Idol Worship: The Plethora of Gods

Without a doubt, Hinduism has the unique distinction of worshipping the most gods of any religion. The credit for this goes to our ancient sages, the Rishis, who adored and glorified these gods in an ingenious manner. Not only is each god grand and divine, but he also has his own unique personality and attributes. In the Hindu pantheon, the gods are like the icons with which the ordinary devotee may identify the Divine more easily. Ancient scriptures portray the gods by using a story telling method, making the theme more important than the event.50

                In the epic scriptures, with the historical tales of Lord Rama and Lord Krishna, the concept of God incarnate became established in Hinduism. Both Lord Rama and Lord Krishna are considered as Vishnu incarnates in the Hindu pantheon. Lord Rama is known for his sense of propriety, or maryada. He would never do anything that was inappropriate. Lord Krishna is complete in all respects—the puran avtara—but he is also the god of love, or Prema. He has a bewitching smile and a handsome face, and he holds a melodious flute to his lips. He would never utter words of anger or hatred. Every Hindu has a choice to choose his own God. He may also choose many gods, instead of just one. By thinking of a god and meditating on him, a person would imbibe the divine virtues and attributes within his or her own self. This was indeed the grand plan of our learned sages, which has worked wonderfully well throughout millennia.

God is an evolutionary concept in Hinduism. As a person ascends gradually on the path of spirituality, through eons of birth cycles, his/her divinity shines more and more. Some of the most important ones, apart from the primary trinity of gods, are presented:

 

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The concept of many gods evolved from the very beginning. First, it was the “nature gods” like the sun-suray, moon-chandrama, fire-agni etc. As and when the early people observed different manifestations of the superior nature elements, they considered them as different gods-the powers beyond their imaginations. As Hinduism was not founded by one single person, various interpretations and opinions were assimilated without protest and dispute. In fact, this also laid the foundation of absorbing the concept of many in place of one in almost all philosophical perceptions and beliefs. As time passed, different ethnic communities presented their own viewpoints about the forms of gods as they perceived. God was projected with different attributes and potentials. He was conceived as an infinite power of knowledge, and virtue. Soon it was realized that behind so many, there is but one formless, transcendental, and eternal God, as described in the Upanishads. On the other hand, this model of many gods also has persisted in Hindu theology, with even more new gods being presented periodically. Occasionally living persons with highest spiritual virtues too have been deemed and worshipped as gods.