This article is a chapter from the book “A Short History of Religious and Philosophic Thought in India”.




The need for a personal God
Narayana or Vishnu
    The Avataras
Minor Gods
Other deities, demi-gods and objects of worship, reverence and awe


The contemplation of the Absolute is the highest form any religion can take. But this enterprise of the mind requires of it an understanding of the universal situation far beyond normal human comprehension. The popular minds of the masses need a religion they can appreciate and absorb into their daily life, and they demand a religious goal which they can intelligibly plant in the soil of their feelings. The Epics and Puranas have the avowed purpose of providing the average man with a religion which he can practise with ease and confidence. It is almost impossible to visualise the transcendental Being of the Upanishads. Its manifestations in terms of Creation alone seem to be possibly accessible to the common mind. God as related to the Universe in the various phases of his revelation becomes the theme of the theological teachings and discourses in the Puranas, risen out of the subjects dealt with in the Epics, especially the Mahabharata.

The theology of the Puranas mainly centres round the Trinity,–Vishnu, Brahma and Siva,–as also the incarnations of Vishnu and the Saktis of the Trinity,–Lakshmi, Sarasvati and Durga,–and the two sons of Siva.

Though the worship of the gods and goddesses had its origin in the Epics, and the Puranas only amplify the religious aspect of this manifold adoration of God, there is some difference between the Epic concept of these divinities and its religious magnification in the Puranas. The Epics, for example, look upon the three gods as on an equal footing and the notion of superiority or inferiority among them is a development later than the time of the Epics. The Epic religion is thus more catholic and dignified and it appears to be the first movement of the religious ideology descended from the notion of the Universal Being of the Upanishads. It is likely that there have been several intereferences with the contents of the Puranas from zealots of the religious dogma which diversified itself into many cults and creeds as time advanced. In our treatment of the nature of the different gods of the Indian pantheon, we shall confine ourselves to what, in our opinion, is the genuine essence of the religious ideal behind these developments of religious thought, as prior to and different from the subsequent degradations of the purely spiritual religion of the Upanishads and the Epics into various sectarian ramifications in the form of cults of segregated and even contending gods. As it is in the case of every religion in the world, certain sections of Hinduism had their own immature and fanatical adherents who tended to bring about an ideological dissension among people, rather than unify hearts into a single whole of spiritual fervour, which is the central aim of religion.


According to the Epics, the primeval God from whom the Universe emanated through the creative will is Narayana, a term signifying, according to these texts, the divine being who reposes on the universal waters of the primordial condition of the Universe, or one who is the goal, ideal and destination of all individuals. There are references which make out that Narayana is prior to the division of the phases of God into Brahma, Vishnu and Siva, though, later on, Narayana got slowly identified with Vishnu. It is this identification that has been the source of disagreement among the Vaishnavas and Saivas as to the nomenclature of the One God, the one group asserting that it is Vishnu and the other affirming that it is Siva. It does not appear that originally the scripture had any intention of giving rise to a contention between the devotees of Vishnu and Siva, because this difference seems to be a later travesty of an initially great religious urge to name the original God. As we have noticed earlier, the Upanishads, at least the older ones, do not designate God by any name that would create a sense of partiality in the minds of the followers of religion. As it was found that the popular mind could not grasp the too lofty concept of the Upanishads, the Epics attempted to make God’s relation to man more personal, so that the human heart may yearn for him through its own limited feelings for the Creator. Though the word ‘Brahman’ is retained both in the Epics and the Puranas as an epithet of the Supreme Being, and the supermental glory of God is still sung in the spirit and tone of the Upanishads, the need for making religion a practical affair of day-to-day life was a greater concern of these later scriptures than merely an enunciation of Truth as it is. In addition to the term Brahman, God is now addressed and referred to as ‘Paramatman’, ‘Purusha’, ‘Ishvara’, ‘Bhagavan’, and the like. The name ‘Narayana’, therefore, as applied to God was not meant to be in opposition to the possibility of God being called ‘Siva’. The bigoted differences of later times in religious policies and practices were due to a gross anthropomorphism of the idea of God and a bringing down of the higher God-ideal into the lower rung of a humanised God whom ardent followers were eager to utilise as an instrument in fulfilling their own pious wishes circumscribed to a nationality, a community, or even a single family. Religion, thus, got diluted into petty, private notions and communal cults which ended many a time in battles and wars, a consequence which is far from the religious ideal, as the poles of the earth standing apart. The name Narayana may be safely taken to be an impartial reference to the Supreme Creator, as larger than and prior to the manifestations of Brahma, Vishnu and Siva, and not affiliated to the specialised Vaishnava doctrine in any way. This non-dogmatic attitude is substantiated by the descriptions of God in the Srimad-Bhagavata. God may equally be called Paramasiva, in the terminology of some of the Puranas. The Supreme Being, for the sake of sustenance of the world, appears as Brahma, Vishnu and Siva,–Brahma creating, Vishnu preserving and Siva, as Rudra, destroying everything in the end. It is this Supreme Narayana who is hymned in the Purusha-Sukta and the Narayana-Sukta of the Veda.

Vishnu is hailed as having his abode in Vaikuntha, with his consort, Lakshmi. The Vishnu Purana describes Narayana and Lakshmi as an inseparable reality, the one not capable of being distinguished from the other. In a sense, Lakshmi is inherent in Narayana as his Sakti or energy. He reposes on the great serpent, Mahasesha, who is regarded as the support of the whole earth. Vaikuntha is situated in the Milk-Ocean (Kshira-Sagara). Vishnu’s weapons (Astras) are the discus or Chakra called Sudarsana, the mace called Kaumodaki, the bow called Saranga and the sword called Nandaka. His powerful conch is called Panchajanya. The weapons of the Lord, called Astras, are mystically driven forces, as different from the ordinary weapons known to the world, which are called Sastras. The Astras are not material instruments but powers that can be directed by even a thought or will. Garuda, the bird, is the vehicle of Vishnu. The Lord, as the protector of the Universe, incarnates himself now and then for the welfare of everyone, through the establishment of Dharma in the course of time. From the navel of Narayana, which is described as a huge lotus, issued forth Brahma.

According to the Pancharatra doctrine, God is manifest in five forms. These are called Para or the supreme form of his transcendent being; Vyuha or the group of his forms called Vasudeva, Sankarshana, Pradyumna and Aniruddha, who may be compared to the cosmic consciousness, the cosmic intellect, the cosmic mind, and the cosmic ego respectively; Vibhava or his glory seen through his incarnations or Avataras; Archa or his presence manifest in his idols and images worshipped by devotees; and Antaryamin or his immanent presence within the Universe.

The Avataras of Vishnu are many. In the Srimad-Bhagavata at least twenty-two are named, of which ten are the famous incarnations, called Dasavataras. As is declared in the Bhagavadgita, the Lord incarnates himself whenever there is decline of righteousness and a rise of unrighteousness, for the sake of the protection of the good and the righteous and putting down evil and wrong. For the establishment of truth and justice he reveals himself in forms suitable to the occasion. Among the Avataras, there are full revelations of Divinity called Purna-Avatara and partial revelations of it called Amsavatara or Kalavatara. Sri Krishna, according to the Bhagavata, was a Purna-Avatara or complete manifestation of God.

Among the incarnations of Vishnu, which are not included among the ten important ones, we should particularly make mention of a famous Divine manifestation in the forms of Narayana and Nara, who are said to have appeared again as Krishna and Arjuna for the benefit of the world. The spiritual power and glory of Narayana and Nara is extolled to great heights in the Epics and Puranas. The Mahabharata says that their radiance and glory overshadowed even the greatness of Brahma, the Creator. The Epic sings that their lustre fills the whole world and reaches the heavens, that they glow like fire and are invincible in all creation. They are bright like the sun, strong like the wind, lustrous like fire, and beautiful like the moon, says the Mahabharata. Their power was partly revealed when king Dambhodbhava challenged them for battle, and when Indra with his retinue tried to seduce them from their austerities. Dambhodbhava was overthrown most humiliatingly and Indra made to hang his head in shame.

The Matsya Avatara, or the incarnation as the Fish, was assumed by Vishnu for saving Manu and the seven sages from the raging flood at the end of the Manvantara and rescuing the Vedas from destruction in the cataclysm. As the Kurma Avatara, or incarnation as the Tortoise, Vishnu supported the Mount Mandara on his back when it was used as a churning rod by the gods for recovering Amrita or the celestial nectar, and many other treasures which were lost in the cosmic ocean at the time of Pralaya. In the Varaha Avatara, or the incarnation as the Boar, Vishnu slew the demon Hiranyaksha and lifted the earth sunk in the cosmic ocean. As Narasimha, or the Man-Lion, Vishnu destroyed Hiranyakasipu, in spite of the latter’s having received the protection of boons from Brahma, against death through the celestials, men and animals, both during the day and night, and from weapons of every kind. Unfortunately for Hiranyakasipu, Narasimha was neither god, man nor animal, for he bore the head of a lion and the body of man and tore the Asura with nails which were not any weapon, at dusk, which was neither day nor night. Bursting from a pillar with the sound of the thunderbolt, Vishnu, as Narasimha, proved his immanence even in material objects. The day of the revelation of Narasimha (Narasimha-Jayanti) is observed by devotees on the 14th day of the bright half of the month of Vaisakha (about the month of May). As Vamana or the Dwarf, Vishnu strode the three worlds with his three steps, covering the whole universe with his body, and overcame Bali, the Asura king, consigning him to the nether regions. As Parasurama, or Rama with the axe, Vishnu came to rid the earth of the arrogant Kshatriyas who had overstepped the limits of decency and good conduct and had become a menace to all righteous life. He raged round the world twenty-one times, like a fierce fire, and destroyed the Kshatriya race with his invincible axe. In the Rama Avatara, or incarnation as Rama, Vishnu set the great example of Dharma on earth.

It is the glorious history of Rama that is the theme of the great epic of Valmiki. Rama, the son of king Dasaratha, became an embodiment of the perfection of all virtues and an ideal of every conceivable quality of goodness. Valmiki, in his magnificent poetry, describes Rama as a repository of strength, self-restraint, fortitude, understanding, power of expression, extreme fineness of demeanour, and as a protector of all and saviour of Dharma, learned in all the scriptures and all the arts, dignified like the ocean, majestic like the Himalayas, world-destroying fire in times of anger, and the very earth itself in forgiveness. Rama is portrayed as one with raised chest, long arms, rounded head, graceful forehead, of symmetrical limbs, attractive colour, broad eyes, and most beautiful. His bow is Kodanda, and the surety of the action of his arrows is proverbial as the ‘Rama-Bana’. Under the instigation of the youngest queen of the king, the arrangements for Rama’s coronation were foiled, and to fulfil a promise made by the father to this queen, Rama repaired to the forest, as a good son, whom his brother Lakshmana and consort Sita followed. It was in the forest that Rama had to encounter the Rakshasas or demons, who were a threat to the peaceful life of the Rishis, the chief of the Rakshasas being Ravana. The occasion for a war with the Rakshasas as a whole was the recovery of Sita from the custody of Ravana, who had managed to carry away Sita stealthily from the forest, while she was alone, and with this end in view, Rama made alliance with Sugriva, the monkey king, who was in a similar predicament due to his defeat at the hands of his brother, Vali. Rama helped Sugriva in destroying Vali on the understanding that Sugriva would make necessary arrangements for a search of the lost Sita. A great hero in the Ramayana, next only to Rama, was Hanuman, the minister of Sugriva. Hanuman’s strength is a byword in every home, and his great feat of jumping over the ocean to Lanka, the capital of Ravana, expanding himself to a gigantic size, is exquisitely described in the charming poetry of Valmiki, making one’s hair stand on ends. His heroic deeds in Lanka, his valour that struck terror even to the undaunted Ravana, and his unselfishness, servicefulness, self-restraint and wisdom have made Hanuman an immortal son of India, whose glories are sung even today by thousands of devotees in the land. Hanuman is recognised as one of the Chiranjivis or those who do not die till the end of the world.

When the war with Ravana ended on his death at the hands of Rama, and Sita was recovered, Rama returned to Ayodhya and was installed king. Rama’s exemplary rule is called ‘Ramarajya’. Valmiki says that during Rama’s reign there were no widows, no fear from wild animals, no disease, no anxiety due to wicked people, no calamity of any kind, no child ever died, and all were happy because Dharma ruled the earth. There was no mutual enmity among people and everyone was free from sorrow. Everywhere people talked about Rama’s greatness. Rama’s name filled the whole country when he ruled as king. The Avatara of Vishnu as Rama was intended to set an ideal before humanity, an example of perfection that man can ever reach morally, intellectually, materially and spiritually, even when living a social life in the world. The birth of Rama is observed on the 9th day of the bright half of the month of Chaitra (March-April), as ‘Ramanavami’.

It is commonly believed that while Vishnu came as Rama to demonstrate human perfection, he came as Krishna to exhibit divine perfection. There is a marked difference between the ideal and the conduct which these two Avataras taught and revealed in the world of men. While Rama is Maryada-Purushottama, God setting forth the ideal of discipline, law, conduct and righteousness, Krishna is Lila-Purushottama, God playing the divine sport of his transcendent and supermental magnificence, glory and perfection in the world of mortals.

Narayana and Nara, the great sages who are supposed to be performing eternal penance in the holy shrine of Badrikashrama (modem Badrinath), and who are the representations of Vishnu’s presence on earth, are regarded to have taken birth as Krishna and Arjuna, respectively, for the redemption of the world from sin and evil. Krishna, who is considered to be the Purna-Avatara (full incarnation) of Vishnu or, according to some, of the Universal Narayana who transcends even Brahma, Vishnu and Siva, revealed himself in Mathura as the child of Vasudeva and Devaki. We need not go into details of the miraculous and dramatic events of his early life in Vrindavana, such as the spontaneous opening of the gates of the prison where Vasudeva and Devaki were confined; the ebbing of the river Yamuna when Vasudeva tried to cross it with the child Krishna; the destruction of Putana and other Asuras like Sakata, Trinavarta, Vatsa, Dhenuka, Baka, Agha, Pralamba, Kesi, Chanura and Kamsa at the hands of the boy Krishna; the release of the sons of Kubera from their curse due to which they were born as trees; his self-multiplication as thousands of cows, calves and cowherds in place of the real ones that were lost; the subjugation of the serpent Kaliya; the swallowing of the forest fire; the lifting of the Govardhana mountain and the humiliation of Indra; the bringing back of the dead sons of Sandipani; and several other incidents of this nature which revealed the divinity of Krishna even at an early age. The most intriguing and significant incident in the early life of Krishna is what has been called the Rasalila or his love-dance with the Gopis of Vrindavana. Commentators have tried to interpret the romantic seeking of Krishna by the Gopis and his response to their search in a dalliance that surpasses understanding as the eternal quest of objects for the Universal subject which is present in everyone of them as their Atman, the seeking of the individual for the Absolute in an ecstasy of feeling that the intellect cannot measure or estimate, a rapture of love for God in which all rationality is hushed, and the divine reaction from the Supreme Atman in a revelation of multiple immanence or a universal Self-manifestation, a state of spiritual super-consciousness in which one forgets one’s own personality and becomes conscious only of God’s existence everywhere in an emotion of love which bursts the bubble of individuality, which, indeed, was the condition of the Gopis. There was nothing of the human lust or physical passion in the immortal dance of Rasa, when especially the age of Krishna was only of a small boy who could not be expected to excite carnality in the minds of elderly women in such large numbers. Another interpretation regards this incident as an occasion when Krishna, though to physical perception he was a small boy, appeared as a charming young hero in the eyes of every Gopi, with everyone of whom he was individually present by a multitudinousness of form which he assumed in the majesty of the power of his Yoga. To a doubt expressed by Parikshit on this question, sage Suka gives an adequate answer. The Lord, Suka replies, appeared in human form to shower his grace on those who came in contact with him and to create devotion in those who listen to the greatness of his deeds and of his life. It is strange that the husbands of the Gopis never missed their wives, having had them, by the power of the Lord, always by their sides, even when the Rasa dance was going on. How then, can human judgment of values be applicable here? Further, Suka prescribes a study of the Rasa chapters of the Bhagavata as a remedy for lust and a means to acquire self-control and mastery over all desires.

While the early life of Krishna stimulates the tenderness of divine devotion and love for a spiritual union with God through Madhurya Bhakti or romantic aspiration and a silent melting of oneself in his sweetness, his later life opens an entirely new chapter in the book of human evolution, and stirs in one’s mind Aisvarya Bhakti or devotion by an irresistible attraction for the glory of his power and knowledge.

Krishna closes his sportful life as a child and an adolescent with the destruction of Kamsa, and suddenly assumes a stern outlook of life and turns his attention to the work of freeing the world from all sources of wickedness. The first serious opponent whom Krishna had to meet was Jarasandha, king of Magadha, a worshipper of Rudra and a menace to all good and Sattvika natures. He attacked Mathura repeatedly and, after being harassed several times, Krishna and his elder brother Balarama determined to rout his forces, sparing his life alone to allow him opportunities for collecting larger forces which were destined to be uprooted. It was here that Krishna assumed the weapons of Vishnu, which all descended from the heavens, together with a celestial chariot which he rode in war. With a view to the fulfilment of future purposes politically manoeuvred by him as the world’s greatest statesman and spiritually ordained as the world’s greatest Yogin, Krishna got constructed a mighty and gorgeous fortress at Dvaraka, in the Western ocean, from where he began to rule the fortunes of people. The first question that arose in his mind was to enquire into the fate of the Pandava brothers, with which errand he sent Akrura to Hastinapura. His first meeting with the Pandavas was during the marriage of Draupadi in the palace of Drupada. After the marriage, Krishna offered them costly presents as a mark of respect. When Yudhishthira expressed his desire to perform the Rajasuya sacrifice, Krishna pointed out a great obstacle to it in Jarasandha and cleverly arranged to get rid of the latter through a private deal with Bhima. The occasion of the Rajasuya sacrifice of Yudhishthira became also the scene of the death of Sisupala whose head Krishna severed with his discus, Sudarsana. This event is the theme of a famous poem of that name by the poet Magha and the incident may be regarded as the background of the bigger and more complicated scenes of the Mahabharata war. In the celebration of this sacrifice Krishna is said to have allotted more honourable duties to other kings and reserved for himself the humbler service of washing the feet of the guests who came for the function and of removing the remains after the banquet served by Yudhishthira to all those who attended the sacrifice. It is here again that the divinity of Krishna was publicly announced by Bhishma, to which Sisupala took exception and with insolent words challenged Krishna for battle. Krishna met the Pandavas now and then even while they were in exile, encouraging them with comforting words and promise of help to vanquish their foes and regain the kingdom. The incidents of Krishna’s miraculous help to Draupadi in the form of unending clothes in the court of the Kauravas and his sudden appearance before her in the forest and demanding of her a little food by the acceptance of which he filled the stomachs of sage Durvasa and his large following of disciples are too well-known to need any description. On the completion of the period of exile by the Pandavas, Krishna arranged for a conference in the court of Virata to decide the question of taking up arms against the Kauravas. As a measure of intelligent statesmanship, Krishna, however, accepted to go for a mission of peace with the Kauravas, though he knew well that the mission was not going to serve its purpose. As he himself expressed in his talk with Yudhishthira, it was more a diplomatic move than a step that was really necessary or meaningful. Sanjaya’s description of Krishna to king Dhritarashtra in his court is again a public proclamation of the divinity of Krishna. Krishna revealed his powers to the apprehensive Yudhishthira when he said that if the Kauravas attempted to do him any harm when he went to them for peace, he would not wait for the war to destroy them, but burn them down, single-handed, and relieve the burden of Yudhishthira. The mission of Krishna to the court of Dhritarashtra, his famous speech in the assembly and the stunning cosmic form which he showed before the Kauravas, mark a wondrous scene in the great drama.

The next scene is the delivery of the gospel of the Bhagavadgita at the commencement of the war, the contents of which we have briefly explained elsewhere. His going for Bhishma with the Chakra, his hypnotisation of the Kaurava forces by his looks, the confusion he caused in the minds of the opposing army by making everyone in the battlefield look like Krishna and Arjuna his dextrous moves which assisted Arjuna in vanquishing the Samsaptakas, his intelligence which destroyed the invincible Bhagadatta, his Yogic power which worked in overcoming Jayadratha, his clever stratagem, again, which foiled the Sakti of Karna while simultaneously getting rid of the demoniacal Ghatotkacha, the way in which he saved the Pandavas from the Narayana-Astra of Asvatthama and invoked the help of Rudra himself in the war for the victory of Dharma in the cause of the Pandavas, the power which he exercised in vanquishing Karna’s weapons sent against Arjuna and in the saving of the latter from being burnt while his chariot itself was reduced to ashes by the Astras of Bhishma and Drona, his common-sense in the event of the killing of Duryodhana, and the mysterious instructions of his which saved the Pandavas from being destroyed by the icy hands of Asvatthama, his succour of the child in the womb of Uttara, his great understanding which saved Bhima from being crashed at the embrace of Dhritarashtra, are all highly interesting and instructive episodes described in the Mahabharata. He showed his cosmic form four times in his life,–firstly to his mother Yasoda, secondly in the court of the Kauravas, thirdly to Arjuna on the eve of the war, and fourthly to sage Uttanka. The prayers offered by Kunti and Bhishma to Krishna, as recorded in the Bhagavata and the Mahabharata, are magnificent not merely as forms of literary force, but also as specimens of the glorification of God in his Avatara as Krishna.

There are many other incidents in the personal life of Krishna mentioned in the Harivamsa, Vishnu Purana and Bhagavata which inspire one spiritually and provide a stimulating reading in the biography of one who demonstrated to the world the character of all-round perfection. The birth of Krishna is celebrated on the eighth day of the dark half of the month of Bhadrapada (August-September) every Year.

The purpose of the Krishna-Avatara was not only to destroy unrighteousness but also to reveal to the world the glory and greatness of God. In the well-adjusted integral conduct of the life of Krishna is manifest the majesty of the Almighty.

The last two Avataras among the ten mentioned are those of Buddha and Kalki. Often the Buddha-Avatara is identified with the advent of the Sakya prince, Gautama, son of king Suddhodana, who is known to the world as Buddha. It is the opinion of many historians that Hinduism wished to absorb Buddhism into its fold by recognising Buddha as an incarnation of Vishnu. But there is also an orthodox view which holds that Buddha, the incarnation of Vishnu, was a different person altogether, who came with the purpose of deluding the Asuras in order to overcome them for the establishment of righteousness. The Avatara of Kalki is yet to come and is supposed to be a corrective force of God, descending at the end of the Kali age, to root out unrighteousness when it reaches its extreme and becomes intolerable. Kalki is said to come riding on a white horse and brandishing a flaming sword, flying like the wind, judging and destroying the wicked, saving the good, the just and the divine and restoring the Krita-Yuga once again in the world.

The glories of Narayana or Vishnu are sung in the Purusha and Vishnu Suktas of the Rig-Veda, the Mahabharata, the Harivamsa, the six Vaishnava Puranas, the Tripadvibhuti-Mahanarayana Upanishad, the Vaishnava Agamas and the songs of the Vaishnava saints.


Siva or Rudra is one of the Trinity and is regarded as a great benefactor of the Universe, having his abode in Mount Kailasa, with his consort Parvati, his children Ganesa and Skanda, and his vehicle, the bull, called Nandi. Siva has three eyes representing the Sun, Moon and Fire, the third one usually closed, except at the time of the destruction of things. He wears a Jata or matted hair, supports Ganga on his head and the crescent moon on his matted lock, holds a trident in his hand, besmears himself with Bhasma or holy ash, is decorated with snakes in the head, neck and arms, and has a blue neck due to his having drunk poison during the time of the churning of the ocean by the gods. He is clothed in tiger-skin, or, sometimes, the skin of the elephant. His bow is called Ajagava and his main Astra is Pasupata. He remains mostly in a state of meditation for the good of the Universe and is called Yogisvara or the master of Yogins. His glories as the immanent Divine Presence are sung in the Namaka and Chamaka sections of the renowned hymn of the Yajurveda, called the Rudra-Adhyaya or Satarudriya. He is Mrityunjaya or Conqueror of Death, and devotees meditate on him as such to avert calamities of every kind. His final sport during the dissolution of the Universe is called Tandava, a form of terrific dance with wild rhythm, spelling death and devastation everywhere. In this form he is called Nataraja or the Lord of dancers. He is worshipped mainly in the form of Linga or a rounded stone which is often erroneously identified with the emblem of the phallus. The Linga has a deep significance in mystic psychology, representing formlessness and infinity. Siva is called Pasupati or the Lord of beasts, for, from the point of view of divine perfection, all created beings are like beasts in their nature. The main incidents that are narrated in his Lilas or sportful deeds are the destruction of Daksha’s sacrifice, the burning of Manmatha (Cupid) with the fire of his third eye when the former tried to tempt him by distracting him from meditation, the destruction of the Tripuras (three cities) in which work Brahma and Vishnu assisted him, the drinking of the poison arisen from the churning of the ocean, and the bearing of Ganga on his head. He is also said to have taken the form of Dakshinamurti, a personality he assumed to impart knowledge to the seeking Kumaras or the first-born sons of Brahma. The famous annual worship of Siva, called Sivaratri, or the Night of Siva, falls on the fourteenth day of the dark half of the month of Phalguna (February-March). He is the supreme God of the Saivas, as Vishnu is of the Vaishnavas, though, as we have observed earlier, no marked distinction between them is made in the earlier scriptures. The more informed ones continue to adore Brahma, Vishnu and Siva, not as three gods but three facets of the Supreme Being.

The Rudra-Sukta of the Rig-Veda, the Satarudriya of the Yajurveda, the Saiva Upanishads, the Mahabharata, the six Saiva Puranas, the Saiva Agamas and the songs of the Saiva saints sing of the glories of Siva.


Ganesa or Ganapati, as he is called, is the first son of Siva and is elephant-headed, pot-bellied and holds weapons like the trident, the noose, etc. He is the god who is always worshipped first in all functions, rituals, ceremonies and every auspicious undertaking, as the remover of obstacles and bestower of fortunes. Ganesa is adored as the emblem of wisdom which is indicated by the elephant’s head. His vehicle is the mouse. The mouse which is the smallest of animals and the elephant which is the biggest as embodied in his form are regarded as symbols of his mastery over everything, from the lowest to the highest. There are many legends connected with his enterprises which endear him to everyone and make him the beloved god worshipped by every cult or sect, in all good beginnings. Ganesa is worshipped annually through an all-India festival, which is as famous as either Ramanavami, Krishna-Ashtami or Sivaratri, on the fourth day of the bright half of the month of Bhadrapada (August-September).

People undertake a special observance in honour of Ganesa, called Siddhi-Vinayaka-Vrata, for the attainment of particular ends in view, usually for clearing oneself of false accusations, recovering lost objects, regaining lost status, or removing of obstacles on one’s way.

The Ganesa Purana and the Ganapatyatharva-sirsha Upanishad are devoted to the glorification of Ganesa.


Vishnu, Siva and Devi may be regarded as the chief deities universally worshipped in Hinduism. The concept of Devi, often identified with Durga, has a very ancient origin. Reference is made to the great goddess in the Rig-Veda and the Mahabharata. The hymns devoted to her in this Veda extol her as the embodiment of divine Power by which the Universe is sustained. The great Mother sung in the Veda appears as Uma of golden hue in the Kenopanishad. In the Mahabharata, she is mentioned as the sister of Krishna and thus bears a relation to Vaishnavism. She is also adored by Saivas as the consort of Siva. Yudhishthira offered prayers to Devi for relief from suffering and for protection in distress. Krishna asked Arjuna to pray to her before the commencement of the war. But the most famous scripture which sings the glories of Devi is the Devimahatmya or Saptasati, regarded almost on a par with the Bhagavadgita. The Saptasati is a part of the Markandeya Purana. Devi is referred to as Chandi, Durga, Kali, Lakshmi and Sarasvati. She is often indistinguishable from Parvati, the divine consort of Siva. The goddess is annually worshipped in a nine-day festival called the Navaratri Puja, during the first nine days of the bright half of the month of Asvayuja (September-October). The adoration of Devi grew into a philosophical and mystical worship of Sakti as the inherent power of the Absolute, which transcended the exoteric ritualism of the Veda-Samhitas and Puranas.

In the Devimahatmya, the goddess is described as having manifested herself in three significant forms, Mahakali, Mahalakshmi and Mahasarasvati. In the first form she woke up Vishnu from his cosmic sleep, to encounter the Asuras, Madhu and Kaitabha, who had risen in the cosmic ocean. In the second form she met the forces of the demon Mahishasura and slew him with his forces. In the third form she destroyed the Asuras Sumbha and Nisumbha with their forces and brought peace to the gods in heaven and to the world of men. These three forms of Devi are identified with the revelations of Divinity through the primordial qualities of Tamas, Rajas and Sattva, respectively. They are also equated with the manifestations of the Universal Powers of action (Kriya), Desire (Ichha) and Knowledge (Jnana). The hymns to Devi in the Devimahatmya are charged with a fervour of feeling and charm of expression which are rarely seen in religious literature.

Durga, Lakshmi and Sarasvati are the spouses of Siva, Vishnu and Brahma, respectively, inseparable from their Lords, as heat from fire, which hints at the truth that the manifestations of the Saktis are ultimately God himself in action. Durga rides on a lion. Sometimes she is depicted as riding on a tiger. Though her abode is Kailasa, with her Lord, Siva, she manifests herself everywhere in creation as the beloved saviour of her worshippers. She is said to have eight hands and holds the various weapons of the gods. She is the goddess of transformation, destruction, war and pestilence, of disease as well as its medicine. She is the Samhara-Sakti or the all-destroying power of God as Siva or Rudra. Lakshmi is worshipped as seated on a lotus and also holding lotuses in her hands. She is the protective and sustaining power of God as Vishnu. She is the goddess of prosperity, wealth, fortune, peace and plenty. She is the preservative power of God and, being the consort of Vishnu, is also worshipped as Sita, the wife of Rama and Rukmini, the wife of Krishna, as also Radha, the favourite of Krishna in his early life. Lakshmi is regarded as having her particular presence manifested in cattle, grains and gold. Sarasvati is the creative power of God as Brahma and is portrayed as seated on a swan and holding a lute (Vina) and a book in her hands. She is hailed as Vak, or speech, in the Rig-Veda Samhita and is the presiding deity over all fine arts, especially music and literature. She is the favourite deity of students, writers and musicians.

The Saktas, or worshippers of Sakti, adore Devi as Tripurasundari and Rajarajesvari, the great reality of the Universe.

The Devi-Sukta of the Rig-Veda, the Sakta Upanishads, the Mahabharata, the Devimahatmya, the Devi-Bhagavata, Lalitopakhyana, the Sakta Agamas and the works of Bhaskararaya glorify Devi in her various aspects.


Though Brahma is one of the Trinity of gods, he is not one of the deities commonly worshipped in religion. There is only one temple, in Pushkar, dedicated to him and, strangely, he is not the favourite god of any section of the Hindu faith. The Puranas describe his manifestation from the lotus of the navel of Vishnu, before creation. It was he who invoked Devi, Durga, as the Sakti of the Almighty, for the first time, to wake up Vishnu from his divine slumber (Yoga-Nidra) during dissolution (Pralaya). Brahma is the creator of the existing Universe in all its planes. He is, thus, called the grandfather (Pitamaha) of Creation. He is four-headed and is the revealer of the Vedas to his creation. In the scriptures, his status is stated to be very important and he is worshipped through penance by those who aspire for invincible powers, especially the Asuras, whom he blesses, unfortunately, to the woe of the Devas or celestials. Brahma is also called Hiranyagarbha, the first-born Creator of all things. He is sung in the Rig-Veda and identified with the cosmic Prana in the Brahmanas and the Upanishads. He is also identified with the Cosmic Mind or the Cosmic Intellect, regarded as the first movement of the Absolute. The mystic weapon or Astra in which he is invoked is called Brahma-Astra, the most deadly of divine missiles, used by experts in ancient warfare. He is the progenitor of the four Kumaras and the ten Prajapatis, and from his forehead arose Rudra or Siva. Brahma divided his body into Manu and Satarupa and became the source of the diversity of beings. Though six of the eighteen Puranas are supposed to be devoted to him, he is scarcely worshipped today, either in private or public.

The name, Brahma, used in the masculine gender, is to be carefully distinguished from Brahman, a designation of the Absolute, used in the neuter gender.


Skanda, the second son of Siva, and the younger brother of Ganesa, is also known as Kumara, Karttikeya, Shanmukha, Subrahmanya, and by many other names. His banner is the cock and vehicle the peacock which stands clutching a serpent in its talons. His Saktis or inseparable powers are Valli and Devasena whom he assumed in the course of the great history describing his multi-formed life of a series of exploits both in the celestial and temporal realms. The devotees of Skanda form a large part of the population especially of Southern India, and constitute one of the important sections of the religion of the country. The advent of Skanda was the background of occasion when Siva burnt Manmatha with his third eye, a penalty he inflicted on Kama or the god of love for disturbing him in his meditation. The story goes that the sparks which flashed forth from the third eye of Siva rushed through space, which Vayu and Agni carried and dropped into the river Ganga. Ganga, being unable to contain the divine energy, shoved it on to her banks, upon a shrub of reeds known as Sara. There is thus a combination of the ether, air, fire, water and earth principles in the depositing of the Tejas or energy of Siva in the world. The cumulative force which combined the forms of the five elements impregnated with the divine power of Siva (Divya-Tejas) manifested itself as a sixfold divinity with six faces (Shanmukha), including both the unmanifest and manifest elements in a single being. This is the child of Siva, of mysterious birth, mysterious bringing up, under mysterious circumstances, for a mysterious purpose which the gods alone knew. The third eye represents the principle of intelligence and Skanda, thus, as a revelation through the third eye of Siva, is said to stand for an incarnation of Divine Knowledge.

The principal weapon of Skanda is a spear (Vel), pointed at its end and tall in stature. Devotees understand by it the need for one-pointedness of mind in slaying the demon of ignorance, which is expected to be sharp and sure in its aim. The gods, under the advice of Brahma, connived the birth of Skanda through the instrumentality of Siva and his consort Parvati. The Asuras,–Surapadma, Simhamukha and Taraka,–who wrought havoc everywhere in creation, could be destroyed only by the son of Siva manifested as a special divine Power. Skanda became the General of the celestial forces (Senani) and he is worshipped as the martial god of Hinduism. The day on which he slew the Asura is celebrated on the sixth day of the bright half of the month of Karttika (October-November) according to one tradition, and the month of Margasirsha (November-December) according to another.

The Skanda Purana is devoted to the glorification of Skanda and his sportful routing out of the Asuras. The great battle between the celestial forces led by Skanda and the Asuras is an epic by itself. Kalidasa’s Kumarasambhava is a famous Sanskrit poem on the birth of the war-god. The Tamil poem, ‘Tiruppugazh’, by the saint Arunagirinathar, is held in as much esteem by the devotees of Skanda as the Vedas in Sanskrit or the ‘Divya-Prabandham’ in Tamil Vaishnavism and the ‘Tevaram’ in Tamil Saivism. His ‘Skandaranubhuti’ and ‘Skandaralankaram’ are other renowned songs on the love and experience of God as Skanda. It may be safely said that the cults of Vishnu, Siva, Sakti, Ganesa, Surya and Skanda form the six great sections in the book of the religion of the Hindus. Some would like to add the Pasupata cult, which is a minor group of the worshippers of Siva in a particular form. The Mahabharata recounts the principal deeds of Skanda. The Kumara Tantra forms an important literature on the worship of Skanda. The Skanda Purana is a sacred book devoted to Skanda, and in its Tamil recension records the mighty deeds of the god.


The sun-god is known as Surya or Aditya and his greatness is sung in the Rig-Veda in sections specially devoted to him, where it is declared that ‘Surya is the Soul, both of the moving and unmoving beings’ (Surya atma jagatas tasthushas cha). ‘This Aditya is, verily, Brahman’ (Asavadityo Brahma) says a renowned passage. It is also said that ‘Surya is the visible God’ (Suryah pratyakshadevata). It is not difficult to imagine the indebtedness of everything in the world to the existence of the Sun. The life of all creatures on earth, of men, animals and plants, is vitally influenced by the solar energy and, inasmuch as nothing can survive without it, the Sun is veritably the Soul of all things. The power that the Sun exerts on the earth is such that the religious observance of Sandhya-Vandana or the prayer to be offered during the three junctions of the day in relation to the Sun,–morning, noon and evening,–is considered obligatory on the part of every orthodox Hindu who has been invested with the sacred thread (Upanita). The solar power actuates the body, Prana and even mind, without one’s knowing it, and the health and growth of beings axe much dependent on the Sun.

The Sun, in India, is not regarded merely as a bright heating orb, packed with atomic energy that is released into a form of forceful activity. To the religious mind, Surya is the resplendent Divine Person (Hiranmaya Purusha), a representative of God in the world, manifesting himself as life-giving power and sustaining strength everywhere and bringing the message that God is the great Light of all lights (Jyotisham jyotir uttamam). The stirring prayers to the Sun in the Rig-Veda form the Mahasaura-Suktas, which identify the immanent divinity in the Sun with the One Reality (Ekam Sat). The Sun is an eye of the Virat-Purusha, and is the presiding deity over the eyes of all. The soul which reaches Krama-Mukti (gradual salvation) passes through the region of the Sun–Surya-Dvara. The Vedas are full with ecstatic declamations on the glory of the Sun, who is a divine colossus striding over the world with dazzling beauty and all-inspiring splendour. The Isavasya Upanishad has a special prayer offered to the Sun by a dying man. The Prasnopanishad identifies the Sun with Prana (vital energy) and the Chhandogya Upanishad visualises in him the face of God and makes him the centre of the mystic meditation called Madhu-Vidya. A special physical exercise called Surya-Namaskara is devoted to the worship of the Sun and is daily practised by devotees during their morning prayers (Sandhya-Vandana). The deity of the celebrated Gayatri-Mantra of the Veda is the Sun (Savita). In the Valmiki-Ramayana the sage Agastya is reported to have initiated Rama into a particular form of prayer to the Sun, called Aditya Hridaya, to enable him to bring about the destruction of Ravana. Yudhishthira prayed to the Sun, when he was in penury, and obtained a celestial vessel from the god, which supplied him inexhaustible food.

The time when the movement of the Sun towards the northern hemisphere of the earth commences is called Makara-Sankranti (the junction of the capricorn), when the Sun enters the tenth house of the Zodiac, about the middle of the month of January, which is regarded as a kind of New Year by many. Bhishma of the Mahabharata fame waited for the beginning of the Northern course of the Sun, to leave his mortal coil. The seventh day of the bright half of the month of Magha (January-February) is called Rathasaptami, and is supposed to be the day on which the Northern movement of the Sun takes definite effect, and is traditionally regarded as the day when the chariot of the Sun is diverted to the North by his charioteer, Aruna. The plant which is sacred to the Sun is called Arka, whose leaves are placed by people on their heads when they take the sacred bath on this day.


A great hero in the Ramayana is Hanuman, an unparalleled source of strength, self-control, knowledge and the spirit of service. Tradition sings of his birth as a child of the deity of the wind (Vayu) through Anjana, a celestial woman of the simian species. Hanuman was blessed by Brahma, the creator, and all the gods, with invincible powers and deathlessness as a recompense for the hurt feelings of Vayu when his son was pushed down by Indra on the former’s attempting to rise up to the orb of the Sun and catch it, in the playfulness of childhood. It is reported that Hanuman, with the matchless powers thus bestowed on him by the goodness of Brahma and the gods, ravaged the sacrificial grounds of the Rishis, in sheer mischief, and the Rishis, knowing the power of Hanuman, cursed him to a state of forgetfulness of his powers until he was reminded of them by someone. Hanuman was immediately reduced to a state of powerlessness due to this incident and he lived for long years in Kishkindha as a minister to king Sugriva, but without consciousness of his strength. The time came when he had to be sent in search of Sita, the wife of Rama, and it was here that Jambavan, the bear-chief, reminded Hanuman of his early life and the powers he possessed. Valmiki says that, on thus being reminded, Hanuman immediately grew big in size and struck his tail with force and demonstrated an awe-inspiring form which delighted everyone on the possibility of success in the mission.

Valmiki’s description of Hanuman’s jumping across the ocean, to reach Lanka, is vivid and picturesque. Hanuman shook the mountain on which he stood and carried some trees which flew with him due to his force. He entered Lanka after overcoming the obstacles that stood on his way in the form of three superhuman powers called Surasa, Chhaya and Lankini. Having discovered Sita in Lanka after great effort, Hanuman’s mind worked in a most unexpected manner, and he began to contemplate an aspect of work which was not exactly a part of the mission with which he was sent. His anger on Ravana took shape, and he determined to cause a general destruction of the beloved grove of the latter, not only to manifest his strength but also to see the fun of the Rakshasas getting devastated at his hands. He assumed a terrific form, with a gigantic size, towering like a mountain, and resplendent with the glory of the supernatural in him. He made short-work of the Asoka grove of Ravana and began to rove like a ravaging tempest. When news of this reached Ravana, he sent his armed forces, all of which Hanuman crushed in mere play. Ravana, then, sent eminent leaders, who were all pounded at the hands of Hanuman, and it looked that the whole of Lanka would be broken down if necessary steps were not taken. When Indrajit, the son of Ravana, applied the Brahma-Astra against Hanuman, the poet says, Hanuman deliberately yielded, not only with a view to give respect to the Astra of Brahma, but also to seeking opportunity for seeing Ravana, face to face. Hanuman, hound, was taken before Ravana, where he had a bold speech with the Rakshasa king, at which the enraged king ordered his tail to be set fire to with rags soaked in oil. The result was that Hanuman, with his tail in flames, expanded his size and, crushing the Rakshasas near him, jumped from one house-top to another, setting fire to the whole city, when, it is said, a powerful wind blew, increasing the fury of the flames, as if Hanuman’s father was pleased at his heroism, and Lanka was in the panic of death threatening all over.

Having seen Sita, again, to ensure that she was not burnt by the flames, Hanuman jumped back across the ocean to convey to Rama the good news of his having seen Sita. After the happy news was received, Rama rattled forth to Lanka with huge armies of monkeys to fight the forces of Ravana, in which epic battle Hanuman played parts of immortal honour. Hanuman is hailed as master of all the Vedas and all the nine grammars. He is supposed to be the candidate for the post of Brahma in the next cycle (Kalpa) of creation. Hanuman is one of the seven Chiranjivis or those fortunate ones who will not die till the end of the Universe.

The Sundara-Kanda of the Ramayana, which describes the exploits of Hanuman, is generally read to avert fear from enemies.


Sasta: A legend in the Puranas states that when, during the churning of the ocean by the Devas and Asuras, nectar rose from it, Vishnu, in the form of a charming damsel, bewitched the Asuras into a state of infatuation and, when they thus forgot themselves, she shrewdly distributed the nectar to the gods. News of this incident reached Siva who expressed a desire to see the form which Vishnu took to beguile the Asuras. When Vishnu demonstrated that form, Siva is said to have been so enchanted by it that he ran and embraced Vishnu in that feminine form. The energy of Siva which was released at that moment became the reason for the birth of Sasta or Harihara Putra (son of Vishnu and Siva), as he is called. This desire of Siva need not intrigue the minds of devotees, for it is only indicative of the intensity of the beauty into which Vishnu transformed himself. To tempt him who reduced to ashes the god of love, beauty should have assumed a form no mortal can ever imagine. The possibility of temptation transcends the resources of the Universe. The incident is both a lesson to the seekers of Truth and a peep into the richness of God’s powers.

Sasta is commonly known as Ayyappan in Southern India and his spiritual presence is believed to be concretely manifest in the great temple dedicated to him in the Sabari hills (Sabarimalai) in the state of Kerala. Devotees regard a pilgrimage to this temple as a sacred ritual and a spiritual Sadhana and this vow of pilgrimage to the temple in the Sabari hills is, in the solemnity and sacredness associated with it, akin to the Kavadi Yatra performed by the devotees of Skanda or the Varkari vow of devotees of Vitthala in Maharashtra. Though Sasta is specially worshipped in the South, the cult is now slowly spreading to the other parts of India.

The Loka-Palas: The guardian deities of the different directions are called Loka-Palas or protectors of the world. Indra is the ruler of the East, Yama of the South, Varuna of the West, Kubera of the North, Agni of the South-East, Nirriti of the South West, Vayu of the North-West, and Isana of the North-East. Dyaus is regarded as the deity of the atmosphere above and Prithivi or Bhudevi of the earth. Indra is the famous god sung in the Vedic hymns, wielding the thunderbolt, lord over the clouds and rains and king of the heavens. The weapon of Indra is Vajra and his capital is Amaravati. Yama is the god of death, the dispenser of justice to the souls of the dead, and in this capacity he is known as Dharma-Raja or the lord of righteousness. Though the function of Yama is dispensation of natural retributive justice, like that of a judge, the tendency of people is to look upon him as a fierce god of punishment to the souls after their departure from this world. He is regarded as the son of Vivasvan or the Sun, and so he is called Vaivasvata. He is also the lord of the Pitris or ancestors who have gone to the other world. The dreaded rod he wields is the Danda (known as Yamadanda). His vehicle is the buffalo and his capital is Samyamani. His clerk is Chitragupta who records the deeds of everyone for judgment by Yama on them. Varuna is the lord of waters, regarded often as the deity of the ocean. He is lord over all aquatic beings. Kubera is a sort of fairy-god and lives in Alakapuri. He is regarded as the treasurer of Siva whose abode is Kailasa. Agni is the fire-god, famous in the Veda as the carrier of oblations offered in sacrifices to those who are addressed by the Mantras. He is the all-purifier and is invoked in every sacrificial altar where oblations are offered. Nirriti is a demi-god evidently of a low cadre. Vayu is the wind-god. Isana is a special manifestation of Siva guarding a direction. Dyaus is the spirit of the atmosphere and Prithivi the spirit of the earth. Sometimes the moon-god is regarded as the presiding deity of the North.

Kama: The Indian love-god or Cupid is called Kamadeva. Though he is identified with the Kama that is mentioned in the Nasadiya-Sukta of the Rig-Veda and thus is a kind of self-born being, it is evident that the Kama of this Sukta is an epithet of the cosmic creative Will and cannot be identified with the Kamadeva of the Epics and Puranas. Kama (desire) is described as a handsome youth with a bow of sugarcane decked with a row of bees and with arrows made of flowers. His principal shafts are said to be five, perhaps referring to the senses. His wife is Rati (pleasure). He is always attended by a troupe of celestial nymphs called Apsarases, thus forming a force of erotic attraction. He is deputed to tempt sages performing Tapas, to wean them away from their purpose. This is clearly a personification of sense-desires which obstruct any attempt at the spiritual unification of the Soul. Kama tempted the Rishis, Narayana and Nara, who put him to shame by producing with their power an Apsaras more beautiful than those of his party. He tempted sages like Visvamitra and his temptation of Buddha as Mara is a famous episode in the life of the saint. In his attempt to distract Siva he got destroyed through the fire that issued from the third eye of the former, which occasion is celebrated all over India as Kamadahana, or burning of the love-god, on a day called Holi, which falls on the full-moon day of the month of Phalguna (February-March). Thenceforward, Kama had the name Ananga or the bodiless. Kama is associated with the spring season when desires are said to be more active in living beings.


Besides the Devatas or deities whose characteristics have been briefly stated above, almost every village in India has a presiding deity (Grama-Devata), most of whom are goddesses ultimately identified with Durga. These local gods and goddesses of the villages are represented by images in small shrines or even a fetish adored under a sacred tree. Apart from these, ancient cities in India had their own guardian deities. Also, some of the cities themselves were and even now are regarded as sacred, e.g., Badrikashrama (Badrinath), Kedaranath, Ayodhya, Mathura, Haridwar or Kanakhal, Kasi (Varanasi), Dvaraka, Avanti (Ujjayini), Puri (Jagannath), Pushkar and Manasasarovara in North India, and Kanchi (Kanjeevaram), Ramesvaram, Madurai, Tirupati, Srirangam, Tiru-Anantapuram (Trivandrum), Palani, Kanyakumari and many others in the South. Also, the confluences of sacred rivers, called Prayagas, are regarded as very sacred, the main Prayagas being Bhatta-Prayaga (Allahabad), Devaprayaga, Rudraprayaga, Karnaprayaga, Nanda-Prayaga, Vishnu-Prayaga and Kesava-Prayaga. Except the first one, all the Prayagas are in the Himalayan regions, along the lines of the rivers Ganga and Alakananda.

The Rishis are a set of superhuman beings who may be living in any plane at their will and are repositories of spiritual dignity and power. The most famous among them are the ten first-born sons of Brahma, viz., Marichi, Atri, Angiras, Pulastya, Pulaha, Kratu, Bhrigu, Vasishtha, Daksha and Narada, as well as Vyasa (Dvaipayana), Agastya, Brihaspati, Kasyapa, Bharadvaja, Gotama, Jamadagni, Suka, Dattatreya, Vamadeva, Visvamitra and Durvasa. The Rishis are worshipped on Rishi-Panchami which falls on the fifth day of the bright half of the month of Bhadrapada (August-September). The Siddhas are a class of perfected saints supposed to be residing in the heavenly regions. The Pitris or the spirits of the ancestors are regarded as residents of Pitriloka and Chandra-Loka. The Pitris are offered an annual worship on the New-Moon day of the month of Bhadrapada.

The Nagas are a group of snake-spirits, often portrayed as having a half-human form with a serpent’s tail. Their abode is Bhogavati in the nether worlds. They are the guardians of the treasures underground and may bestow some of them on human beings when propitiated. The Nagas can take human form if they so wish. As their emblem, the snake, especially the cobra, is revered and worshipped in villages. The snake has a traditions of respectful descent from such snake-deities as Sesha and Vasuki. The Nagas are specially worshipped on Naga-Panchami which falls on the fifth day of the bright half of the month of Sravana (July-August). The Yakshas have Kubera as their lord, living in Alakapuri in the Himalayas, and constitute a group of semi-celestial gnomes or fairies. The Gandharvas are the heavenly musicians who entertain Indra in his court. The Kinnaras are also a set of celestial musicians. The Apsarases are the consorts of the Gandharvas and are supposed to be excessively beautiful and tempting. It is the Apsarases whom Indra sends to obstruct the penances of the sages. The Vidyadharas live in aerial cities magically constructed in the Himalayan areas. They can fly in the air and change their forms at will. The Asuras are the great demons of popular mythology supposed to be offering perpetual opposition to the Devas. The Rakshasas are a more violent set of fierce demons who could even materialise themselves on earth. Hiranyakasipu, Hiranyaksha, Ravana and Kumbhakarna were Rakshasas. The Pisachas are low spirits of a lesser cadre still. The Pretas, Bhutas and Vetalas are the spirits of the dead ones supposed to be haunting battlefields, cremation and burial grounds and places of violent death, to whom the ritual of the Sraddha ceremony has not been performed. They are said to trouble their surviving relatives, especially if the latter are weak-willed and impure in mind.

The Vedas are the most sacred of books and they are regarded as Apaurusheya (without any individual authorship). The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad says that the Vedas are the expiration of God, and their knowledge is only revealed to the Rishis whose names are attached to the different hymns of the Vedas. The Himalayas are the most sacred of mountains, apart from the legendary Mount Meru and Kailasa, the abode of Siva. The Bhagavadgita specifically refers to the Vedas, Mount Meru and the Himalayas as the manifestations of God’s glory. Ganga is the most sacred river whose greatness is sung in every scripture, right from the Vedas. It is believed that Ganga was originally in Brahmaloka, from where she was drawn down when Vishnu, during his incarnation as Vamana, kept one of his feet on the celestial regions, and Brahma washed the sacred feet with the holy waters of the Ganga. She was borne by Siva on his matted locks to prevent her descent too fast on the earth, at the request of Bhagiratha who performed great austerity to bring Ganga down to the earth. The river Ganga, thus, has the holy historical background of having been sanctified by the touch of the greatest of gods,–Brahma, Vishnu and Siva. Devotees believe that a bath in this river ensures purification from sins and bestows salvation to the soul. The custom of consigning dead bodies or at least the ashes or bones of the dead ones to this river is based on the scriptural declarations that the soul whose body has been offered to Ganga shall attain spiritual salvation. Bhishma, the grandsire of the Pandavas and Kauravas, was the son of Ganga through king Santanu. Biologists are discovering these days that the waters of this river possess some incredible power to destroy disease-germs.

Next to Ganga, the other holy rivers are Alakananda, Yamuna, Sarasvati (which is said to flow underground these days as Gupta-Vahini), Narmada, Godavari, Krishna and Kaveri. All the tributaries of Ganga are also sacred. Gangottari at its source, Kasi in its middle and Ganga-Sagara at its mouth are holy places of pilgrimage. All the tributaries of Ganga above Haridwar are also regarded as different forms of Ganga.

The cow in India is an object of worship. The celestial cow ‘Kamadhenu’ is described as having risen from the ocean when it was churned by the Devas and Asuras. The daughter of Kamadhenu is the famous Surabhi who inherits the glories of her mother. The milk, curd, ghee, urine and dung of the cow, formed into a mixture, are called Pancha-Gavya, which is taken as a purifying medium by orthodox ones, in all ceremonies. The bull is adored as the emblem of Nandi, the vehicle of Siva. The image of the bull as Nandi can be seen in every Siva temple. In famous Siva temples a stud-bull is dedicated to Siva and adored as the form of Nandi. Airavata is Indra’s sacred elephant and Ucchaihsravas his sacred horse. Garuda, the divine-bird, is Vishnu’s vehicle. The sacred tree, Asvattha (peepul) is an object of worship. The Vata (banian), Nyagrodha, Asoka and Palasa are all sacred trees. The Tulasi or the holy basil is the plant sacred to Vishnu, and is grown in the courtyards of every religious community. The Bilva is the leaf sacred to Siva. The Soma plant is most sacred, as sung in the Vedas. The Kusa or Darbha is a grass regarded as sacred, made more so as it is believed that the pot of nectar brought by Garuda from the heaven was placed by him on a bush of this grass. It is universally used as a necessary item in all sacrifices (Yajnas) and especially in rituals of offerings to ancestors (Sraddha). The Durva grass is sacred to Ganesa.

Among stones, the Saligrama is sacred to Vishnu, the Siva-linga (particularly available in the Narmada river) to Siva and Sphatika to Surya. The gems connected with the planets as well as the nine famous gems like Padmaraga, are all highly valued as possessing superphysical significance.

The Indian concept of God is one of Universal Presence, and Divinity can be invoked through anything, anywhere and at any time. The Absolute is not limited by space, time and objectivity.




This article is from the book Hindu Gods and Goddesses.



Sri Swami Sivananda


Manifestations of Sakti
Siva And Sakti
Matter, Energy, And Spirit
The Divine Mother
The Navaratri And Its Spiritual Significance
Worship of The Divine Mother
Related Links


O Devi! O Mother auspicious!
Thou art the Lord’s Maya.
Thou art His inscrutable form.
Thou art the Mother of this world.
Thou art the great primal energy.
Thou art the seed of this world.
Thou art the Light of Knowledge.
Thou art the giver of refuge.
Thou art beauty, love, and mercy.
Thou art Prakriti, Durga.
Salutations unto Thee.

DEVI or Maheswari or Parasakti is the Supreme Sakti or Power of the Supreme Being. When Vishnu and Mahadeva destroyed various Asuras, the power of Devi was behind them. Devi took Brahma, Vishnu, and Rudra and gave them necessary Sakti to proceed with the work of creation, preservation, and destruction.

Devi is the Creatrix of the universe. She is the Universal Mother. Durga, Kali, Bhagavati, Bhavani, Ambal, Ambika, Jagadamba, Kameswari, Ganga, Uma, Chandi, Chamundi, Lalita, Gauri, Kundalini, Tara, Rajeswari, Tripurasundari, etc., are all Her forms. She is worshipped, during the nine days of the Dusserah as Durga, Lakshmi, and Saraswati.

Devi is the Mother of all. The pious and the wicked, the rich and the poor, the saint and the sinner—all are Her children.

Devi or Sakti is the Mother of Nature. She is Nature Itself. The whole world is Her body. Mountains are Her bones. Rivers are Her veins. Ocean is Her bladder. Sun, moon are Her eyes. Wind is Her breath. Agni is Her mouth. She runs this world show

Manifestations of Sakti

Sakti is symbolically female; but It is, in reality, neither male nor female. It is only a Force which manifests Itself in various forms.

The five elements and their combinations are the external manifestations of the Mother. Intelligence, discrimination, psychic power, and will are Her internal manifestations. Humanity is Her visible form.

She lies dormant in the Muladhara Chakra in the form of serpentine power or coiled-up energy known as the Kundalini Sakti. She is at the centre of the life of the universe. She is the primal force of life that underlies all existence. She vitalises the body through the Sushumna Nadi and nerves. She nourishes the body with chyle and blood. She vitalises the universe through Her energy. She is the energy in the sun, the fragrance in the flowers, the beauty in the landscape, the Gayatri or the Blessed Mother in the Vedas, colour in the rainbow, intelligence in the mind, potency in the homoeopathic pills, power in Makaradhvaja and gold oxide, will and Vichara Sakti in sages, devotion in Bhaktas, Samyama and Samadhi in Yogins. Vidya, Shanti, lust, anger, greed, egoism, pride are all Her forms. Her manifestations are countless.

Siva And Sakti

The Supreme Lord is represented as Siva, and His power is represented as His wife—Sakti, Durga, or Kali. Mother Durga is the energy aspect of the Lord. Without Durga, Siva has no expression; and, without Siva, Durga has no existence. Siva is the soul of Durga. Durga is identical with Siva. Lord Siva is only the Silent Witness. He is motionless, absolutely changeless. He is not affected by the cosmic play. Durga does everything.

Siva is omnipotent, impersonal, inactive. He is pure consciousness. Sakti is dynamic. The power, or active aspect, of the immanent God is Sakti. Sakti is the embodiment of power.

Siva and Sakti are related as Prakasa and Vimarsa. Sakti or Vimarsa is the power that is latent in the pure consciousness. Vimarsa gives rise to the world of distinctions. In other words, Sakti is the very possibility of the Absolute’s appearing as many, of God’s causing this universe. God creates this world through Srishti-Sakti, preserves through Sthiti-Sakti, and destroys through Samhara-Sakti.

There is no difference between God and His Sakti, just as there is no difference between fire and its burning power. Sakti is inherent in God. Just as you cannot separate heat from fire, so also you cannot separate Sakti from God, the possessor of Sakti. Sakti is Brahman Itself. Siva and Sakti are one. Siva is always with Sakti. They are inseparable. Worship of Durga or Parvati or Kali is worship of Lord Siva.

Matter, Energy, And Spirit

Mother is the creative aspect of the Absolute. She is symbolised as Cosmic Energy. Energy is the physical ultimate of all forms of matter, and the sustaining force of the spirit. Energy and spirit are inseparable. They are essentially one.

Matter is reducible to energy. The Prasnopanishad says that Rayi and Prana—matter and energy—constitute the whole of creation. Matter is the outward index of the inward Power that its expressed by God. The Power that originates and sustains the universe is not the Jada Sakti or the electrical energy which is the ultimate reality of the scientists, but Chaitanya Sakti, the Power of the immutable Consciousness of Brahman. In fact, it is not a Power which is of Brahman, but a Power which is Brahman.

The Divine Mother

Sakti may be termed as that by which we live and have our being in this universe. In this world, all the wants of the child are provided by the mother. The child’s growth, development, and sustenance are looked after by the mother. Even so, all the necessaries of life and its activities in this world, and the energy needed for it, depend upon Sakti or the Universal Mother. The human mother is a manifestation of the Universal Mother. All women are forms of the Divine Mother.

You are more free with your mother than with anybody else. You open your heart more freely to your mother than to your father. There is no God greater than the mother. It is the mother who protects you, nourishes you, consoles you, cheers you, and nurses you. She is your first Guru. The first syllable which almost every quadruped, or human being, utters is the beloved name of the mother—Ma. She sacrifices her all for the sake of her children.

A child is more familiar with the mother than with the father, because the former is very kind, loving, tender, and affectionate, and looks after the wants of the child. Whenever the child wants anything, it runs with outstretched hands to the mother, rather than to the father. If she hears the cry of the child, she leaves her domestic work and runs immediately to attend to the child. In the spiritual field also, the aspirant or the devotee—the spiritual child—has more intimate relationship with Mother Durga than with the Father Siva. Lord Siva is quite indifferent to the external world. He is a Tyagi and a Virakta. He wears the garlands of skulls of His devotees, rubs the whole body with Vibhuti or holy ash, and remains in the crematorium in an intoxicated state. He is absorbed in contemplation of the Self. He remains in a state of Nirvikalpa Samadhi. He has handed over the power of attorney to His consort, Durga. It is Mother Durga only who looks after the affairs of the world. Lord Siva gazes at Durga, His Sakti. She engages Herself in creation, preservation, and destruction.


Divine Mother is everywhere triple. She is endowed with the three Gunas, viz., Sattwa, Rajas, and Tamas. She manifests as Will or Ichcha Sakti, Action or Kriya Sakti, and Knowledge or Jnana Sakti. She is Brahma-Sakti (Saraswati) in conjunction with Brahma, Vishnu-Sakti (Lakshmi) in conjunction with Lord Vishnu, Siva-Sakti (Mahakali or Durga) in conjunction with Lord Siva.

Saraswati is cosmic intelligence, cosmic consciousness, cosmic knowledge. Lakshmi does not mean mere material wealth like gold, cattle, etc. All kinds of prosperity, glory, magnificence, joy, exaltation, or greatness come under Lakshmi. Appayya Dikshita calls even final Liberation as Moksha-Samrajya-Lakshmi. Mahakali is the transformative power of Divinity, the power that dissolves multiplicity in unity.

The Devi assumes many aspects according to the tasks to be performed by Her—sometimes, sweet and tender; and at others, terrible and devouring. But, She is always kind and gracious to Her devotees. Arjuna, the Pandava hero, worshipped the Goddess before starting the fight against the evil-minded Kauravas. Sri Rama worshipped Durga at the time of the fight with Ravana, to invoke Her aid in the war. He fought and won through Her grace.

The Navaratri And Its Spiritual Significance

During the Navaratri or the Nine Nights, the whole of India adores the Mother and worships Her with great devotion. Dusserah, Durga Puja, and Navaratri are one and the same. On the first three nights, Durga or the Destructive Aspect of the Mother is worshipped. On the succeeding three nights, it is the Creative Aspect or Lakshmi that is adored. And on the last three nights, the Knowledge Aspect or Saraswati is invoked. The tenth is the Vijaya Dasami Day or the Day of Victory.

There is a special significance in this arrangement. When the Devi is worshipped by a devotee in this order, as Durga, She first destroys the evil propensities that lurk in his mind. Then, as Lakshmi, She implants therein, the Daivi Sampat or the divine qualities conducive to spiritual unfoldment. Then, as Saraswati, She bestows true knowledge on him.

The tenth day commemorates the victory of knowledge over nescience, goodness over evil. It is the day on which boys are put in the school. Aspirants are initiated on this day. On this memorable Vijaya Dasami Day, the carpenter, the tailor, the mason, the artist, the songster, the typist, and all technical workers do Puja for their instruments and implements. This is Ayudha Puja. They behold and recognise the Sakti or power behind these instruments, and worship the Devi for their success, prosperity, and peace.

Worship of The Divine Mother

Worship of Devi or the Universal Mother gives not only prosperity, but liberation from all bondages. It leads to the attainment of Knowledge of the Self. The story of the Kena Upanishad, known as the Yaksha-Prasna, supports this view. Uma taught the Truth to the Devas.

Sakti is all. She can do anything. She can make or mar. She can mend or end. For the sake of the continuance of Her Divine Play here, She Herself, as Avidya-Maya, has veiled the Truth from you and bound you to this Samsara. When She is propitiated through the practice of sincere devotion and unconditional self-surrender, She, as Vidya-Maya, removes the veil and enables you to perceive the Truth.

No one can free himself from the thraldom of mind and matter without Mother’s grace. The fetters of Maya are too hard to break. If you worship Her as the great Mother, you can very easily go beyond Prakriti through Her benign grace and blessings. She will remove all obstacles in the path, and lead you safely into the illimitable domain of eternal bliss, and make you absolutely free.

May Parasakti or Devi—the Universal Mother Jagadamba—bless you all with wisdom, peace, and immortal bliss.

Related Links:
\ Durga Puja by Swami Sivananda.
\ God As Mother by Swami Chidananda.
\ The Esoteric Significance of The Devi Mahatmya by Swami Krishnananda.
















This article is from the book Hindu Gods and Goddesses.



Sri Swami Sivananda


The Elephant-Head
Symbolic Philosophy of Lord Ganesha’s Form
Legends Connected With Lord Ganesha
Ganesha Mantra And Ganesha Gayatri
Ganesha Chaturthi And Ganesha Vrata
Related Links


Remover of all obstacles,
Pranava Swaroopi,
Embodiment of wisdom,
Devata of Muladhara Chakra!
O Lord Vinayaka,
The bestower of happiness
Who has Modaka in hand!
O Elephant-headed Lord!
Salutations unto Thee.
Om Gam Ganapataye Namaha.

Lord Ganesha is the elephant-headed God. He is worshipped first. His Names are repeated first before any auspicious work is begun, before beginning any kind of worship.

He is the Lord of power and wisdom. He is the eldest son of Lord Siva, and the elder brother of Skanda or Kartikeya. He is the energy of Lord Siva, and so He is called the son of Sankara and Uma. By worshipping Lord Ganesha, mothers hope to earn for their sons the sterling virtues of Ganesha.

The Elephant-Head

The following story is narrated about Lord Ganesha’s birth and His having the head of an elephant. Once upon a time, at bathing time, the Goddess Gauri, the spouse of Rudra, created Ganapati as a Suddha, or pure white being, out of the mud of Her body, and placed Him at the entrance of the house. She told Him not to allow anybody inside and went for a bath. Lord Siva Himself returned home quite thirsty and was stopped by Ganesha at the gate. Siva got angry and cut off Ganesha’s head, taking Him for an outsider. Gauri came to know of this and grieved much. Siva ordered His servants to bring the head of any creature that might be sleeping with its head northwards. The servants made a thorough search end found only an elephant in that position. The head of the elephant was cut off and brought before the Lord. Siva joined the head of the elephant to the body of Ganapati.

Lord Siva made Ganapati worthy of worship by men at the beginning of all their undertakings—marriages, journey, expedition, study, etc. He ordained that the annual worship of Ganesha, should take place on the fourth day of the bright half of Bhadrapada (August-September).

Symbolic Philosophy of Lord Ganesha’s Form

Lord Ganesha is an embodiment of wisdom and bliss. He is the Lord of Brahmacharins. He is the foremost among Brahmacharins or celibates.

He rides on the Vahana, the small mouse. He is the Presiding Deity of the Muladhara Chakra.

He is the Lord who removes all obstacles in the spiritual path and brings worldly success. So He is called Vighna Vinayaka. His Bijakshara is Gang. He is the Lord of harmony and peace.

Lord Ganesha represents OM or the Pranava. Pranava is the chief Mantra of the Hindus. Nothing can be done without uttering it. Hence the practice of invoking Lord Ganesha before beginning any rite or work. The two feet are His Jnana Sakti and Kriya Sakti. Lord Ganesha has the elephant-head as that is the one figure in nature which is of the form of Pranava.

Riding on the mouse represents that He has killed egoism. He holds Ankusa. This represents that He is the Ruler of the world. This is the emblem of Divine Royalty.

Ganesha is the first God, Adi-Deva. Mouse is a small creature. Elephant is the biggest of all animals. Riding on a mouse and wearing the head of an elephant denote that He is the Creator of all creatures, from the biggest elephant to the smallest mouse. Elephants are very wise. Wearing the head of an elephant indicates that Lord Ganesha is an embodiment of wisdom. It also denotes the process of evolution. The mouse gradually evolves into an elephant and finally becomes a man. That is the reason why Ganesha has a human body, the head of an elephant, and mouse as His vehicle. This is the symbolic philosophy of His form.

He is the Lord of Ganas or groups, such as the group of elements, the group of senses, the group of Tattwas. He is the head of the followers of Siva.

The Vaishnavas also worship Lord Ganesha. They have given Him the name of Thumbikkai Alwar, i.e., Alwar with the proboscis.

Lord Ganesha’s two Saktis are Kundalini Sakti and Vallabha Sakti.

Legends Connected With Lord Ganesha

Lord Ganesha is very fond of Modaka, sweet balls made of rice. On one Ganesha Puja Day, He was going from house to house, accepting the offerings of Modaka. Having eaten a good number of these offered to Him, He set out moving on a mouse at night. Seeing a snake, the mouse got afraid and stumbled, with the result that Ganapati fell down. The stomach burst open and the Modakas came out, but Ganappati stuffed the Modakas into the stomach, and catching the same snake, tied it round His belly. Seeing all this, the moon in the sky heartily laughed. Ganapati was annoyed at the behaviour of the moon and pulled out one of His tusks and hurled it against the moon and cursed that no one should look at the moon on the Ganesha Puja Day. If anyone looks at the moon, he will earn bad name or censure or ill repute. If anyone happens to see the moon on that day by mistake or by chance, if he repeats or hears the story of Lord Krishna’s clearing His character in respect of the Syamantaka jewel, he will be free from that ill-repute or blame. Lord Ganesha was pleased to ordain thus. Glory to Lord Ganesha! How kind and merciful He is unto His devotees!

Ganesha and His brother Lord Subrahmanya or Kartikeya had once a dispute as to who was the elder of the two. The matter was referred to Lord Siva for final decision. Lord Siva decided that whoever would make a tour round the world and come out first to the starting point had the right to be the elder. Lord Subrahmanya flew off at once on His vehicle, the peacock, to make a circuit of the world. But Ganesha went round His parents and asked for the prize of victory. Lord Siva said: “Beloved and wise -Ganesha! You did not go round the world”. Ganesha replied: “No, but I went round My parents. My parents represent the manifested world”. The dispute was settled in favour of Lord Ganesha. Ganesha was thereafter acknowledged as the elder of the two brothers. Ganesha got a fruit as prize for this from Mother Parvati.

In the Ganapati Upanishad, Ganesha is identified with the Supreme Self. The legends that are connected with Lord Ganesha are recorded in the Ganesha Khanda of the Brahma Vaivarta Purana.

Ganesha Mantra And Ganesha Gayatri

Without the grace of Sri Ganesha and His help, nothing whatsoever can be achieved. No action can be undertaken without His support, grace or blessing.

During Aksharabhyasa (teaching of the alphabets), the child is initiated into His Mantra of Om Sri Ganeshaya Namah in Maharashtra and other places. Then only the alphabet is taught.

The following are some of Lord Ganesha’s most common Names: Sumukha, Ekadanta, Kapila, Gajakarnaka, Lambodara, Vighnaraja, Vinayaka, Dhoomraketu, Ganadhyaksha, Balachandra, Gajanana, Vakratunda, Surpakarna, Heramba, Skandapoorvaja, Siddhivinayaka, Vighneshwara. He is also known as Maha Ganapati. His Mantra is Om Gam Ganapataye Namah. Sadhaks who worship Ganesha as their Ishta Deva, repeat this Mantra or Om Sri Ganeshaya Namah.

Ekadantaya Vidmahe Vakratundaya Dheemahi Tanno Danti Prachodayat: this is Ganesha Gayatri. The devotees of Lord Ganesha can do Japa of this Mantra also.

Ganesha Chaturthi And Ganesha Vrata

Ganesha Chaturthi is one of the most popular of Hindu festivals. This is the birthday of Ganesha. It is the day most sacred to Lord Ganesha. It is observed on the fourth day of the bright fortnight of Bhadrapada throughout India. Clay figures of the Deity are made, and after being worshipped for two days, or in some cases ten days, are thrown into water.

The yearly Ganesh Chaturthi Puja that is thus observed throughout India is the festival version of the Ganesh Vrata that has become enjoined as a compulsory observance, as a matter of tradition. Apart from this annual Puja, the Ganesh Vrata—also known by the name of Siddhi-Vinayaka Vratam—is done as a special Vrata for the attainment of some particular end in view, usually for clearing oneself of false and unjust accusations and charges, recovering lost objects, regaining lost status, and removal of obstacles in an enterprise. It is to be performed on the fourth day of the dark fortnight. It consists of elaborate worship of Lord Ganesha with Shodashopachara (a 16 step worship) and various offerings, after appropriate Sankalpa (desire).

The divine sage Narada prescribed this Vrata to Sri Krishna who wished to wipe off the dishonour of the charge of stealing the Syamantaka Gem. Much later, Krishna instructed Yudhishthira to perform this Vrata at the time of the Mahabharata war. This renowned Vrata was effectively celebrated by the Devas to obtain Ambrosia on the eve of churning the ocean, by Damayanti to find her lost husband, by Lord Rama to get back Sita, by Indra to defeat Vritra Asura, by Bhagiratha to get down the celestial Ganges, by Draupadi and by Samba to get cured of incurable disease.

He who performs this Puja with faith, devotion and concentration obtains all that he desires and attains the Highest Abode.

May the blessings of Sri Ganesha be upon you all! May He remove all the obstacles that stand in your spiritual path and bestow on you both Bhakti and Mukti!

Related Links:
\ Ganesh Chaturthi by Swami Sivananda
\ A Good Beginning by Swami Chidananda
\ Lord Ganesa–The Remover of Obstacles by Swami Krishnananda





This article is a chapter from the book “Essence of Ramayana”.





Sri Hanuman was born of Anjani from Pavana, the wind-god. He was named Hanuman after the name of the city of Hanumpur over which his maternal uncle Parti Surya ruled. Hanuman’s body was hard as a stone. So Anjani named him Vajranga. He is also known by the names “Mahavir” or mightiest hero (because he exhibited several heroic feats), Balibima and Maruti.

The world has not yet seen and will not see in future also a mighty hero like Sri Hanuman. During his life he worked wonders and exhibited superhuman feats of strength and valour. He has left behind him a name which, as long as the world lasts, will continue wielding a great influence over the minds of millions of people.

He is one of the seven Chiranjivis. He was the only learned scholar who knew the nine Vyakaranas. He learnt the Sastras from the sun-god. He was the wisest of the wise, strongest of the strong and bravest of the brave. He was the Sakti of Rudra. He who meditates on him and repeats his name attains power, strength, glory, prosperity and success in life. He is worshipped in all parts of India, particularly in Maharashtra.

He was born at the most auspicious hour of the morning of the 8th of the Lunar month, Chaitra, at 4 o’clock on the most blessed day, Tuesday.

He had the power to assume any form he liked; to swell his body to an enormous extent and to reduce it to the length of a thumb. His strength was superhuman. He was the terror of Rakshasas. He was well versed in the four Vedas and other sacred books. His valour, wisdom, knowledge of the scriptures and superhuman strength attracted everybody who came near him. He had extraordinary skill in warfare.

He was the chosen messenger, warrior and servant of Sri Rama. He was the votary and devotee of Lord Rama. Rama was his all in all. He lived to serve Rama. He lived in Rama. He lived for Rama. He was a minister and intimate friend of Sugriva.

From his very birth he exhibited extraordinary physical strength and worked many miracles.

When he was a child he put the sun into his mouth. All the gods were very much troubled. They came with folded hands to the child and humbly entreated him to release the sun. The child set free the sun at their request.

Hanuman saw Sri Rama for the first time in Kishkindha. Sri Rama and Lakshmana came there in the course of their search of Sita whom Ravana had carried away.

A Rishi pronounced a curse on Hanuman for his wrong action, that he would remain unconscious of his great strength and prowess till he met Sri Rama and served him with devotion. As soon as Hanuman beheld Sri Rama he became conscious of his strength and power.

In Lanka, Hanuman exhibited his immense strength and extraordinary powers. He destroyed the beautiful grove which was a pleasure resort of Ravana. He uprooted many trees and killed many Rakshasas. Ravana was very much infuriated at this. He sent Jambumali to fight against Sri Hanuman who took the trunk of a tree and hurled it against Jambumali and killed him. Ravana sent his son Aksha to fight against Hanuman. He was also killed. Then he sent Indrajit. Hanuman threw a great tree upon Indrajit. Indrajit fell down senseless on the ground. After some time Indrajit recovered his consciousness. He threw the noose of Brahma on Hanuman. Hanuman allowed himself to be bound by the noose. He wanted to honour Brahma. Indrajit ordered the Rakshasas to carry the monkey to his father’s court. Even a hundred Rakshasas were not able to lift Hanuman.

Hanuman made himself as light as possible. The Rakshasas then lifted him up. When they placed him over their shoulders he suddenly became heavy and crushed them to death. Then Hanuman asked the Rakshasas to remove the rope. They removed the rope and Hanuman proceeded to the council hall of Ravana.

Ravana said, “O mischievous monkey, what will you say in your defence? I will put you to death.” Hanuman laughed and said, “O wicked Ravana, give back Sita to Lord Rama and ask his pardon; otherwise you will be ruined and the whole of Lanka will be destroyed.” These words of Hanuman made Ravana very furious. He asked the Rakshasas to cut off the head of Hanuman.

Vibhishana intervened and said, “O brother, it is not lawful and righteous to kill a messenger. You can inflict some punishment only.”

Ravana consented. He wanted to deprive Hanuman of his tail and make him ugly. He ordered the Rakshasas to wrap Hanuman’s tail with cloths soaked in oil and ghee. Hanuman extended his tail to such length and size that all the cloths in Lanka would not cover it. Then he reduced his tail of his own accord. The Rakshasas wrapped the tail with cloths soaked in oil and ghee and lighted the cloths. Hanuman expanded his body to an enormous size and began to jump from place to place. The whole of Lanka caught on fire. All the palatial buildings were burnt down to ashes.

Hanuman then jumped into the sea in order to cool and refresh himself. A drop of his perspiration fell into the mouth of a great fish which gave birth to a mighty hero named Makara Dhvaja. Makara Dhvaja is considered the son of Hanuman. Thereupon Hanuman went to the Asoka grove and told Sita all that he had done.

Then he crossed the sea through the air and came to the place where his army was placed. He told them all that had happened. Thereupon they all marched quickly to carry the good news to Sri Rama and Sugriva. They reached the city of Kishkindha. Hanuman gave Sita’s ring to Lord Rama. Sri Rama rejoiced heartily. He praised Hanuman and embraced him saying, “O mighty hero I cannot repay your debt.”

When all the brothers and sons of Ravana were killed, Ravana sent for his brother Ahi Ravana who was the king of the nether world. Ahi Ravana came to Lanka. Ravana asked his help to fight against Sri Rama and Lakshmana.

Ahi Ravana consented to help his brother. At the dead of night he assumed the form of Vibhishana, the brother of Ravana and an ally and devotee of Sri Rama. He reached the place where Rama and Lakshmana were sleeping. Hanuman was keeping watch. He thought that it was Vibhishana who was coming. Therefore he allowed him to enter the camp. Ahi Ravana quietly took the two brothers upon his shoulders and repaired to his kingdom.

When the day dawned, Hanuman found out that Sri Rama and Lakshmana were missing. He found out that Ahi Ravana had carried them to his kingdom. At once he proceeded to the nether world and received information that Ahi Ravana had made arrangements to kill the two brothers in sacrifice. Hanuman assumed a tiny form, entered the temple and sat over the image of the goddess. The image went down into the earth. Hanuman took her seat. When Ahi Ravana was about to sacrifice the two brothers, Hanuman appeared in his own form and killed him. He installed Makara Dhvaja, his own son on the throne, took the brothers on his shoulders and brought them to Lanka.

Hanuman killed many heroes in the great war. Dhumar, Vajro, Roshat, Ankhan and several other great warriors were killed by him.

When the great war was over, Vibhishana was installed on the throne of Lanka. The time of banishment was about to be over. Sri Rama, Lakshmana, Sita and Sri Hanuman sat in the Pushpaka Vimana or aeroplane and reached Ayodhya in time.

The coronation ceremony of Lord Rama was celebrated with great eclat and pomp. Sita gave Hanuman a necklace of pearls of rare quality. Hanuman received it with great respect and began to break the pearls with his teeth. Sita and other ministers who were sitting in the council hall were quite astonished at this queer act of Hanuman.

Sita asked Hanuman, “O mighty hero, what are you doing? Why do you break the pearls?” Sri Hanuman said, “O venerable mother, it is the most valuable necklace indeed as it has come to me through thy holy hand. But I want to find out whether any of the pearls contain my beloved Lord Rama. I do not keep a thing devoid of him. I do not find him in any of the pearls.” Sita asked, “Tell me whether you keep Lord Rama within you.” Sri Hanuman immediately tore open his heart and showed it to Sri Rama, Sita and others. They all found Lord Rama accompanied by Sita in the heart of Sri Hanuman.

Lord Rama rejoiced heartily. He came down the throne and embraced Hanuman and blessed him. Sri Hanuman passed the rest of his life in the company of the Lord.

When Sri Rama ascended to his supreme abode, Sri Hanuman also wished to follow him. But the Lord asked him to remain in this world as his representative and attend all the assemblies of men where discourses on his deeds were held and heard, and help his devotees in cultivating devotion.

He is a Chiranjeevi. He is everywhere. He who has eyes and devotion beholds him and receives his blessing.

Hanuman ranks first amongst the heroes of the world. His heroic deeds, wonderful exploits and marvellous feats of strength and bravery cannot be adequately described. His sense of duty was extremely laudable. He had great skill in all military tactics and methods of warfare. His crossing the sea of thirty miles in one leap and lifting the crest of a mountain in the palm of the hand, his carrying of the brothers on his shoulders from the nether world to Lanka are all astounding, superhuman feats which baffle human description.

He conquered innumerable difficulties which cropped up in his way through his courage, patience and undaunted spirit. He made untiring search to find Sita. At the time of danger he exhibited marvellous courage and presence of mind. He was steady and firm in his actions. He was always successful in his attempts. Failure was not known to him. He gave up his life in the service of the Lord. He had not a tinge of selfishness in his actions. All his actions were offerings unto Lord Rama. No one reached the peak in Dasya Bhava like Sri Hanuman. He was a rare jewel among devotees, the supreme head among Pundits, the king among celibates and the commander among heroes and warriors.

O mighty Hanuman, untiring and devoted Sevak of Sri Rama, joy of Anjana, king of Brahmacharins, show us the secrets of Brahmacharya and the ways to attain purity in thought, word and deed. May India have such heroes and Brahmacharins ever more!

Where Hanuman is, there are Sri Rama and Sri Sita and wherever Sri Rama and Sri Sita are praised and their deeds recited, there Hanuman is.

Glory to Hanuman, the blessed devotee of Lord Rama. Glory, glory to Sri Anjaneya, the mighty hero, undaunted warrior and learned Brahmacharin, the like of whom the world has not yet seen and will not see in time to come.

May his blessings be upon you all. Let us sing his glory now:

Jaya Siya Ram Jaya, Jaya Siya Ram
Jaya Hanuman Jaya, Jaya Hanuman.

Related Links:
\ Hanuman Jayanthi
\ Shri Hanuman Online




This article is from the book Hindu Gods and Goddesses.



Sri Swami Sivananda


The Purna Avatara
Student Days With Sage Sandipani
The Lord’s Life of Selfless Action
Krishna, The Warrior
A Great Statesman
The Lord of Yogis
An Embodiment of Love and Mercy
The Lord’s Teachings
Call of the Flute
Related Links


O Adorable Krishna!
Let my longing eyes behold Thy form.
Let my
ears hear Thy flute.
O Healer of all sorrows!
Show me Thyself.
Thou art the only Truth—
All the rest is false.
I crave not for Mukti;
I long not for emancipation;
Let there be devotion to Thy feet.
Be kind unto me, O Lord!
Remove my delusion.
I am a servant unto Thee.

THE auspicious hour came. The star Rohini was shining. It was Vijaya Muhurta. The elements were extremely pleasant. Winds were blowing auspiciously. The stars were shining with lustre. The lakes were filled with lotuses. Lord Krishna incarnated at midnight on this earth. The gods played divine music. The Kinnaras and Gandharvas sang. Siddhas and Charanas praised. The Vidyadharas danced along with Apsaras, sages and Devas. There was a rain of flowers from the heavens in joy.

Vishnu incarnated with lotus eyes, with four hands armed with conch, disc, mace and lotus, with the mark Srivatsa adorning the chest. Vasudeva saw this marvel of a Divine Child.

Vasudeva praised Him: “Thou art known to me already as the Supreme Being. Thou art an embodiment of Knowledge and Bliss. Thou art seated in the hearts of all beings. Thou art the Witness of the minds of all. Thou art beyond Maya and Avidya”.

Devaki beheld marks of Vishnu on her son and praised Him: “Thou art beginningless, omnipresent, self-luminous, attributeless, changeless and actionless. Thou art the source and place of dissolution for everything. Kindly do not show me this form with four hands. Let me see You as an ordinary child. Withdraw this divine, transcendental form. We are afraid of Kamsa”.

The Lord said: “Let both of you often meditate with love on Me as a son and as the Supreme Being and you will obtain eternal bliss and immortality”.

The Lord assumed the form of a handsome baby through the power of His own Maya.

The Purna Avatara

Lord Krishna was the highest Incarnation of the great Vishnu. He was the Purna Avatara. He had all the sixteen Kalas or rays of the Lord. He was a noble scion of the illustrious Yadava dynasty. He was the world-teacher. He was the one Lord of love. He was the lover of men. His enchanting form, with flute in hand, holds the heart of India captive in chains even today.

The object of Sri Krishna’s Avatar who has become the beloved of India and the world at large, was threefold—to destroy the wicked demons, to take the leading part in the great war fought on the battlefield of Kurukshetra where He delivered His wonderful message of the Gita and to become the centre of a marvellous development of the Bhakti Schools of India.

The purpose of the Krishna-Avatara was not only to destroy Adharma, but also to reveal to the world the magnificence of God. Sri Krishna was the symbol of the Absolute, the representation of the mighty Sovereign of the universe. In His well-adjusted, symmetrical conduct of life is portrayed the majestic perfection of God.

Sri Krishna’s life is the Bhagavad Gita in action. In Him are found the supreme knowledge and power blending to form the God-Man of all times. In Him the highest Vidya and Vinaya (knowledge and humility) co-exist as inseparable virtues of the Great Hero of the world.

Sri Krishna was a perfect Master. He was a Karma Yogi, Bhakta, Raja Yogi and Jnana Yogi. He preached Karma, Upasana Yoga and Jnana. Lord Krishna drove the chariot in the battle-field and danced with the Gopis in the shady retreats of Brindavan and taught Yoga and Jnana to Uddhava and Arjuna. The four Yogas are blended in His Gita or the Immortal Song.

Lord Krishna was great in knowledge, great in emotion, great in action, altogether. The scriptures have not recorded any life more full, more intense, more sublime, more grand than His.

Study the Bhagavat and the Pancharatras, which are equal to the Upanishads. You will know all about the glory of Lord Krishna, His Lilas and superhuman deeds.

Student Days With Sage Sandipani

Sri Krishna received His instructions from Sandipani, a sage of Avantipur. He lived with His teacher like an ordinary student. He was meek, humble and obedient. He led a laborious life. He gathered fuel from the woods for His preceptor’s household. He inspired His class-mates with love.

Sri Krishna had wonderful retentive memory. He mastered the sixty-four arts in sixty-four days.

The Lord’s Life of Selfless Action

Krishna was a man of action. He was a history-maker and righter of wrongs. He stood for justice and righteousness. His policy was to defend the oppressed from the oppressor.

Lord Krishna was the greatest Karma Yogi of all time. He held up the torch of wisdom. He was an embodiment of wisdom and selfless action.

He was all love for the cowherd boys, cows and Gopis. He was the friend and benefactor of the poor and the helpless. He was extremely kind and merciful towards the meek and the humble.

Krishna was the thunderbolt to the wrestlers assembled in the arena of Kamsa and yet, He had the softest heart among men. He was Yama unto Kamsa, a Cupid unto Gopis, the object of constant meditation for Yogins and devotees, the form of Bliss and Beatitude to the sages, and a child to His parents. He was Cupid unto Cupid himself.

Lord Krishna was an embodiment of humility, though He was the Lord of the universe. He became the charioteer of Arjuna. He accepted the duty of washing the feet of the visitors voluntarily at the time of the Rajasuya Yajna performed by Yudhishthira.

Krishna, The Warrior

Lord Krishna was matchless in physical strength. He was an undaunted warrior even from His twelfth year. He, being anointed by Kubja and garlanded by Sudama, a flower-seller, entered the place of sacrifice in the Dhanur Yajna performed by Kamsa and broke the great bow. Kamsa sent an elephant named Kuvalayapeeda to kill Krishna. Krishna killed the elephant and entered the arena. Then He killed the chosen athletes of Kamsa, viz., Chanura and Toshalaka. Krishna got upon the platform on which Kamsa was seated, caught hold of his hair, threw him down on the ground and killed him.

Jarasandha, son-in-law of Kamsa, was very much enraged when Krishna killed Kamsa. He invaded Mathura seventeen times. Krishna drove out Jarasandha every time.

He fought with Bana, the thousand-armed king of Sonitpur, and cut off his arms. Thereafter He killed Paundra, the king of Karusha who denied Krishna’s divinity and assumed Vishnu’s conch, discus, club and lotus and declared himself to be the real Vasudeva.

The wicked Sisupala challenged Krishna in Yudhishthira’s Rajasuya Yajna. Sri Krishna threw His Chakra at Sisupala and cut off his head. Similarly He slew Dantavakthra also.

Salva, king of Saubha and a friend of Sisupala, waged war with Krishna to avenge his friend’s death. Salva was put to death by LordKrishna.

A Great Statesman

Sri Krishna was a great statesman. The world has not witnessed a greater statesman than Sri Krishna. He was a champion of liberty and a peacemaker. He had wonderful foresight and held extremely liberal views. Even when He was a boy, He taught people the essentials and the true significance of religion, when He rose against the popular worship of Indra for getting rains.

Krishna was a king-maker. He was the founder of the city of Dwaraka. He was the towering genius of His age. He was a great historical figure.

He was appointed as the peace-maker to stop the civil war that was to be fought between the Kauravas and the Pandavas. Yudhishthira sent Krishna to negotiate with the Kauravas. He made a long and wise exhortation to Duryodhana. The thrilling and soul-stirring speech delivered by Sri Krishna before the court of Dhritarashtra proves that He was the greatest statesman. He said to Duryodhana: “O Prince of the Bharata race! Make peace with the wise, brave and righteous Pandavas. Peace alone brings happiness to friends, relations and the whole world. He who does not act according to the wise instructions of his friends meets with destruction and sorrow”

Sri Krishna’s political insight and wise statesmanship were admired by the ablest rulers of His time. His wise counsel was sought by kings and rulers.

The Lord of Yogis

You can even count the stars and the particles of sand in the seashore, but it is not possible to count the marvellous and heroic deeds and glorious actions of Sri Krishna, the Lord of the three worlds.

When He was a child, He did countless miracles. He showed Viswarupa Darshan (universal form) to His mother, Yasoda, in His mouth while He yawned. He uprooted the Yamala Arjuna trees. He danced on the Kaliya serpent. He raised the Govardhana Hills on His little finger to protect Gokul from the heavy rains caused by Indra.

He multiplied Himself into various forms, when Brahma kept the Gopas and calves away from Krishna’s view. He multiplied Himself and appeared in countless forms in Rasa Lila. Can a human being do this? It is only a Yogeshwar who can perform these great miracles.

Krishna gave eyesight to the blind Vilwamangal. He gave unlimited clothes to Draupadi. He gave cosmic vision to Arjuna.

Who can describe the glory of Lord Krishna, the Lord of Yogis and the Supreme Lord of the three worlds, the Soul of the universe? Durvasa and countless disciples were satisfied when Lord Krishna ate a small particle of vegetable. This itself clearly proves that Lord Krishna is the one Soul that dwells in all beings.

The sage Narada wished to find out how Krishna could lead a happy, married life with His sixteen thousand wives. He visited their mansions and found Krishna in every one of their homes engaged in a variety of duties. What a great marvel! Narada was stunned. Does this not prove that Krishna is the Lord of Yogis and is Lord Hari Himself?

Krishna is the Lord of all beings. He is, in fact, the husband of all women in this world. The real husband is the Lord only. It is to demonstrate this to the world that Lord Krishna incarnated Himself as the son of Devaki and Vasudeva.

An Embodiment of Love and Mercy

Lord Krishna is styled as one who steals butter, because He used to eat the butter stealthily in the houses of the Gopis on account of His extreme love for them. This stealing of butter was a sort of sport or Lila when He was a boy, to instil delight in the hearts of the Gopis who were His devotees. The Gopis liked this immensely. They were eagerly expecting Krishna to come and eat their butter. Krishna really steals or captivates the hearts of His devotees, makes them forget the world, draws their minds towards His blessed feet and makes them enjoy everlasting peace and bliss.

Krishna had the Bhav of mother even for Puthana who came to kill Him and gave her Salvation. He gave Salvation even to His bitterest enemies, Kamsa and Sisupala who insulted Him openly in the Rajasuya Yajna. Then, what to speak of those who are highly devoted to Him?

The Lord’s Teachings

Sri Krishna was the friend of Arjuna and Uddhava. His immortal teachings to Arjuna and Uddhava on Yoga, Bhakti and Jnana are unique. They even now stir the hearts of the readers and goad them towards the spiritual path and instil peace into their hearts.

Arjuna had various kinds of doubts. Lord Krishna cleared his doubts one by one. He pushed Arjuna up in the ladder of Yoga from one rung to another rung. Ultimately, Arjuna placed his step in the highest rung of the ladder, attained Knowledge of the Self and then exclaimed in joy, “O my Lord! My delusion is destroyed. I have attained Knowledge through Thy Grace. I am firm now. My doubts have vanished now in toto. I will act according to Thy word”.

The Bhagavad Gita contains the teachings of Lord Krishna to Arjuna. It is a wonderful book for constant study. Aspirants study this book with great care daily. The first fix chapters deal with Karma Yoga and represent the “Tat” Pada of “Tat Twam Asi” Mahavakya. The next six chapters deal with Bhakti Yoga and represent the “Twam” Pada. The last six chapters deal with Jnana Yoga and represent the “Asi” Pada.

Sri Krishna asked man to consider himself a doll in the hands of God. He asked man to think himself a soldier, God as his great General, his worldly acts as duties under orders. He asked him to act on the faith and belief that whatever he does is the work of God. He asked man to act, but act only with devotion to God without desire for fruits.

The teachings given by Lord Krishna to Uddhava on the eve of His departure from this world are wonderful. He gives instructions on a variety of subjects. But the one ringing note is: “See Me in everything. Surrender yourself to Me. Do all actions for My sake. Cut of all sorts of attachments. Have perfect unswerving devotion to Me. Sing My glories”.

Call of the Flute

Krishna’s flute is the symbol of Freedom or Pranava. It is this flute that attracted the devoted Gopis, the maidens of Vraja, to meet their beloved Lord on the banks of the sacred Jumna. The sound of this divine flute thrilled the heart with rapturous delight and instilled new life and joy. It produced God-intoxication in all beings and infused life even in insentient objects. The sweetness of the music was unsurpassed. He who heard once the music of Krishna’s flute cared not for the nectar of heaven or the bliss of Moksha.

The flute and its music had stirred the souls of the Gopis. They were not masters of themselves. The world was nothing to them. They felt irresistibly drawn towards Sri Krishna. They had neither shame nor fear in leaving their homes. There was a soul-awakening in them. Their mind was not of this world. Their husbands and brothers stopped them in vain. Who can resist the torrent of divine love for the Lord?

The love that the Gopis bore towards Krishna was a divine love. It was the union of souls. It is no union of sex. It is the aspiration of the Jivatma to merge in Paramatma. It is the blending of the individual soul with the Supreme Soul.

The Gopis were the sages of Dandaka forest in their previous births. They wished to embrace Lord Rama. They were promised satisfaction in the later Avatara. They got blended into the Paramatma in the Krishna-Avatara.

Krishna has preached Prem through His flute. He has created this world out of the Dhwani Omkara that proceeds from His flute. He stands on the right big toe. This signifies the Upanishadic utterance: “Ekam Eva Adwitiyam Brahma—One without a second”. He shows three curves while standing. This represents the three Gunas by which He has created this world. He gazes at Radha and puts the Prakriti in motion. He is the primum mobile. The lotus on which He stands, stands for the universe.

Radha asked Krishna: “O my dear! Why do You love the flute more than me? What virtuous actions has it done so that it can remain in close contact with Your lips? Kindly explain to me, my Lord, the secret of this. I am eager to hear”. Sri Krishna said: “This flute is very dear to Me. It has got some wonderful virtue. It has emptied off its egoism before I began to play. It has made its inner hollow quite void and I can bring out any kind of tune, Raga or Ragini, to My pleasure and sweet will. If you also behave towards Me in exactly the same manner as this flute, if you remove your egoism completely and make perfect self-surrender, then I shall also love you in the same manner as I love this flute”.

This body also is the flute of Lord Krishna in the macrocosm. If you can destroy your egoism and make total self-surrender, unreserved Atma-Nivedan to the Lord, He will play on this body-flute nicely and bring out melodious tunes. Your will will become merged in His Will. He will work unhampered through your instruments, body, mind and Indriyas. You can rest very peacefully then without cares, worries and anxieties. You can watch the play of the universe as a Sakshi. Then your Sadhana will go on by leaps and bounds, because the Divine Will or Divine Grace itself will work through you. You need not do any Sadhana at all. But make the self-surrender from the core of your heart with all your being (Sarva Bhavana). Learn the lesson from the flute and follow its ways. If you have done complete Saranagati at the lotus feet of Lord Krishna, you have already reached the realm of peace, the Kingdom of Immortality, the dominion of eternal bliss and everlasting sunshine. You have found out a joy that never fades, a life that never decays or dies. You have reached the other shore of fearlessness which is beyond darkness, doubt, grief, sorrow, pain and delusion.

O my dear children of Immortality! Lord Krishna is still roaming about in the gullies of Brindavan. Just as Lord Dattatreya is still moving about with His astral body in the reputed Girnar hills and gives Darshan even now to His sincere Bhaktas, just as Sri Jnana Dev is still moving about with his astral body in Alandi, near Poona and gives Darshan even now to his sincere devotees, so also, Lord Krishna is still moving about in Brindavan and gives Darshan to His sincere Bhaktas even now. You can find Him in the Seva Kunja in the Kunja gullies if you really want Him. He is the Brij Raj, unprecedented Monarch of the three worlds. He is waiting with outstretched hands to embrace you with His warm love in His sweet bosom as He did with Mira, Surdas and others in days of yore. Purify your mind. Destroy your evil Vasanas (subtle desires) and egoism. Hear once more the flute of the Bhansiwala, Banki-Bihari of Brindavan, His immortal Song of the Gita and allow Him to play in this body-flute of yours. Lose not this rare opportunity. It is very difficult to get this human body.

Call Him fervently with single-minded devotion and purity and sing this song of welcome. He will appear before you.

Hey Krishna Aja Bhansi Bajaja
Hey Krishna Aja Gita Sunaja
Hey Krishna Aja Makhan Khaja
Hey Krishna Aja Lila Dikhaja

O Lord Krishna, come to me and play Thy flute
O Lord Krishna, come to me and teach me Gita
O Lord Krishna, come to me and eat butter and sugarcandy
O Lord Krishna, come to me and show me Thy Lila

May we hear once more the flute of Radha-Krishna, the Muraliwala of Brindavan. May we hear once more the Gita directly from His own mouth as Arjuna had heard in days of yore. May we play with Him in close intimacy and dance in divine ecstasy like the Gopis and the cowherds and merge ourselves in Him. May we eat Makhan-Misre with Him in Gokul. May we allow Lord Krishna to utilise our bodies also as His flute!

May we sing His Name—Om Namo Bhagavate Vasudevaya—wholeheartedly like Radha and obtain His Grace which can take us to His Abode of everlasting peace and infinite bliss! May His blessings be upon us all!

Related Links:
\ Lord Krishna–His Lilas and Teachings


This article is a chapter from the book “Essence of Ramayana”.

Sri Rama


Sri Swami Sivananda

Rama was Lord Hari Himself incarnate on earth for the destruction of Ravana. He was well accomplished, beautiful and endowed with royal marks. He was the foremost of those who were skilled in the use of bows and arrows. He was born of the Ikshvaku line. He had his sway all over the world.

He had eyes like lotus-petals and a countenance like the full moon. His arms were long and beautiful. He had broad shoulders. His eyes were red. He had a deep voice. He had proportionate limbs. His gait was slow and majestic. It was like that of a lion. He had four lines on his thumb. He had a pointed nose. He had a high forehead.

His glory and powers were unlimited. He was peerless on earth. He was free from malice. He was gentle and the protector of his people. He always addressed the people in gentle words. He never used harsh words even when anybody addressed him rudely.

He was wise and virtuous. He was effulgent like the sun, in forgiveness like the earth, in intelligence like Brihaspati, in frame like Vasava, in prowess like Indra. He observed ascetic vows and honoured saints. He would forget hundreds of evils done to him but would gratefully remember a single act of kindness, ever shown.

In the leisure of his martial exercises, he had discussions on the Sastras with the wise and the aged people. He always followed the right in every walk of his life and never swerved from his royal duties.

If anybody approached him, he would talk to him first. He was exceedingly powerful but never haughty. He was the upholder of the four castes. He conferred honour upon people. He was worshipped by all. He was well versed in polity and greatly devoted to the Brahmins.

He was a friend of the poor and chastiser of the wicked. He was a cosmic benefactor. He was well versed in religion, social customs and laws. He looked after the welfare of his subjects and the people too loved him immensely. He never indulged in profane and irrelevant talks. He had mastery of Yajur Veda, Dhanur Veda, the Vedangas, etc. Whenever people put a question to him he answered them wisely like Brihaspati. He was skilful in the use of arms. He was honoured by the scholars of the Vedas. He was proficient in philosophy and poetry.

He never spoke a lie even in extreme danger or peril. He was brave, candid and modest. He was the source of all good. He always respected, his superiors. He was free from idleness. He was ever vigilant. He sought no evil. He had perfect control over anger.

He was ever ready to keep vigilant watch over his own faults. He had aged and pious Brahmins for his guide.

He was an expert rider, a great warrior, a valiant general. He had great skill in all the military manoeuvres. He was unconquered even by the gods. He was free from the evil habit of carping.

Sri Rama is an Avatara of Lord Hari. Lakshmana is an Avatara of Adisesha. Bharata and Satrughna are Avataras of the conch and discus. Sita is an Avatara of Sri Lakshmi.

Sri Rama possessed red eyes and his arms were sinewy. His steps were like those of an elephant. He had long arms, broad shoulders and black, curly hair. He was valiant and glowing with splendour. He was in no way inferior to Indra himself in battle. He was well versed in holy scriptures and equal to Brihaspati in wisdom. He was skilled in every science. He was an object of love and reverence with all people. He had his senses under perfect control. Even his enemies were pleased to see him. He was the terror of the wicked and the protector of the virtuous. He was endowed with keen intelligence. He could never be vanquished by anyone.

He renounced the throne and the pleasures of the senses and the world to fulfil the words of his father.

If Rama had longed for the throne, it was quite easy for him to get it. He was very popular. He was the mightiest of heroes. He destroyed the Rakshasas and bent the tremendous bow of Lord Siva. But he did not show the least physical force. He gladly accepted what was dictated by the cruel and wicked Kaikeyi. The throne possessed less fascination for him than the obedience of his father’s behests. He renounced the kingdom and the comforts of a king. He gladly accepted exile. The laudable virtues of Sri Rama cannot be adequately described.

Of all the four brothers Sri Rama was a paragon of virtues. He was not only kind and affectionate but generous and considerate of feelings for all around him. He had a splendid physique and winning manners. He had a magnanimous personality. He was extremely noble, generous, chivalrous and fearless. He was very simple and absolutely free from ostentation.

Sri Rama’s life was a life of holy obedience, of stainless purity, of matchless simplicity, laudable contentment, commendable self-sacrifice and remarkable renunciation. He paid equal respect to his mother and his stepmothers and revered his Guru.

Sita once told Rama to seek shelter in a safe place and let the forest dwellers alone as there was much danger there. Rama’s reply revealed his firm determination to adhere to truth, and to his duty as a king to protect those who took shelter under him. Sri Rama said, “O Sita, I may even give up life or you or Lakshmana but can never give up the fulfilment of my word given particularly to helpless Brahmins. Rama speaks but once and never fails to keep up his promise.”

Sri Rama was happy in adversity, calm in miseries, intrepid in dangers.

Sri Rama was a mighty hero. He was the hero of heroes. Single-handed, he killed great and renowned warriors like Khara and Dushana. He vanquished the invincible Vali.

He was an ideal king. He ruled the kingdom in a wonderful way. He was just and righteous. He was courageous and kind. He was endowed with a gentle and generous disposition. He was civil and courteous.

His subjects loved him immensely. Not a single man was unhappy during his regime. He often used to say, “I will do anything and everything to please my subjects, and, if necessary I can even abandon my dear wife for their sake.” That is the reason why his reign was called “Ramarajya.” There were no dacoits during his regime. All led a virtuous life. Nobody spoke any untruth. Anybody could leave a bag of gold or jewels even in the main street. No one would touch it.




This article is from the book Hindu Gods and Goddesses.



Sri Swami Sivananda


An Avatara of Lord Siva
The Lord of Nature
Scriptures That Extol Lord Skanda
The Form of Shanmukha
Valli and Deivayanai
The Vel
The Peacock, the Snake and the Cock
Danda Pani
The Esoteric Significance of the Skanda Stories
The Wedding of Valli
Pratyaksha Devata of This Kali Yuga
The Kavadi
Related Links


O Subrahmanya!
O General of Devas’ forces!
O Destroyer of evil,
O Karttikeya, Siva’s son!
Six Sparks from Sankara’s fire!
O God of War!
Salutations unto Thee.

Thou art the Power of Wisdom,
Truth, Good, and Grace.
All powers of manhood
Are Thy power.
Saravanabhava Pahimam.
Karttikeya Rakshamam.

THE Asura Taraka oppressed the Devas very much. He drove them out of the heavens. All the Devas went to Brahma. Brahma said to the Devas: “O Devas, I cannot destroy Taraka, as he has obtained my grace through his severe Tapas. But I shall give you a suggestion. Get the help of Cupid or Kama Deva. Induce him to tempt Lord Siva, who is now absorbed in His Yoga-Samadhi, to marry Parvati. A powerful son, Lord Subrahmanya or Karttikeya, will then be born to them. This son alone can destroy the Asura.”

Indra asked Kama to go with his wife Rati and his companion Vasanta (the Spring) to Mount Kailasa, the abode of Siva. Kama at once proceeded to Mount Kailas along with Rati and Vasanta. Spring season came in immediately. Standing behind a tree, Kama shot his flowery arrows of passion at Lord Siva just when Parvati was putting flowers into His hand. As soon as Parvati’s hands came in contact with those of Lord Siva, He experienced a thrill of feeling. Siva wondered what it was that disturbed His Yoga. He looked around and saw Kama behind a tree.

Siva opened His third eye and Cupid was burnt to ashes by the fire that emanated from it. That is how Kama Deva came to be Ananga—the bodiless.

After burning Kama Deva, Lord Siva found out in His Yogic vision that the birth of Lord Subrahmanya was absolutely necessary to destroy the powerful Taraka. He had His Retas (semen) thrown into the hands of Fire, who, unable to retain it, threw it into Ganga. In Her turn, She threw it into a reed forest where Karttikeya (Lord Subrahmanya), the Reed-born (Shara-Janma), was born. He became the leader of the celestial hosts and the destroyer of Tarakasura, exactly as Brahma intended.

An Avatara of Lord Siva

Lord Subrahmanya is an Avatara of Lord Siva. All Incarnations are manifestations of the one Supreme Lord. Lord Subrahmanya and Lord Krishna are one. Lord Krishna says in the Gita, “Senaninam Aham Skandah: Of the generals, I am Skanda.” The Lord manifests Himself from time to time in various names and forms for establishing Dharma and punishing the wicked.

Lord Subrahmanya is a ray born of the Chaitanya of Lord Siva. He is the energy of Lord Siva. Valli and Deivayanai are His two wives. They represent the Ichcha Sakti and the Kriya Sakti of the Lord. He is a Pratyaksha Devata in this Kali Yuga, like Hanuman. He bestows on His devotees material and spiritual prosperity and success in all their undertakings even at the slightest devotion shown to Him. Guha, Muruha, Kumaresa, Karttikeya, Shanmukha (He who has six faces), Subrahmanya, Velayudha (He who wears the spear) are synonymous terms.

The Lord of Nature

Lord Shanmukha, the Light of lights and the innermost Self of all, is worshipped in the form of God having six faces and twelve hands. The worship of Subrahmanya is more or less confined to South India though He is not unknown to the Hindus of the rest of India as Karttikeya. The Tamilians have a living faith in Subrahmanya and are as fond of His Leelas as the North Indians and the South Indian Vaishnavites are of Krishna’s sports.

The worship of Lord Skanda is most prevalent in South India and Ceylon. Almost every town in the South has its temple dedicated to Lord Shanmukha. The Tamils have named Shanmukha as Muruhan. Just as the God of Wind is Vayu, the God of Water is Varuna, the Tamil term for the Lord of Nature is Muruha.

Temples of Lord Subrahmanya can be seen throughout South India. Places of natural beauty that soothes the soul enshrine the Almighty in the form of Lord Subrahmanya. Of the places where the temples of Lord Skanda are to be seen, a few are very famous. Each of these temples has a legend and history of its own. The famous temples of Lord Subrahmanya in South India are Tiruchendur, Palani, Thirupparankundram, Swamimalai, Thiruthanigai, Thirupporur, Udipi and Alagar Koil; and almost all hillocks in South India, especially in Tamil Nadu, shine with a temple of Lord Subrahmanya on the top.

Lord Subrahmanya showed His Bala Leelas in Tiruchendur and had His Samadhi in Kathirgamam, near Jaffna, Ceylon. If anyone goes to Kathirgamam with faith, devotion and piety and stays in the temple for two or three days, Lord Subrahmanya gives His Vibhuti to the devotees in the shape of instructions. The devotee gets mystical experiences. A big festival is held in this temple every year on Skanda Shashti. Mountains of camphor are burnt on this occasion. Thousands of people gather there for the occasion.

During Skanda Shashti, the day on which Lord Subrahmanya killed the demon Taraka, grand festivals are held with great pomp and grandeur at various places in South India. Devotees do worship, Bhajan and Kirtan on this day on an almost extravagant scale. Thousands are fed sumptuously. Many incurable diseases are cured if one visits Palani and worships the Lord there. In South India, Lord Subrahmanya’s Leelas are dramatised and performed in open-air theatres.

Scriptures That Extol Lord Skanda

Of the eighteen Puranas, Skanda Purana deals with the Avatara and Leelas of Lord Skanda and His victory over the Asura king, Soorapadman. It also narrates the story of His marriage with Valli and Deivayanai. It extols the glory of Lord Skanda and His greatness and brings out the various attributes and functions of the Lord. Every episode narrated in the story has got an esoteric significance. Devotees and Bhaktas of Lord Subrahmanya have this text for their constant Svadhyaya.

Scriptures relating to Lord Skanda can be had in abundance in Tamil literature. In fact, Lord Subrahmanya was worshipped not only as the Lord of Nature, but also as the Lord who gave the Tamil Language to Agastya Rishi. Amongst the oldest extant Tamil works is Thirumurugatrupadai (guidance for an aspirant to the worship of Lord Skanda). The author of this book was Nakkeerar, a famous poet of the olden days. One who studies this book daily and does Puja of the Lord gets purged of all sins and he attains everything both in this world and in the next.

Saint Arunagirinathar has left us more than a thousand songs in praise of Lord Shanmukha. These songs are known as Thiruppugazh (praise of the Lord). Every song is elevating and soul-stiffing. The same saint has given to the world other books, namely, Kandar Anubhooti (Grace of the Lord and how to obtain it) and Kandar Alankaram. The former has so much efficacy that its constant repetition with faith and love bestows every blessing that one can ask for.

In a later period, another saint, Kumaragurupara Swamigal, composed a long poem in praise of Lord Shanmukha. This is known as Kandar Kali Venba. There are also other poems known as Pillai Tamizh.

The Form of Shanmukha

In common with all Hindu mythological accounts and stories, the descriptions and the legends about Subrahmanya also embody various esoteric truths. Lord Subrahmanya has six faces. He holds a spear or Vel, and He rides on a peacock. The peacock stands upon a black serpent. A cock is the Lord’s banner. He has two wives, Valli and Deivayanai. He is the son of Parama Siva. He came out of Siva’s third eye, in the form of fire or light Jyotis. His achievements consisted of the destruction of the great Asura Soorapadma who, with his assistants, was enslaving Indra and other Devas. He married Deivayanai, the daughter of Indra. On the advice of Narada, He married also Valli, the foster-daughter of the hunter-king Nambi, after testing her devotion pretty severely. Even as a boy, Lord Subrahmanya imprisoned Brahma for his ignorance of the meaning of the Pranava Mantra and released him only at the request of Lord Siva. Incidentally, He also expounded to Lord Siva the meaning of the same Mantra. All these accounts are the interesting details greatly appreciated and cherished by deeply devoted Subrahmanya Bhaktas.

From the esoteric point of view, Subrahmanya is the Lord who incarnated Himself to illumine the intelligence of human beings and liberate them from ignorance of various kinds which hides the truth from them. That Subrahmanya came out of Siva’s third eye is symbolic of His being the incarnation of Pure Intelligence, for Siva’s third eye is known to be the Eye of Knowledge.

The six heads of Lord Subrahmanya represent the six Chakras. They also represent the five senses and the mind. They represent the six attributes of Bhagavan: Jnana (wisdom), Vairagya (dispassion), Bala (strength), Kirti (fame), Sree (wealth) and Aisvarya (divine powers). They indicate that He is the source for the four Vedas, Vedangas, and the six schools of philosophy; that He has controlled the five Jnana Indriyas and the mind. They denote that He is the Virat Purusha with countless heads. They signify that His head is turned everywhere (Viswathomukha); He is all-pervading. They indicate that He is omnipotent and that He can multiply and assume forms at His will. The six faces indicate that His presence shines on the four sides and also above and below.

The twelve arms show that He alone creates, preserves, destroys, hides and blesses—in fact, does everything in the world.

Valli, Deivayanai and the Vel mean respectively Ichcha Sakti, Kriya Sakti and Jnana Sakti, i.e., the force of desire, the force of action, and the force of knowledge. It is indicated that all these three abide in Subrahmanya, who is Para Brahman Himself. The fact that desire and action forces are kept on either side of Him and that Jnana Sakti or the force of knowledge alone is kept in His breast point out that Knowledge is the most important of them all and that it never gets separated from Him.

Valli and Deivayanai

Subrahmanya married Valli according to the Gandharva mode. He did not obtain the permission of her parents for doing so. That also shows that Valli is His desire-force.

On the other hand, His marriage of Deivayanai was after His victory over the Asuras. Out of gratitude, Indra gave Subrahmanya his own daughter Deivayanai in marriage. This was done according to Vedic rites. These events point to the fact that Deivayanai is His action-force.

The two wives Deivayanai and Valli also symbolise the two types of devotees among those who strive for Moksha or Liberation through union or oneness with the Supreme. One type consists of those who rigidly and sincerely observe the injunctions and follow the teachings of the Vedic scriptures and are thus the followers of Vaidik Karmas. That type is represented by Deivayanai, whom Subrahmanya married in the regular orthodox way. The other type consists of the ardent Bhaktas who attach more importance to right mental feeling and emotion than to rules and regulations. This type is symbolised by Valli, who grows as the foster-daughter of the hunter-king Nambi. Subrahmanya marries her in the combined Gandharva and Paisacha modes of marriage. He manifests love in wooing her and uses force in fighting against her relations who try to obstruct Him.

The Vel

In the picture, Lord Subrahmanya holds the Vel or Spear in His hand, just as Lord Siva holds the Trident or Trisula. This is an emblem of power and indicates that He is the ruler of this universe. The devotees of Lord Subrahmanya do obeisance to the Vel.

The Vel or Spear was given to Subrahmanya by Parvati, the embodiment of Siva-Sakti. It, therefore, indicates that the Spear was the symbol of true Knowledge as coming out of Parvati, the Para Sakti. The shape of the Vel also shows that Knowledge in the form of Jyotis will start from Muladhara, which is the bottom of the Vel, pass through the intermediate Nadis (which are represented by the body of the Vel), and pierce through the thousand-petalled Brahmarandhra, which is represented by the sharp, leaf-shaped end of the Vel.

The Spear or Vel is the weapon which pierces through the demon of Ignorance. This is Ekagra Chitta or the one-pointed mind so much insisted upon in Raja Yoga without which progress is impossible for the Yogi. It is the preliminary for concentration, meditation and absorption—all of which together constitute the Yogic Samyama. In the legend, it is Soorapadma, the Asura, who is slain by the Vel. That Asura is none other than Ignorance.

The Peacock, the Snake and the Cock

Shanmukha’s Vahana, the peacock, shows the shape of the Pranava letter OM. It is the shape of the Bindu. When the peacock has spread out its tail, it has the round shape of the Pranava. Within it is the Parabrahma Jyoti which is the form of Muruha or Subrahmanya. The subordinated serpent kept in check by the peacock’s feet shows the Maya impurity completely overpowered by the power of Pranava.

The peacock is the most beautiful of all birds. It is the one bird which can reveal its inner joy by dancing and displaying its gorgeous plumage. When it does so, it evidences its perfect balance, for it is a very heavy bird and it has to keep its balance on its two very slender feet. Thus we can also interpret the peacock as symbolising mental equipoise, the predominance of the Sattva over the Rajas and Tamas qualities. Such a mental condition reveals itself in a superior sort of self-satisfaction, a state similar to that of the peacock which spreads out its beautiful plumage. It is this predominating Sattva that is the pre-requisite for the acquisition of True Knowledge, the Knowledge symbolised by Lord Subrahmanya Himself.

The Vahana peacock is also by way of representation that the Lord has entirely conquered pride, egoism, vanity. The cobra under His Feet is to indicate that He is absolutely fearless, immortal and wise.

The cock in the banner signifies the Pranava, the Nada-Brahman, the sound-form of God. Subrahmanya’s cock-banner symbolises the approach or dawn of Knowledge. It is the cock that proclaims the coming of the sun in the eastern horizon. The sun is the heavenly body that dispels darkness. Likewise, the cock on Subrahmanya’s banner announces the approach of Knowledge which will destroy all ignorance.

Danda Pani

There is another form of Subrahmanya which is known as Danda Pani. When He is represented in that form, He stands alone with the Vel, but without Valli or Deivayanai. This represents His Nirguna aspect which is free from Maya. This also shows that He can be without the forces of desire and action, but cannot be without the force of Knowledge.

The Esoteric Significance of the Skanda Stories

Let us now examine the meaning of the legend about Soorapadma who was killed by Subrahmanya. The Asuras Taraka, Simhamukha and Soorapadma were the sons of Maya. They persecuted the Devas and imprisoned Devakumara. Muruha heeded the prayers of the Devas, killed the three Asuras with His spear, and liberated Devakumara from the prison. Later, according to the request of the victorious Devas, Muruha married Deivayanai, the daughter of Indra. The inner significance of this account is as follows. The three sons of Maya are Sattva, Rajas and Tamas, the three Gunas. Jiva is ever under the influence of these three Gunas and is subjugated by them. God Subrahmanya listens to the prayers of the Jiva and liberates him from the clutches of the three foes, the three Gunas. Not only does He liberate the Jiva, but He also, by marrying, unites the Jiva with Himself.

The Wedding of Valli

Take, again, the wedding of Valli. In the dark forest of the mountain, Valli frowns in the midst of the cruel hunters, her relations, and spends her time throwing stones to drive away birds which peck the grains in the fields. But her mind is always in love with Lord Muruha. In right time, Muruha comes in different guises, tests her, frightens her with the elephant through the help of Vinayaka, and in the end, reveals His real form, takes her away to marry. At that time, He encounters the opposition of Valli’s foster-parents and kills them. But, in response to Valli’s request, He brings them back to life and celebrates the marriage with her.

The dark forest is Tamas. The cruel hunters are Rajas. Valli is the Jiva who is in the grasp of these two. Her guarding the grains in the field is her earnest Sadhana to realise the Paramatman. The birds that come to peck the grains are the obstacles to her rigid Sadhana. To save herself, she keeps in her hand the catapult which is Viveka (discrimination), and uses the pebbles which represent Vairagya (dispassion). Thus she drives away the obstacles. To test the strength of her Sadhana, Muruha appears before her in disguises, and in the end, shows her the meaning of Pranava in the form of the elephant. Then the forces of Rajas which envelop the Jiva (symbolised by the hunters who surround Valli) are vanquished and transformed into Suddha Sattva Guna. After that the Jiva is released and given the supreme status of identification with Para Brahman.

Pratyaksha Devata of This Kali Yuga

Lord Shanmukha is the Pratyaksha Devata (visible God) of this Kali Yuga. He is readily pleased with His devotees to whom He grants both Bhukti and Mukti (enjoyments here and Moksha hereafter). Millions are still living who can narrate instances in their own life to show the miracles brought about by propitiation of Lord Shanmukha.

The Kavadi

Perhaps the most potent propitiatory rite that a devotee of Shanmukha undertakes to perform is what is known as the Kavadi. The benefits that the devotee gains from offering a Kavadi to the Lord are a millionfold greater than the little bit of pain that the devotee inflicts upon himself.

Generally, people take a vow to offer the Lord a Kavadi for the purpose of tiding over, or averting, a great calamity. For instance, if the devotee’s only son is laid up with a fatal disease, he would pray to Shanmukha to grant the boy a lease of life in return for which the devotee would take a vow to dedicate a Kavadi to the Lord.

Though this might, on the face of it, appear materialistic, a moment’s reflection will reveal that it contains in it the seed for the Supreme God-Love. The worldly object is achieved; and the devotee takes the Kavadi. After the ceremony, he gets so much intoxicated with the love of God that his spiritual inner chamber is opened now. This, too, ultimately leads to Para Bhakti.

O Lord Subrahmanya! O All-merciful Lord! We have neither faith nor devotion. We do not know how to worship Thee in the proper manner or to meditate upon Thee. We are Thy children who have lost the way, forgotten the Goal and Thy Name. Is it not Thy duty, O compassionate Father, to take back these lost children under Thy shelter, to caress and protect, and to shower Thy grace and benedictions on them?

O Mother Valli, will You not intercede for us with Thy Lord? Mother’s love for her children is mightier than any other emotion in this world. Though we have become worthless and undutiful children, O beloved Mother! pardon us. Make us dutiful and faithful. We are Thine from this very second. Always Thine. All is Thine. It is the Mother’s duty to correct, educate, rectify and mould Her reckless children when they are straying from the right path. Remove the gulf that separates us, the veil that hides us, from Thee. Bless us. Enlighten us. Take us back to Thy lotus feet. We have nothing more to say. This is our fervent prayer to Thee and Thy Lord, our beloved and eternal parents.

Related Links:
\ Lord Shanmukha and His Worship a book by Swami Sivananda
\ Skanda Sashti by Swami Sivananda
\ Thaipusam by Swami Sivananda
\ Lord Skanda–Concentrated Divine Energy by Swami Krishnananda












This article is from the book Hindu Gods and Goddesses.



Sri Swami Sivananda

Siva Lingam at Sri Viswanath Mandir, Sivananda Ashram, Rishikesh.

Lord Siva at Sri Viswanath Mandir, Sivananda Ashram, Rishikesh.


Siva and Vishnu Are Identical
Lord Siva’s Form and Its Significance
Worship of Siva Lingam
Siva Abhisheka
The Glory of Hymns in Praise of Lord Siva
The Panchakshara Mantra
The Dance of Siva
Worship of Lord Siva
Related Links


O Lord Siva,
Lord of Pasus or Jivas,
O Blue-necked Lord,
The Destroyer of Daksha’s sacrifice,
The Beloved of Uma,
The Five-faced Isvara,
Holder of Trident,
Swallower of Poison!
Prostrations unto Thee.
Through Thy Grace
I realised oneness with Thee.
Sivoham, Sivah Kevaloham.
Chidanandarupah Sivoham.

LORD SIVA represents the destructive aspect of Brahman. That portion of Brahman that is enveloped by Tamo-Guna-Pradhana-Maya is Lord Siva, who is the all-pervading Isvara, and who also dwells in Mount Kailas. He is the Bhandar or storehouse for wisdom. Siva minus Parvati, Kaali or Durga is pure Nirguna Brahman. With Maya (Parvati), He becomes the Saguna Brahman for the purpose of the pious devotion of His devotees. Devotees of Rama must worship Lord Siva also. Rama Himself worshipped Lord Siva at the famous Rameswaram. Lord Siva is the Lord of ascetics and Lord of Yogins, robed in space (Digambara).

Lord Siva, in reality, is the Regenerator and not the Destroyer. Whenever one’s physical body becomes unfit for further evolution in this birth either by disease, old age, or other causes, He at once removes this rotten physical sheath and gives a new, healthy, vigorous body for further quick evolution. He wants to take all His children to His lotus feet quickly. He desires to give them His glorious Siva-Pada. It is easier to please Siva than Hari. A little Prem and devotion, a little chanting of His Panchakshari, is quite sufficient to infuse delight in Siva. He gives boons to His devotees quite readily.

Lord Siva is the God of Love. His grace is infinite. He is the Saviour and Guru. He is engaged in freeing the souls from the thraldom of matter. He assumes the form of Guru out of the intense love for mankind. He wishes that all should know Him and attain the blissful Siva-Pada. He watches the activities of the individual souls and helps them in their onward march.

Lord Siva is an embodiment of wisdom. He is the Light of lights. He is Parama Jyoti or Supreme Light. He is self-luminous or Swayam Jyoti. The dance of Siva represents the rhythm and movement of the world-spirit. At His dance, the evil forces and darkness quiver and vanish.

Siva means that which is eternally happy or auspicious, Parama-Mangala. Om and Siva are one. Mandukya Upanishad says: Santam Sivam Advaitam. Even an outcaste can meditate on the Name of Lord Siva.

Lord Siva is the Supreme Reality. He is eternal, formless, independent, omnipresent, one without a second, beginningless, causeless, taintless, self-existent, ever free, ever pure. He is not limited by time. He is infinite bliss and infinite intelligence.

Siva and Vishnu Are Identical

Siva and Vishnu are one and the same entity. They are essentially one and the same. They are the names given to the different aspects of the all-pervading Supreme Soul or the Absolute. Sivasya Hridayam Vishnur Vishnoscha Hridayam Sivah: Vishnu is the heart of Siva, and likewise, Siva is the heart of Vishnu.

The sectarian worship is of recent origin. The Siva Siddhanta of Kantacharya is only five hundred years old. The Vaishnava cults of Madhva and Sri Ramanuja are only six hundred and seven hundred years old respectively. There was no sectarian worship before seven hundred years.

Brahma represents the creative aspect, Vishnu the preservative aspect, and Siva the destructive aspect of Paramatma. This is just like your wearing different garbs on different occasions. When you do the function of a judge, you put on one kind of dress. At home, you wear another kind of dress. When you do worship in the temple, you wear another kind of dress. You exhibit different kinds of temperament on different occasions. Even so, the Lord does the function of creation when He is associated with Rajas and He is called Brahma. He preserves the world when He is associated with Sattva Guna, and He is called Vishnu. He destroys the world when He is associated with Tamo Guna, and He is called Siva or Rudra.

Brahma, Vishnu and Siva have been correlated to the three Avasthas or states of consciousness. During the waking state, Sattva predominates; during the dream state, Rajas predominates; and, during the deep-sleep state, Tamas predominates. Hence Vishnu, Brahma and Siva are the Murtis of Jagrat, Svapna and Sushupti states of consciousness respectively. The Turiya or the fourth state is Para Brahman. The Turiya state is immediately next to the deep sleep state. Worship of Siva will lead quickly to the attainment of the fourth state.

Vishnu Purana glorifies Vishnu, and in some places gives a lower position to Siva. Siva Purana glorifies Siva, and gives a lower status to Vishnu. Devi Bhagavata glories Devi and gives a lower status to Brahma, Vishnu and Siva. This is only to instil and intensify devotion for the respective Deity in the hearts of the devotees. In reality, no Deity is superior to another. You must understand the heart of the writer.

There is no difference between the trinities Brahma, Rudra and Vishnu. The work of all the three Deities is done conjointly. They all have one view and one definite purpose in creating, preserving and destroying the visible universe of names and forms. He who regards the three Deities as distinct and different, Siva Purana says, is undoubtedly a devil or evil spirit.

Lord Siva’s Form and Its Significance

Lord Siva wears a deer in the left upper hand. He has Trident in the right lower arm. He has fire and Damaru and Malu or a kind of weapon. He wears five serpents as ornaments. He wears a garland of skulls. He is pressing with His feet the demon Muyalaka, a dwarf holding a cobra. He faces south. Panchakshara itself is His body.

His Trisul that is held in His right hand represents the three Gunas—Sattva, Rajas and Tamas. That is the emblem of sovereignty. He rules the world through these three Gunas. The Damaru in His left hand represents the Sabda Brahman. It represents OM from which all languages are formed. It is He who formed the Sanskrit language out of the Damaru sound.

The wearing of the crescent moon in His head indicates that He has controlled the mind perfectly. The flow of the Ganga represents the nectar of immortality. Elephant represents symbolically the Vritti pride. Wearing the skin of the elephant denotes that He has controlled pride. Tiger represents lust. His sitting on the tiger’s skin indicates that He has conquered lust. His holding deer on one hand indicates that He has removed the Chanchalata (tossing) of the mind. Deer jumps from one place to another swiftly. The mind also jumps from one object to another. His wearing of serpents on the neck denotes wisdom and eternity. Serpents live for a large number of years. He is Trilochana, the Three-eyed One, in the centre of whose forehead is the third eye, the Eye of Wisdom.

Lord Siva has white complexion. What is the significance of white colour? He teaches silently that people should have pure heart and entertain pure thoughts and should be free from crookedness, diplomacy, cunningness, jealousy, hatred, etc.

He wears three white-lined Bhasma or Vibhuti on His forehead. What is the significance of this? He teaches silently that people should destroy the three impurities, viz., Anavam (egoism), Karma (action with expectation of fruits), and Maya (illusion); the three desires or Eshanas, viz., desire for landed property, desire for woman, and desire for gold; and the three Vasanas, viz., Loka-vasana, Deha-vasana and Shastra-vasana and then attain Him with a pure heart.

What does the Balipeeta or altar which stands in front of the sanctum sanctorum of a Siva’s temple represent? People should destroy their egoism and mine-ness (Ahamta and Mamata) before they attain the Lord. This is the significance.

Rishabha or the bull represents Dharma Devata. Lord Siva rides on the bull. Bull is His vehicle. This denotes that Lord Siva is the protector of Dharma, is an embodiment of Dharma or righteousness.

The Lingam represents Advaita. It points out: “I am one without a second—Ekamevadvitiyam;” just as a man raises his right hand above his head pointing out his right index-finger only.

Worship of Siva Lingam

The popular belief is that the Siva Lingam represents the phallus or the virile organ, the emblem of the generative power or principle in nature. This is not only a serious mistake, but a grave blunder. In the post-Vedic period, the Linga became symbolical of the generative power of Lord Siva. Linga is the differentiating mark. It is certainly not the sex-mark. You will find in the Linga-Purana: “The foremost Lingam which is primary and is devoid of smell, colour, taste, hearing, touch, etc., is spoken of as Prakriti, Nature.”

Linga means “mark”, in Sanskrit. It is a symbol which points to an inference. When you see a big flood in a river, you infer that there had been heavy rains the previous day. When you see smoke, you infer that there is fire. This vast world of countless forms is a Linga of the omnipotent Lord. The Siva Linga is a symbol of Lord Siva. When you look at the Linga, your mind is at once elevated and you begin to think of the Lord.

Lord Siva is really formless. He has no form of His own, and yet, all forms are His forms. All forms are pervaded by Lord Siva. Every form is the form or Linga of Lord Siva.

There is a mysterious power or indescribable Sakti in the Linga to induce concentration of the mind. Just as the mind is focussed easily in crystal-gazing, so also the mind attains one-pointedness when it looks at the Lingam. That is the reason why the ancient Rishis of India and the seers have prescribed Lingam for being installed in the temples of Lord Siva.

Siva Linga speaks to you in the unmistakable language of silence: “I am one without a second. I am formless.” Pure, pious souls only can understand this language. A curious, passionate, impure foreigner of little understanding or intelligence says sarcastically, “Oh, the Hindus worship the phallus or sex organ. They are ignorant people. They have no philosophy.” When a foreigner tries to learn Tamil or Hindustani language, he first tries to pick up some vulgar words. This is his curiosity nature. Even so, the curious foreigner tries to find out some defects in the worship of symbol. Linga is only the outward symbol of the formless being Lord Siva who is the indivisible, all-pervading, eternal, auspicious, ever-pure, immortal essence of this vast universe, who is the undying soul seated in the chambers of your heart, who is your Indweller, innermost Self or Atman, and who is identical with the Supreme Brahman.

Sphatikalinga is also a symbol of Lord Siva. This is prescribed for Aradhana or worship of Lord Siva. It is made up of quartz. It has no colour of its own, but takes on the colour of the substances which come in contact with it. It represents the Nirguna Brahman or the attributeless Supreme Self or formless and attributeless Siva.

For a sincere devotee, the Linga is not a block of stone. It is all radiant Tejas or Chaitanya. The Linga talks to him, makes him shed profuse tears, produces horripilation and melting of heart, raises him above body-consciousness, and helps to commune with the Lord and attain Nirvikalpa Samadhi. Lord Rama worshipped the Siva Linga at Rameswar. Ravana, the learned scholar, worshipped the golden Linga. What a lot of mystic Sakti there should be in the Linga!

Siva Abhisheka

In Siva temples, a pot made up of copper or brass, with a hole in the centre, is kept hanging over the image or Linga of Siva, and water is falling on the image throughout day and night. Pouring over the Linga water, milk, ghee, curd, honey, coconut water, Panchamrita, etc., is Abhisheka. Abhisheka is done for Lord Siva. Rudri is chanted along with the Abhisheka. Lord Siva is propitiated by Abhisheka.

Lord Siva drank the poison that emanated from the ocean and wore the Ganga and moon on His head to cool His head. He has the fiery third eye. Constant Abhisheka cools this eye.

Abhisheka is a part of Siva Puja. Without Abhisheka, worship of Siva is incomplete.

Ganga water, milk, ghee, honey, rose-water, coconut water, sandal paste, Panchamrita, scented oil, sugarcane juice, lime juice—are all made use of for Abhisheka. After every Abhisheka, pure water is poured over the head of Siva.

The Abhisheka water is considered very sacred, and bestows immense benefits on the devotees who take it as the Lord’s Prasad. Similar is the case with other articles used for Abhisheka. The Abhisheka Tirtha purifies the heart and destroys countless sins. You must take it with intense Bhava and faith.

When you do Abhisheka with Bhava and devotion, your mind is concentrated. Your heart is filled with the image of the Lord and with divine thoughts. You forget your body and its relation and surroundings. Egoism gradually vanishes. When there is forgetfulness, you begin to enjoy and taste the eternal bliss of Lord Siva. Recitation of Rudri or Om Namah Sivaya purifies the mind and fills it with Sattva.

By offering Panchamrita, honey, milk, etc., to the Lord, thoughts of your body diminish. Selfishness slowly vanishes. You derive immense joy. You begin to increase your offerings unto the Lord. Therefore, self-sacrifice and self-surrender come in. Naturally there is an outpouring from your heart: “I am Thine, my Lord! All is Thine, my Lord!!”

Kannappa Nayanar, a great devotee of Lord Siva, a hunter by profession, did Abhisheka with the water in his mouth for the Lingam at Kalahasti in South India, and propitiated Lord Siva. Lord Siva is pleased by pure devotion. It is the mental Bhava that counts and not the outward show. Lord Siva said to the temple priest, “This water from the mouth of Kannappa, my beloved devotee, is more pure than the water of the Ganga.”

In northern India, every man or woman takes a Lota of water and pours it on the image of Siva. This also causes beneficial results and brings about the fulfilment of one’s desire. Abhisheka on Sivaratri Day is very effective.

If you do Abhisheka with Rudripatha in the name of a person suffering from any disease, he will be soon freed from that disease. Incurable diseases are cured by Abhisheka. Abhisheka bestows health, wealth, prosperity, progeny, etc. Abhisheka on Monday is most auspicious.

For getting rain, Abhisheka should be done with pure water. For freedom from disease, and for begetting a son, Abhisheka should be done with milk. If Abhisheka is done with milk, even a barren woman begets children. The person also attains plenty of cows. If Abhisheka is done with Kusa water, one becomes free from all diseases. He who desires wealth should perform Abhisheka with ghee, honey and sugarcane juice. He who desires Moksha should do Abhisheka with sacred waters.

The greatest and the highest Abhisheka is to pour the waters of pure love on the Atma Linga of the lotus of the heart. The external Abhisheka with various kinds of objects will help the growth of devotion and adoration for Lord Siva and eventually lead to internal Abhisheka with pure abundant flow of love.

The Glory of Hymns in Praise of Lord Siva

Ravana propitiated Lord Siva by his hymns. Pushpadanta pleased Lord Siva by his celebrated Stotra—Siva Mahimna Stotra—which is even now sung by all devotees of Siva throughout India, and obtained all Aisvarya or Siddhis, and Mukti. The glory of the Stotras of Siva is indescribable.

The mind is purified by constant repetition of Siva Stotras and the Names of Lord Siva. The Stotras are filled with good and pure thoughts. Repetition of the hymns to Siva strengthens the good Samskaras. As a man thinks, that he becomes. This is the psychological law. The mind of a man who trains himself in thinking good, holy thoughts, develops a tendency to think good thoughts. His character is moulded and transformed by continued good thought. When the mind thinks of the Image of the Lord during His hymns, the mental substance actually assumes the form of the image of the Lord. The impression of the object is left in the mind. This is called Samskara. When the act is repeated very often, the Samskaras gain strength by repetition, and a tendency or habit is formed in the mind. He who entertains thoughts of Divinity becomes transformed actually into the Divinity himself by constant thinking. His Bhava or disposition is purified and divinised. When one sings the hymns of Lord Siva, he is in tune with the Lord. The individual mind melts in the cosmic mind. He who sings the hymns becomes one with Lord Siva.

You must all sing the hymns of Lord Siva and obtain His Grace and Salvation, not in the unknown future, but right now in this very second. You can please Lord Siva easily.

The Panchakshara Mantra

Panchakshara is a Maha Mantra which is composed of five letters Na-Mah-Si-Va-Ya. The five letters denote the five actions or Pancha Krityam of the Lord, viz., Srishti (creation), Sthiti (preservation), Samhara (destruction), Tirodhana (veiling) and Anugraha (blessing); the five elements; and all creations through the combination of the five elements.

Namah means ‘prostration’. Sivaya Namah means ‘prostration unto Lord Siva’. The Jiva is the servant of Lord Siva from the Deha-Drishti. Namah represents Jivatma. Siva represents Paramatma. Aya denotes ‘Aikyam’ or identity of Jiva and Paramatma. Hence, Sivaya Namah is a Maha-Vakya like Tat Tvam Asi, which signifies the identity between the individual soul and the Supreme Soul.

Panchakshara is the best among seven crores of Mantras. There are seven Skandhas in Yajur-Veda. There is Rudradhyayi in the centre of the middle Skandha. In this Rudradhyayi, there are one thousand Rudra Mantras. Namah Sivaya or the Siva Panchakshara Mantra shines in the centre of these one thousand Rudra Mantras.

Yajur-Veda is the head of Paramesvara, who is the Veda Purusha. Rudram, which is in the middle, is the face. Panchakshara is His eye. Si-va, which is in the centre of the Na-mah-si-va-ya, is the apple of the eye. He who does Japa of this Panchakshara is freed from births and deaths and attains eternal bliss. This is the emphatic declaration of the Vedas. This Panchakshara is the body of Lord Nataraja. This is the abode of Lord Siva.

Siva-Nama is the very soul of all Mantras. Japa of the sacred Names of Lord Siva and meditation on them will free you from all sins and lead you to the attainment of Siva Jnanam or eternal bliss and Immortality.

The Dance of Siva

Lord Siva is the only dancer. He is the master or expert dancer. He is the king of dancers. He quelled the pride of Kaali. Lord Siva’s destruction is not a single act, but is a series of acts. There is a different kind of dance at every stage.

The dance of Lord Siva is for the welfare of the world. The object of His dance is to free the souls from the fetters of Maya, from the three bonds or impurities of Anava, Karma and Maya. He is not the destroyer, but He is the regenerator. He is the Mangala-data and Ananda-data, bestower of auspiciousness and bliss. He is more easily pleased than Lord Hari. He grants boons quickly, for a little Tapas or a little recitation of His five letters.

You can witness the dance of Siva in the rising waves of the ocean, in the oscillation of the mind, in the movements of the senses and the Pranas, in the rotation of the planets and constellations, in cosmic Pralaya, in epidemics of infectious diseases, in huge inundations and volcanic eruptions, in earthquakes, landslips, lightning and thunder, in huge conflagrations and cyclonic storm.

The whole cosmic play or activity or Lila is the dance of Siva. All movements within the cosmos are His dance. He gazes on Prakriti and energises Her. Mind, Prana, matter begin to dance. Then the universe of names and forms is projected. The undifferentiated matter, energy and sound become differentiated.

In the Night of Brahman or during Pralaya, Prakriti is inert, motionless. There is Guna-Samya Avastha. The three Gunas are in a state of equilibrium or poise. She cannot dance till Lord Siva wills it. Lord Siva rises from His profound silence and begins to dance. The undifferentiated sound becomes differentiated through the vibration set up by the movements of His Damaru or drum. Sabda Brahman comes into being. The undifferentiated energy also becomes differentiated. The equipoise in the Gunas becomes disturbed. The three Gunas, Sattva, Rajas and Tamas, manifest. All the spheres, the atoms and the electrons also dance rhythmically and in an orderly manner. Atoms dance in the molecule and molecules dance in all bodies. Stars dance in time and space. Prakriti also begins to dance about Him as His glory or Vibhuti. The Prana begins to operate on Akasa or subtle matter. Various forms manifest. Hiranyagarbha or the golden egg or cosmic mind also manifests.

When the time comes, Lord Siva destroys all names and forms by fire while dancing. There is stillness again.

Nataraja of Chidambaram is the expert dancer. He has four hands. He wears the Ganga and the crescent moon on His matted locks. He holds Damaru in His right hand. He shows Abhaya Mudra to His devotees with His raised left hand. The significance is, “O devotees! Do not be afraid. I shall protect you all.” One left hand holds the fire. The other right hand points down on the Asura Muyalaka who is holding a cobra. He has raised the left foot in a beautiful manner.

The sound of the drum invites the individual soul to His feet. It represents Omkara. All the Sanskrit alphabets have come out of the play of the Damaru. Creation arises from Damaru. The hand which shows Abhaya Mudra gives protection. Destruction proceeds from fire. The raised foot indicates Maya or illusion. The hand which points down shows that His feet are the sole refuge of the individual souls. Tiruakshi represents Omkara or Pranava.

He dances quite gently. If He dances vehemently, the whole earth will sink down at once. He dances with His eyes closed, because the sparks from His eyes will consume the entire universe. The five activities of the Lord—Srishti, Sthiti, Samhara, Tirobhava and Anugraha (creation, preservation, destruction, veiling and grace)—are the dances of Siva.

Worship of Lord Siva

A devotee of Lord Siva should apply Vibhuti to the forehead and body. He should wear a Rudrakshamala. He should worship the Sivalinga with leaves of the Bilva tree. He should do Japa of the Panchakshara “Om Namah Sivaya.” He should also meditate on the Panchakshara. Lord Siva is propitiated by every one of these actions. Vibhuti or Bhasma is very sacred. It is worn by Lord Siva Himself. The bead of a Rudrakshamala represents the third eye in the forehead of Lord Siva. Bilva leaves are regarded to be one of the five abodes of Lakshmi or the Goddess of Wealth.

Japa of Panchakshara and meditation on Lord Siva should be done particularly in the Pradosha Kaala or just before sunset. The Pradosha which comes on the thirteenth Tithi after a full moon or a new moon day is known as the Mahapradosha. The Devas visit Siva temples for the worship of the Lord at this period. You can worship the Devas also if you visit temples during Mahapradosha. Devotees of Lord Siva observe full fast on Mahapradosha days.

Have special Pujas on Mondays and Mahapradosha days. These days and Maha Sivaratri are very sacred for Lord Siva. Maha Sivaratri means the great night consecrated to Lord Siva. Maha Sivaratri falls on Trayodasi or the thirteenth day of the dark fortnight of the Kumbha (Phalguna) month. The important features of this religious function are rigid fasting for twenty-four hours and sleepless vigil during the night. Every true devotee of Lord Siva spends the night of Sivaratri in deep meditation, keeps vigil, and observes fast.

Lord Siva is the God of Love. His grace is boundless. He is the Saviour and Guru. He is the Beloved of Uma. He is Satyam, Sivam, Subham, Sundaram, Kantam. He is the Supreme Light that shines in your heart.

Meditate on His form. Hear His Lilas. Repeat His Mantra Om Namah Sivaya. Study Siva Purana. Do His worship daily. Behold Him in all names and forms. He will bless you with His vision.

Related Links:
\ Lord Siva and His Worship a book by Swami Sivananda
\ Shivaratri by Swami Sivananda
\ Siva–The Mystic Night by Swami Krishnananda



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