Why do we have so many Gods and Goddesses?
India is the land of Gods and Goddesses. We have a God in every village and sometimes, more than one God. Within a family, sometimes there are more than one God. I remember from my growing up years, my grandmother’s puja room was bigger than my bedroom. It had some 50 different God frames and idols. As a kid, I had this confusion about so many Gods and Goddesses. Why do we have so many Gods? Whom to please? Why do we go to a temple? Which God will give me a blessing? Is this the way to happiness, love, joy and gratitude? No one could clear my confusion. I finally found my answer to my quest.
My confusion about Gods and Goddesses begins
It was a Sunday. I was a 10 years old at that time. My brothers had gone out with their friends and my dad had gone out too. I was home. We happen to be an Iyer family. If you are familiar with the Tambram (Tamil Brahmin) sects, you’ll know what it means to be an Iyer. We wear the Vibhuti (three horizontal lines like the three stripes of a squirrel. Behind our house was an Iyengar family. There are a few sub-sects in Iyengars. The family that stayed behind our house wore a vertical red streak on their forehead.
Vishnu Vs Shiva
On that day, I went to the Iyengar mama’s house. My curiosity about God’s and Goddesses was still red hot. So, I decided to ask mama (head of the family) the question…; Who is the lord of the Universe? Mama answered; Vishnu. I was even more confused this time. My mother had taught me all these years that Shiva is the lord of the Universe, but all Gods and Goddesses are one. So, I ran back home. My mother was still in the shower.
I banged the door. From inside the bathroom she asked, who is it? I announced myself and told her; Amma, the next door Iyengar mama told me that Vishnu is the lord of the Universe. Is that true? She screamed from inside the bathroom; Don’t go to that house. What added to the confusion was that, our Kula deva (family deity) was Venkateshwara or Vishnu but we worshipped Shiva. Vishu has while V and a red streak in between running vertical on His forehead. The fire to know the truth was burning but latent in me.
Revelation in a trance
I was teaching Nadi Pariksha to Government Ayurveda Doctors at Panchkula, Haryana. It was Winter of 2015. It was the last day and post lunch. I had my iPad with me. My hand began to draw. I’m not an artist. But, the way my hand was drawing, I knew something was making my hand draw. The strokes transformed into a hand and rock.
As I began to talk, words poured into my mouth. I remember what was shared with the doctors on that day.
In the beginning
It started way back in the ancient times, in the land of Bharata, when man was yet to live a social life… Whenever he experienced extreme happiness and joy, he did not know how to express it. So, he would give a hi5 or a hug to tree trunks and gratitude would flow from him. Since he was on the move, he found a different tree for a Hi5 or a hug each time he felt extreme happiness and joy. This became a common experience for him. Then a time came when man began to settle down. Now, he had other people with him. This time, the others saw him give a Hi5 or a hug to tree trunks. In the beginning, they felt awkward looking at him. One of them decided to try out what this man was doing. Soon, they realised that it gave a good feeling. They too began expressing feelings of gratitude.
Evolution of Gods and Goddesses
There was another intelligent guy who thought differently. He decided to bring in a menhir. So all the people decided to give the menhir a Hi5 or a hug. As time passed, families grew. They built their hutments around the menhir. One of them wanted to bring the menhir to life. So, he chiseled facial features on the menhir so it would look more human. As time passed, the future generations added more features which included a face, a body and some ornaments. And they continued to give a Hi5 or a hug whenever they were extremely happiness and joyful.
The word spread
A few generations later, people in the neighbouring villages got word. They too got themselves their own menhirs and chiseled features as they liked. One village wanted their God to be different from the others. So, they gave their God a description. They gave it attributes. The realised that when so many people were giving a Hi5 or hug to the menhir, it began to emit a kind of good vibration. People felt like they wanted to spend more time near their God. They felt like everything was happening for them. So, they called this, their blessing.
The villagers wanted to keep their God clean. So, they began bathing and cleaning their God and decorating it. They even gave it a birthday. Every time they celebrated their God’s birthday with happiness, joy and love, they felt the blessing flow even more. This was the birth of what we call as Grama Deva or the village deity.
Variations of Gods and Goddesses
As time passed, each family got their own menhir and chiseled features on them. the number of Gods and Goddesses grew. These went on to become their Kula deva or ancestral clan deity. Each one of them gave their God attributes. Again there were deity birthdays, celebrations, fun and joy. They too felt blessings flow in their life. It didn’t stop there.
Some others wanted their personal menhirs. So, they got the size and shape of menhir they wanted individually and chiseled the features they liked. Several people had their own version of Gods and Goddesses. They too gave their deity attributes and birthdays. This became their ishta deva personal deity.
After a few centuries, people forgot the very purpose of selecting their personal Gods and Goddesses and instead began beg in front of the chiseled form.
Back to where we began…
When I had narrated all this to the doctors, one of the doctors exclaimed excitedly… This ritual is practiced even today in the interior and remote villages in Haryana. It is called the Mandi. It is the central village square. Instead of a giving a Hi5 to a menhir, they leave their footprints on wet soil.
India is the land of Gods and Goddesses. The variety of forms of Gods and Goddesses came about only for the purpose of sharing our happiness, love and gratitude with them. The amplified vibrations we receive is the blessing. Beneath them, is the purpose – happiness, love, joy and gratitude. They do have their attributes, which have been infused in them through intentions. But, unless you express happiness, love and gratitude with them, the Gods, by themselves cannot give you anything. If you have shared your happiness, love, joys and gratitude with the form, the same will reflect back to you amplified by many times.
The mantras that we chant every morning are intentions are meant to infuse attributes or qualities in the deity so that the blessing can be amplified many times over with the people who come to share with the Gods and Goddesses their happiness, joys, love and gratitude.
So, the next time you visit a temple to see Gods and Goddesses there, make sure you identify reasons for you to be happy, joyful and loving. Share with the deity reasons why you can be grateful. Then you see how that blessing from the deity flows to you amplified many times over.
— Mahesh Krishnamurthy