Following the Flower of Hinduism: Part II Monkey-Headed Gods and All
June 17, 2000
Now that you were a good student, and stuck through learning about the
philosophies of Hinduism, you're ready for the fun stuff:
Hinduism as it is popularly practiced today. This is the Hinduism you've
perhaps seen and wondered about. A Hinduism of fascinating mythology, and
endless gods and goddesses accompanied by seemingly endless festivals and
What's Up With All the Elephants?
Well, although the elephant does not hold the same sacred space as the cow,
one of the most favorite of all the Hindu Gods, Ganesh, has an elephant head.
The story has it that one day Shiva's wife Parvati was home alone bathing while
Shiva had gone out. She made a figure of a little boy and gave it life, and
told the young boy to guard the house. The boy was not to let anyone in while
she was bathing.
Meanwhile, Shiva returns home, but the boy, merely following his orders, refuses
to let him enter his house. Now, Shiva, who is well known for his short temper,
is one god you definitely would NOT want to upset. In a lapse of rage he cut
off the boy's head. Parvati came out crying, screaming at Shiva for killing
her beloved boy, so Shiva set out to find a replacement head. The first living
creature he saw was an elephant, so he used this head to restore life to Ganesh,
and the boy with the elephant head became the beloved son of Shiva and Parvati.
As we've already learned, these gods and goddesses were primarily created
to personalize the brahman, or the universal soul. There are hundreds of Hindu
Gods, which is why Hinduism has long since earned the reputation of being a
polytheist religion, but in actuality all of these gods and goddesses are
of different aspects of one supreme, universal God.
At the heart of it all is the Hindu trilogy: Brahma the creator, Vishnu the
preserver, and Shiva the destroyer. Unfortunately for Brahma, he had a curse
placed upon him long ago by a wandering sage and thus he is not worshipped.
There is only one temple dedicated to Brahma, and unless you travel all the
way to Pushkar in the deserts of
Rajasthan, you won't find Brahma being worshipped in public. He
is the least approachable of the Hindu gods and his powers are thought to be
infinite and a bit incomprehendible to us mere mortals.
Vishnu and Shiva, on the other hand, have huge followings and most Hindu stories
or deities you may have heard of probably have something to do with one of these
two powerful Gods. Kids all over India and Nepal grow up reading comic style
books depicting different adventures of Vishnu and Shiva.
Click image for larger view
Vishnu is usually associated with right action and dignity. Since he is the
preserver, it is his role to protect and sustain all that is good in the world.
This is no easy task, so Vishnu reappears in different incarnations at
times throughout the history of the world to restore order, kind of like the
messiahs and prophets you learn about in western religions like Christianity,
Islam, and Judaism.
It is said that Vishnu will appear in this universe 10
different times, in 10 different incarnations, or "das avatar." The first
was a fish, then a tortoise, then a boar. The fourth was a 1/2 man- 1/2 lion
creature, the fifth was a dwarf., and the sixth was an axe-wielding man. The
seventh was the dutiful king Rama, while the eighth was the clever and likable
hero Krishna. Hindus believe the ninth incarnation of Vishnu was even more
progressed than Krishna, the enlightened man, lord Buddha himself, and now
the final incarnation of Vishnu will be Kalki. From fish to amphibian to land
animal....from land animal to part man to simple man, and so on to the
being....wait a second, this sounds familiar! What's remarkable is that
10 incarnations follow Darwin's theory of evolution, but were written thousands
of years before Darwin, or the Scientific Process for that matter, were even
for larger view
The final God of the Hindu trilogy, is Shiva. Shiva is the destroyer, and is
associated with death and destruction. When I was younger, I used to be afraid
of Shiva, and couldn't understand how everyone worshipped him as such a kind
and loving God. Aren't death and destruction bad things? I was too young then
to realize the different way in which Hindus view these ideas. In Hinduism
it is believed that everything, both good and bad, must be destroyed to make
way for new things-without death, growth and rebirth would not be possible.
Thus Shiva, the destroyer, is often accredited with being the creator too, for
it is he who ultimately clears the way for creation. Shiva is believed to be
the first yogi (or practitioner of yoga),
and is often depicted sitting in deep meditation on a mountain top in the
Click image for larger view
From his head flows the sacred river
the Ganga and he has a serpent around his neck. His hair is long and matted,
and he wears only a cloth around his waist, and today many ascetic men wander
around India and Nepal following his model. They follow Shiva's model-- that
material concerns of this world are only an extreme illusion to distract you from
meditation and ultimate enlightenment.
The ancient Hindu texts describe the world going through different ages, or
yugs, and we are now currently in the Kali Yug. This is the time when the world
is supposed to climax. We inhabitants of the earth will progress to such
extreme that we will eventually lead to our own ruin. At this point Vishnu will
reincarnate to the world as Kalki who will save the world by ending it. Shiva will step
in to aid in the complete destruction of the world, when a big flood is
predicted to come and clear away everything. Some believe that all that will remain will
be a seed. Finally Brahma will take this seed and use it to create the world
all over again, fresh and new.
Who's the Monkey?!?
The monkey-headed God, is none other than Hanuman, Hinduism's ultimate symbol
of devotion. Hanuman, a king amongst the monkeys, became a loyal devotee and
companion to Lord Rama. In fact it is said that he started praying to Lord
Rama before this incarnation of Vishnu was even born. One of the favorite all
time stories passed down from generation to generation in India and Nepal is
the Ramayana which depicts the adventures of Lord Ram struggling to restore
justice in the face of evil monsters and greedy rulers. I used to eagerly await
bedtime to hear another story from my grandmother about how Hanuman remained
by Rama's side even when faced with 10 headed demons, or how he uprooted an
entire mountain and flew it over great distances to save Rama's beloved wife
CHECK IT OUT!!!|
Requires "Flash" and is a 553k download.
In this 'virtual' puja, (or worship) to Ganesh you will find some of the major aspects of any Hindu puja. First ring the bell as Hindus do upon entering any temple. Then click on the flower to adorn Ganesh with flowers. Then click on the colorful powders to mark the image with the auspicious mark on the forehead (don't forget to smear some red on your forehead too!) Next light some sweet incense, and finally click on the flame to light the purifying haarti. Congratulations! You've just completed your first virtual puja!
p.s. - Please e-mail me at ...email@example.com
Kavitha - Following the Flower of Hinduism: Part I - The Mysteries
Jasmine - Hug A Tree - It May Be Your Last Chance
Team - Making a Difference: Wanna Go To Burma? Think Again!
Team - Life in Tibet Could Be Better
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