The sacred literature of Hinduism is a vast, many-layered, aggregation of ancient thought, belief and tradition with The Vedas as its core. The texts are divided into two classifications; Sruti – that which was heard, and Smrti – that which is remembered. The difference between them is Sruti is accepted by most Hindus as something akin to revelation and therefore inviolate, whereas Smrti consists of several books containing the divinely inspired thoughts and opinions of scholars who have expounded and elaborate upon foundational Sruti. The expansion and revision of the Smrti texts continue to this day as Hinduism embraces and reflects modern values and priorities.
We live in a world where knowledge is at our fingertips, and it’s important to remember the origins of the oldest Hindu scripture are from a pre-literate oral tradition. The Vedas literally translates as The Knowledge andlearned by rote and passed from generation to generation. It takes a great deal of time to memorize such a vast corpus of information and an effective technique is to repeat it over and over in a sing-song fashion rather than straight memorization, which would explain why so much of Hinduism’s sacred literature takes the form of poetry and hymns.
When such a vast and complicated body of work is held in memory it requires members of the community exempt from time-consuming secular tasks to spend their days teaching or learning or in temple service, and the Brahmin caste developed out of this requirement. As custodians of the mysteries governing the spiritual health of the community, they enjoyed a special status and were generally exempt from secular demands on their time. Information in written form can be shared, therefore it took many centuries for the Brahmins to relinquish their exclusive access to Hindu sacred literature. Their role in a community’s spiritual life continues much as it always has however as custodians of temples and temple rituals.
It is said that Hinduism is a religion of 300 million Gods, but those who say it perhaps don’t understand the symbolism of the Hindu pantheon. Truth may take 300 million forms but there is only one Ultimate Truth and it is Brahman and the entire Hindu pantheon is needed to even begin to represent Brahman’s aspects and manifestations.
He is the one, the one alone, in Him all deities become One alone.”
Hindu gods and goddesses are broadly classified as Vedic or Puranic. The Vedic gods and goddesses are the old gods, while the Puranic deities were created later. The Puranic epics, Bhagavad Gita and Ramayana, are well-loved by Hindus everywhere, while in south India, Sangam literature told stories of the lives and adventures of south India’s royalty, however, it is within the Puranas where the major deities have their stories told. The Puranas are perhaps the most important or commonly used scriptural texts; guidebooks for the whole of life and society. These sacred texts were in their final form by about 500 AD though orally passed down for two thousand years before that. The principal Puranas tell the stories of Vishnu the Preserver (Vishnu Purana), Shiva the Destroyer (Shiva Purana) and Devi, the Mother Goddess (Markendeya Purana). The Bhagavata Purana is important to the worshippers of Krishna, while Vayu (Vedic God of Air), Agni (Vedic God of Fire), Murugan (second son of Shiva and Uma), Kalki (last avatar of Vishnu), Lingam (the anthropomorphic pillar symbolizing Shiva) each have their own Purana.
These myths and legends were more than tales of high drama and superhuman feats; they told the stories of the gods and goddesses and brought them to life. No longer seen as unapproachable statues in temples or processions, these divine beings fought demons in hand to hand combat, made love, felt pain and lost their tempers, just as humans do. These tales showed them to be wise, loyal, caring, while some even had a sense of humour. In other words, they became multi-dimensional to Hindu devotees, more real, more approachable. The stories weren’t just entertainment but allegorical lessons in Dharma, the dutiful pathway. They taught Hindus, by example, how to do the right thing.
The Gods and Goddesses of HinduismTerry Curell2019-11-07T16:39:27-08:00