give you Darshan as Siva. If you worship Him as Mother Durga or Kaali, He will come to you as Durga or Kaali. If you worship Him as Lord Rama, Lord Krishna, or Lord Dattatreya, He will come to you as Rama, Krishna, or Dattatreya. If you worship Him as Christ or Allah, He will come to you as Christ or Allah.
All are aspects of one Isvara or Lord. Under whatever name and form, it is Isvara who is adored. Worship goes to the Indweller, the Lord in the form. It is ignorance to think that one form is superior to another. All forms are one and the same. All are adoring the same Lord. The differences are only differences of names due to differences in the worshippers, but not in the object of adoration.
The real Jesus or Krishna is in your own heart. He lives there for ever. He is your Indweller. He is your partner always. There is no friend like the Indweller. Resort to Him. Take refuge in Him. Realise Him and be free.
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