Sometime back I read a post at Korrodu’s blog about a conversation he had with a second generation Polish immigrant on polytheism as practiced by Hindus. The gentleman in question was committed to preserving trees and had done some research on the various goddesses in Indian and Greek mythology. He perhaps called himself a ‘Tree hugger’. It would not be fair on my part to try and repeat what has already been said in the post. It would be best enjoyed when read in the original. However, I have wanted to write something on how I perceive my religion ever since I read the piece.It is not my intention to start a debate on religion. These are just a few observations and not meant to criticize or hurt any sect including more serious minded Hindus
I have never been a deeply religious person. The concept of an all powerful God who is waiting to punish mankind for every sin committed does not appeal to me at all. Were it so, how could all those hardened criminals who plan and execute terrorist act continue to do so? Why are innocent children being born with physical deformities? One gets treated to an over dose of crime report in the various news channels which seem to put ideas into the minds of young children more than trying to address the problem. I stopped watching serials long back and now I run away from news channels as well. Why does this all powerful God let all this happen?
Keeping this in mind I started reading God Delusion by Richard Dawkins. The book, I am afraid did not appeal to me and I discarded it midway. Dawkins claims that on a scale of seven ranging from those who have complete faith in the existence of an all powerful God to out and out atheists, he claims that he occupied the sixth position, just a shade above hard core atheists. I rank myself in the fourth position even at the risk of being called a fence sitter. Extremism has never appealed to me and have always been wary of opinionated discussions. Flexibility and a respect for the other person’s viewpoint is what I prefer.
Hinduism as far as perceive it is a way of life. I was just 13 years old when in the girl’s dormitory of the boarding school, I was cornered by a group of girls who insisted that I was bound to go to hell because I followed a religion that worshipped 33,000 gods. ‘You are an idol worshipper’ they insisted ‘and you worship trees and stones, you are bound to rot in hell’. Even at the tender age of 13 I was able to reason that I could never go to hell if I was honest and loved my fellow human beings. But unfortunately my mother had not explained why we worshipped 33,000 gods and I could not refute their claim that we Hindus did indeed worship trees and rivers. Today I am more enlightened and I can understand that Hinduism is more a way of life than a hard core religion. To me it appears to be a means of sustaining one’s self when everything seems to fail and life seems to be doomed. I am truly grateful to our warden who intervened and scolded us by saying that we should respect the other person’s faith and look for good things in their scriptures even if we did not fully subscribe to it. Her words have remained with me ever since.
Hinduism encourages the worship of nature. A practicing Hindu waters Tulsi and Peepal early in the morning. Aren't these two plants of immense medicinal value? Is it not important to keep rivers that are our main source of water, clean? It was perhaps not possible to explain the medicinal value of plants to a layman who toiled hard to make ends meet. It was easier to say that the scriptures expected him to do so. The same applies to the worship of rivers too.The Hindu religion as I see it advocates the conservation of all biological and environmental resources. Our sages had understood natures contribution to our well being from time immemorial.
Turmeric and kumkum prepared from turmeric were exchanged by Hindu ladies during festivals and auspicious days. Is it not true that turmeric has a natural cosmetic value and a daily application of turmeric keeps your skin glowing?
Each of our deities have a different animal as their ‘vahan’ rats and snakes included. Environmental studies warn us of the dangers that are likely to be encountered if the food chain/web is disturbed. Herbivores, carnivores, omnivores and scavengers are all important for ecological balance. Is it any wonder that animals like the lion, tiger, monkey and the elephant and birds like the eagle, vulture, parrot and peacock as well as a host of other organisms are accorded importance?
Then the question of polytheism-
Hinduism sees God in every living organism and a closer look at the different deities will reveal that each one is worshipped for a different quality. A combination of all such qualities symbolizes an almighty God but a proper understanding of such a God requires a highly seasoned mind. It has been taken up step by step and one’s perception varies according to one’s understanding and all levels are acceptable.
Wealth and valor, health and happiness are all collectively essential but do not individual requirements vary? What is the purpose of having wealth if one does not have the health or intelligence to put it to good use? Worshipping Durga, Lakshmi and Saraswati during Navaratri perhaps indicates that each of these are important and one needs to thank God for a combination of the three aspects, each one important in its own way. Navaratri was also a time for social interaction among ladies and a time to give small gifts to the needy. It is important that this purpose is kept in mind while celebrating the umpteen festivals according to the Hindu calendar.
Finally, it is important to understand that the triumph of good over evil is the essence of all religions including Hinduism. Hindu Gods have had their share of troubles and have ultimately come out in flying colors. Does it not signify that one should not be deterred by setbacks and victory tastes sweeter when one has worked for it? And should one fail despite all effort what better way of gathering strength to start all over again than by attributing failure to past misdeeds and considering it important to do one’s duty and not worry about results?
I do not know if there is really a heaven or hell awaiting me but I do know that I find solace in Hindu way of thinking. Korrodu has summed it up beautifully. I quote-
“Thus becoming a Hindu is a life long unceasing process. This is precisely the goals of Hinduism according to my current level of understanding.”