Why does Hinduism have many Gods?
Who really knows?
Hinduism or the Vedic Sanatan Dharma (Hindu is a word of Persian/Arabic origin) is the oldest surviving human attempt to organised faith and belief.
Some say Hinduism has many gods - Some say it has 3 - and some say it has just one - What is the real truth?
Let’s find out.
Hinduism is perhaps the only religion in the world where the concept of Blasphemy does not exist - so much so that - there’s not even a word for it in Sanskrit.
Hinduism does not have a central book, a central deity, a central list of do’s and don’ts - not even a central prophet, a head priest or a Caliph.
The core principles of Hinduism are derived from the Vedas, which are widely known as the oldest scriptures known to man.
There are 4 Vedas and each Veda has 4 parts:
- The Samhitas - Hymns praising God
- The Brahmanas - Rituals and practises
- The Aranyakas - Meditation and worship - it literally means, from the Jungle.
- The Upanishads - The philosophy and the teachings of Hinduism.
So, as you may have guessed by now, the core juicy part of the Vedas lies in the 4th and the final part - the Upanishads. This is the source fountain of all the core philosophies of Hinduism - as we know it.
The Upanishads (also known as Vedanta or the Last Chapters of the Vedas) are at least 200 in number (12 being the Mukhya or the main ones) and primarily comprise of stories or incidents that elucidate the central philosophical concepts of Hinduism - many of whom are even shared by the great religions of Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism.
These Upanishads and all the Vedas speak about just one god - The supreme being - The creator - The Sustainer - The destroyer.
Let me quote some examples.
According to Chandogya Upanishad 6:2:1,
Translation: He is One and only, without a second”
According to Yajurveda 32:3,
"Na tasya pratima asti
Translation: "There is no image of Him."
According to Rigveda 1.164.46,
“Indraṃ mitraṃ varuṇamaghnimāhuratho divyaḥ sa suparṇo gharutmān,
ekaṃ sad viprā bahudhā vadantyaghniṃ yamaṃ mātariśvānamāhuḥ
Translation: "They call him Indra, Mitra, Varuṇa, Agni, and he is heavenly nobly-winged Garutmān. To what is One, sages give many a title”
So, if the central philosophies of Hinduism speak about just one God, why are the Hindus seen worshipping so many forms of divinity?
Well, let’s find out.
Hinduism emphasizes on establishing a personal connection between a person and the supreme being.
A person can choose to even focus on just one aspect of the divinity - which she is free to even give a form - Since there is divinity everywhere - Everything is the creation of the supreme being and thus comes from him.
While describing and establishing the one god, Hinduism encourages the process of questioning (Atma Manthan or Jihad-e-Akbar - Translation: Struggle for Self Discovery, Self reasoning (Ijtihaad) and Self Awareness).
It stimulates the practitioner to find her own meaning and definition of divinity, encouraging the practitioner to make one’s very own and personal connection between her Atma (Translation: Soul) and The Brahman (Translation: The one divine being)
According to Nasadiya Sukta - Rig Veda 10.129.6-7
यो अस्याध्यक्षः परमे व्योमन्त्सो अङ्ग वेद यदि वा न वेद ॥
Translation in context
Who really knows?
Who can proclaim it with certainty?
When, this creation actually sprang?
Did the Gods came later, after the creation of this universe?
Who then knows when it all started?
Whether it was the God's will that created it, or whether He was mute;
Only He who is its overseer in highest heaven knows,
He only knows, or perhaps He does not know.
The practitioner of Hinduism or the Vedic Sanatan Dharma has been given the freedom to interpret the one true god in any and every of its manifestations.
The practitioners of Hinduism or the Sanatan Vedic Dharma thus are free to find forms of divinity in a stone, an animal, tree, the sun, the rivers and even an idol.
The divinity in Hinduism can take various forms which are like different paths leading to the same destination.
Over the years, many forms of this divinity have been idolised. Like Brahma which represents the creator, Vishnu which represents the sustainer and Shiva which represents the destroyer - the three together representing the holy trinity or Trimurti of Hinduism.
As the Sanatan Vedic Dharma or Hinduism grew older, many more aspects of divinity were idolised - some even taking the form of celebrated human beings like Rama and Krishna - who were believed to be the Avataars or the reincarnation of the divine.
The numerous idols or manifestations, are meant to symbolise or even personify a divine aspect - enabling the practitioner to dwell upon the one true god in a more tangible manner - The divinity of the supreme being here can be compared to water, which is taking the shape of the utensil, when poured in.
This is the core reason for many to think of Hinduism as a polytheistic religion - which it isn’t - But Who Can Really Know :)
Would like to end this answer with a quote from Shri Krishna:
“Man is made by his belief. As he believes, so he is.” —Shreemad Bhagavad Gita.
This was written by Naman Chakraborty on Quora and I’m just sharing it on medium.
Link to Original write up: