Been wondering what to post on Sundays now that I’ve finished serialising ‘The Cursed Gift’; have come up with ‘The Sunday Section’, with posts that cover all sorts of random, unconnected things.
I’ll start with a series on Hindu deities; thanks for giving me the idea, Griever :) What I love about the Hindu religion is, not only are there so many deities to choose from, but also the interesting stories attached to many of them.
The three main gods that represent the cosmic functions of creating, preserving and destroying are referred to as the Hindu triad, or ‘Trimurthi’, and consist of Brahma the Creator, Vishnu the Preserver or Protector, and Shiva the Destroyer.
Brahma is shown as having four heads and four arms.
Hindu deities are often depicted as having four arms to show that they are supreme beings.
Each of his four heads continually recites the Vedas, which are the primary texts of Hinduism, held in one of his hands. In another hand, he holds a sceptre; in a third, a type of water jug that is still used in Hindu worship; and in the fourth, usually a spoon, which is associated with the pouring of holy oil onto a sacrificial fire. Every deity is represented by an animal, which is also their vehicle. Brahma’s is shown as either a goose or a swan.
He created his female partner, Saraswati, the goddess of wisdom, learning and the arts, and her vehicle is a swan.
Vishnu has blue skin, and is usually shown reclining, with his consort, Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, on the many-headed snake, Sheshanaga. In one hand, he is shown holding a conch shell; the second holds a discus (‘chakra’), which symbolises world power; in the third, he holds his weapon, a mace; and the fourth holds a lotus flower, symbolising peace and harmony.
Vishnu and Lakshmi
Shiva is the god of the yogis, and is almost always depicted seated in a meditative position.
As an ascetic, he wears his hair of matted locks piled up on his head. Because it is thought that the universe regenerates in cycles, it is necessary for it to be destroyed before it can be created anew, and this is the destroying role that Shiva performs. He is also seen to destroy the illusions and imperfections of the world. He is sometimes depicted with two hands instead of the usual four. He sometimes holds a waisted drum, or has it attached to his trident, which represents the three cosmic forces; he also holds a rosary; one hand is usually empty, raised in a gesture of blessing. His consort, Parvathi, who is his equal, brings balance into his life, their marriage allowing him to be both ascetic and lover. The white bull, Nandi, is his vehicle.
Shiva and Parvathi
Of the three, Brahma is the only one who isn’t worshipped. Compared to the countless temples dedicated to other deities, there are only two devoted to him. Legend states that Brahma and Vishnu began arguing over who was the greater, and Shiva intervened. Taking the form of a column of fire with no beginning or end, he said that whoever could find the origin or end would be the greater of the two. They agreed and set off; Brahma, in the form of a swan who flew upwards, while Vishnu raced down in the form of a boar.
Vishnu began to realise that there was no end to the column, and knew that Shiva was indeed the greatest. But Brahma continued his upward search until he spied a ketaki flower (from the screw-pine family, with a scent similar to roses) floating down towards him. When he asked her where she’d come from, she replied that she’d fallen from the top of a column of light. Knowing he would never find the top of the column, Brahma asked the white flower to corroborate his claim that he had reached the top of the column; she agreed.
When Brahma returned and said he’d found the ketaki flower on top of the column, the flower supported him. Angry at Brahma’s lie, Shiva decreed that he would never be worshipped on earth; neither would the ketaki flower be used in the worship of Shiva.