Nov 15 2009: The students began the section by describing what they think God is or about God. The summary of opinions are:

God is…

– omnipotent, omnipresent and omniscient.

– who has superior intelligence of everything

– the Creator who created everything

– removes evil and establishes good

– Protector, who comes to protect

– avataar; different Gods but underlying God is one

– G.O.D (Generation, Operation or protection and Dissolution): Brahma, Vishnu and Shiv

Nov 22 2009: Discussion of the above characters or opinions of God. Then the teaching material started based on Hindu Dharma book for reference and other sources.

Are there 330 million (33 crores) of Gods in Hindu religion?

No, there are not. Europeans translated the word ‘Koti’ as ‘a crore’ or 10 million according to the common usage. The other meaning of the word ‘Koti’ in vedas is ‘class, category, type, kind, group’.

Brihadyaranyaka Upanishad, one of the earliest upanishads, describe vedic gods as 33 in number: 8 vasu-s including Agni, 12 adityaas-s including Surya, 11 rudra-s, Indra and Prajapathi (specific reference will be added). There may be minor variations in the count, but the total of 33 is held to good. These ‘Gods’ are considered to be functional and operations aspects of the underlying Reality, Brahman.

Trimurthi or Three Forms – Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva – are the results of a multi-pronged evolution and refinement of perception of Brahman and vedic Gods after Vedic period. For example, the characters of 11 rudras are attributed to Shiv in later Vedic works onwards, starting from Yajur veda. Vishnu of Rig Veda is synonymous with Naaraayana or Hari of Yajur veda and subsequent works. The All Pervading Aspect of Brahman is termed as Vishnu. Prajapathi of Rig veda, also called as Brahmanaspathi – the creative dynamics of Brahman, is the puranic Brahma. These three vedic Devathaa-s are later worshiped as the three Forms or Trimurthi-s.

Vedic Devas or Devathaa-s

You can also read Six Modes of Worship after this section.

The vedic sanskrit words devaa and devathaa-s may have evolved from an older Indo-European language. Similar words in other ancient languages share same root like Dyeus, dheus which meant “Light Bodied”. This is the description of Gods in now-extinct Greek religion.

Rig Veda, the first recorded scriptural work of Hinduism, talks about 33 major and many other male and female Devathaa-s. All the Rik-s are revelations to the sages/seers or Rishis/Dhrishtaa-s whose names are recorded to each of the sukta-s or hymnal collection of rik-s. The seers perceived the Divine forms in action. The Devathaa-s of Rig Veda are the Dynamic aspects of Brahman. They are not anthropocentric derivations as in Greek mythology. Instead, the vedic Devathaa-s are anthropomorphic: Brahman’s Dynamics centered in Personalities perceivable to higher realms of human consciousness in human forms. In contrast, the mythological figures develop and evolve in human imagination and attributed with super-human powers. Vedic devathaa-s are Forms of One Divine imbued with specific Cosmic Powers; they are multiple vibhuthi-s of One Brahman.

One of the earliest verses in the First Mandala of Rig veda (RV 1.164.46) expounds this as:

Indram Mitram Varunam agni maahurat ho Divyah Sa Suparno Garutmaan

Ekam Sat Vipra Bahudha Vadanti Agnim Yamam Maatarisvaan amaahuh

Gods are said to be Indra, Mitra, Varuna, Agni, Marut, Garutman, Maatarisvaan..

The Reality is One but the learned call It by various names.

In the tenth mandala’s Viswakarma sukta (RV 10.82.3), it is said: The name-giver of the gods is one; other beings come to him to inquire. (Credit for the translation of this verse: this taken from one of the writings of Swami Tattwamayananda of Sri Ramakrishna Mission)

Thus, while Zeus, Apollo, Hades etc. of Greek mythology have superhuman powers but hadjust human forms and mindsets, Rig Vedic Indra, Varuna, Vaayu are not such human-like beings. They are the dynamic Forms of Brahman’s functional aspects. Rishi-s describe the functions of the Gods but they are not the ones who bring those Gods into existence like an author does in a literary work or a sculptor does from a stone or metal. Rishi-s are the primary perceivers orseers of these Devathaa-s but not their progenitors.

In other words, Rig vedic revelation of the Divine Forms and Secrets is always an intuitive process for the seers reaching higher realms of consciousness. This is anything but similar to how gods or super-human personalities come into existence in many mythological literature from other religious groups, both extinct and extant.