So the past few days, it seems as though Hinduism has popped up everywhere. I’ve seen random om tattoos (on non-Hindus…hey it’s cool!), signs of it in my favorite guilty pleasure, Charmed, and even in the book I was reading, Where’d You Go, Bernadette (more to come on this soon, but you should definitely try to snag it…or download it I guess). As someone who firmly believes in signs, I decided that all of these instances must mean that I’m meant to do a little research on Hinduism and maybe even become more religious. But as someone who has a Hindu god tattooed on their body, I should at least know more than the basics.
The number one reason Hinduism can be so confusing is because throughout its extensive history, there have been a vast number of key figures, each bringing a different philosophy, and sometimes even a different holy scripture, to the religion. It is for this same reason that Hinduism is frequently referred to as a way of life rather than a religion. All of this being said, most Hindus adhere to a body of texts (four of them to be precise) known as the Vedas and pursue a common system of values, dharma.
The triumvirate are known as the three gods associated with the creation, upkeep, and destruction of the world. Brahma is considered to be the creator of the world and all of its creatures. Saraswati, the goddess of knowledge (one that I am familiar with through years and years of praying for good grades), is known to be Brahma’s spouse. Brahma, however, is the least worshipped god in Hinduism. It is said that this is either because a) his job as creator is done or b) his incessant pursual of Shatarupa, a woman he created to help in his creation of the world. Lord Shiva cursed Brahma for such incestuous behavior by making him a god that no one worships.
Vishnu is the Hindu god of preservation and protection of the universe. It is said that in times of trouble, Vishnu returns to the earth in order to maintain the balance of good and evil. He has been re-incarnated nine times and believers say he will be re-incarnated one last time close to the end of the world. Two of Vishnu’s incarnations are known as Rama (the greatest warrior/ideal man) and Krishna (the mentally advanced man), who are respectively characters in the epic stories of the Ramayana and Mahabharata. Vishnu’s consort is Lakshmi, the goddess of success and wealth. Vishnu played a large part in the churning of the Milky Ocean (a story that explains how the gods defeated all the demons and became immortal).
Lakshmi is known as the goddess of success and wealth not just to humans, but even to the other gods. It is because of her absence that the demons were able to take over the world in the first place and in order to get her and her blessing back, the gods had to churn her out of the Milky Ocean. This took 1,000 years, symbolizing that Lakshmi bestows good fortune on those who work hard, display virtue and bravery, and ask for blessings without greed.
Shiva, the third god in the triumvirate is meant to destroy the universe, leaving room for re-creation. It is believed that his power to destruct is constantly in use, destroying any illusions and imperfections, paving a path for beneficial change. Thus, Shiva is seen as a source of both good and evil. Shiva is also known to be the Lord of Dance, which is a very important form of art in India. Shiva alone is known for his uncontrollable passions which lead him to extreme behavior. Parvati, his wife, brings him balance through their relationship of equality. Parvati is an incarnation of Devi, the Mother-goddess, who has also taken form as Kali, the goddess of death and Sati, the goddess of marital felicity. Together, Shiva and Parvati symbolize perfect marital bliss. Lord Ganesh is their son who has the body of a human, but the head of an elephant. Ganesh has always been a family favorite and is also my left hand man (literally). Ganesh is the Remover of Obstacles, new beginnings, and travel. Before getting my tattoo, I did a bit of research (it’s important to know exactly what will be on your skin forever), and Ganesh is always made to have large ears, to represent the importance of listening, a small mouth (if one at all) to signify the importance of listening over speaking, and small eyes to symbolize the importance of always seeing others as larger than yourself. To me, Lord Ganesh represents my family (especially my dad who has adorned all of our houses with literally almost 100 idols of Ganesha), new beginnings (and everything starts with your hands), and the remover of all the obstacles that come before me.
Why I’m drawn to Hinduism
The main reasons I’m drawn to Hinduism as a religion (other than the fact that I was born into it) are because of it’s portrayals of Gods, love, and it being more a way of life than a religion. Gods, in Hinduism, are shown to be extremely human in their feelings, emotions, and actions. They are all flawed, and defined by not just their strengths, but also their weaknesses. Another reason I find myself interested in Hinduism is because of the representation of love. The fact that God’s are married, the image of marital bliss, or even forbidden lovers. I know A really loves the emphasis of feminism found in the religion. All of these things combined make Hinduism a little more relatable. Of course, I also love the fantastical and sci-fi elements of it all as well, but it is important, I think, to be able to relate to a religion.
Obviously there is so much more to learn. It seems the information on Hinduism is endless. I’ve really only provided a brief background and information on a few deities. If you’re still curious, BBC provides great, but brief, information on their site or I’m more than happy to give you my Dadi’s (Grandmother’s) phone number!
Lots of love (and prayers),