Hinduism – a way of life

Deities in the temple

Hinduism is the oldest religion. It is the third largest religion in the world. Over 7 million people around the world follow Hinduism.

The three main functions of the Supreme Being are Creation, Preservation and Destruction – represented by the Trimurti (Trinity). Brahma is the Creator or Generator; Vishnu is the Preserver or Operator and Shiva is the Destroyer. God is also perceived and comprehended as Supreme Energy in the static state (Shiva – male) and Supreme Energiser i.e. in the dynamic state (Shakti – female). Both are said to be complementary as without Shakti, Shiva has no expression and Shakti, without Shiva has no existence.

Brahma has four heads facing all four directions, symbolising that he has created the entire universe. He holds in his hands the Vedas, which guided him. He also holds the vessel which is used in the ritual prayer prior to meditation and penance, after which he creates the Universe. He sits on a lotus which is a symbol of purity as the lotus grows in muddy waters but is untouched by the dirt and mire from which it merges.

Vishnu is depicted as resting in absolute bliss with his consort Lakshmi in the Milk Ocean in the thousand -hooded Serpent Ananta. Ananta denotes the cosmic energy and the ocean symbolises ananda or the endless bliss and grace of the Brahman. He holds the chakra (discus) denoting that he maintains Dharma (righteousness) and order and the powers of creation and destruction that form the revolving universe. The Shankha conch-shell he holds in his other hand is associated with the removal of ignorance. It is also symbolic of Nada-Brahman or the Music of the Cosmos with the origin of existence through its spiral form and is connection with water. Vishnu also symbolises authority or the power of knowledge as the essence of life. The Lotus flower he holds is the symbol of beauty and purity of the Cosmic Universe. His open upraised palm in the Abhaya Mudra expresses reassurance.

Shiva the Destroyer of the Universe. He is the embodiment of tamas, the centrifugal inertia; the tendency towards dispersion and annihilation. Literally, Shiva is one in whom the universe ‘sleeps’ after destruction and before the next cycle of creation. All that is born must die. All that is produced must disintegrate and be destroyed. This is an inviolable law. The boundless void, the substratum of all existence, from which it springs out again and again, this apparently limitless universe is Shiva. Although Shiva is described as responsible for destruction, he is equally responsible for creation and existence. In this sense, Brahma and Vishnu are also Shiva. He has three eyes, the third one between his eyebrows is usually closed except at the time of destruction. He is seen with two of the four arms holding Trisula (Trident) Damaru (Drum) while other two are in the Abhaya (protection giving) and Varada (boon giving) mudras (poses). Shiva is worshiped both in the anthropomorphic aspect and as the Lingam (phallic symbol), which is worshiped in temples. The lingam is said to represent the powers of regeneration and procreation. He has a crown of long matted hair from which flows the river Ganga. He also wears the crescent moon as a diadem. He is often shown as Natraj, the King of Dancers, his dance depicting Cosmic Energy.

The three gods of the Hindu Trinity have their respective female counterparts.

The feminine aspect of the creator is personified in the beautiful form of Sarswati, the consort of Brahma, who is the embodiment of learning and wisdom. Hence she is the procreatix, the mother of the entire creation. Literally Saraswati means ‘the flowing one’ and hence also represents speech if taken in an allegorical sense.

Lakshmi being the power and consort of Lord Vishnu the preserver, is represented as the power of multiplicity and the goddess of fortune, both of which are equally necessary in the process of preservation. Lakshmi as depicted in the Vedas, is the goddess of wealth and fortune, power and beauty and described as enchantingly beautiful and standing on lotus.

Shiva’s consort is known as ‘Shakti’ or female energy and is the most popular of the three, being the Mother Goddess. The history and origin of Shakti goes back to the Harappan period where many statuettes of nude females symbolising yoni and fertility have been found along with the horned god figurines with exposed male organs identified with Prota-Shiva. Shakti mirrors in her nature her husband’s variety of roles; she has a different names and they may roughly be divided into mild characters and fierce.