Wisdom from Sri Sri Ravi Shankar is one of the Official Blogs of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. Visit to read question and answers by Sri Sri here.
Why do we have so many Gods in Hinduism?
Do you know how many chromosomes there are in your body in total? Have you ever wondered how one cell develops into this very complex body? It is because it is programmed to do so, but it is just one cell. If you go to a pastry shop, how many types of pastries are available there? Many, or is there just one pastry? Why? It is because the nature of the spirit is to love diversity. If God wanted you to have only one kind of fruit, he would have made only bananas and asked everyone to eat and go bananas! But no, the Divine loves diversity. Consciousness loves diversity. With the same wheat, we make so many types of pastries. Similarly, there are so many types of pizzas and pastas. With rice, we make rice cakes, dim sums, pulao, and so many things. Why? Because nature loves diversity! Do you think God, who loves diversity, will come in just one form every day? That God would also love to express himself or herself in diverse ways. This is what the ancient people in the Vedic times, the Hindus, thought. God loves diversity, so he can express himself in as many forms as he could, so 108 names and 108 forms or 1008 names and 1008 forms were expressed, but there is only one material – Divinity. So, just like that, is the sun's rays one or many? There is only one sun, but when its rays passes through the prism, it splits into seven colors – VIBGYOR. Similarly, they say, there is one Param Atma, or Para Brahman, one divinity, but it expresses itself in many different ways.
If you go to a Catholic church, there is an altar for mercy, and an altar for healing, isn’t it? It is the same Mother Mary and the same Jesus Christ, but are there not many altars? This is present in old churches. Why have they kept so many. For different purposes! Similarly, in this room, the chairs, tables, doors, and podium are all made of wood. But you cannot use the podium as the floor and nor can you use the door as a chair. So, for functional usage, they are different. In the same way, in Hindu tradition, it is said, 'Ekam Sat Vipra Bahudha Vadanti' – there is only one God, but it is perceived in many forms for different purposes. So, if you find obstacles, you go to Ganesha, the elephant God. You know, elephants never change their route if there are any obstacles. It never deviates from its path – never walks like a chicken. It walks with strength, so if you have obstacles, you go to Ganesha because that energy will help you in the difficulty you are currently having.
You know, one single human DNA strand contains the genetic code of all the other animals on the planet. With one human DNA strand, you can create any animal on the planet, but not vice-versa (laughter). That means, inside you, all these vibes are already present. So, our ancients, I tell you, were tremendously intelligent. I have made a small booklet on the symbolism of all these Gods and Goddesses. Just read it. It is mind-boggling and fascinating. How could they put such a big elephant on a small rat? (Lord Ganesha and his vahana – the mouse) Any child would ask this question. And what does a rat symbolize? It symbolizes logic. The job of a rat is to cut the net – this is logic. On logic rides the power of knowledge, which is the elephant. Similarly, Mother Divine is riding on the tiger. The tiger is the most brutal animal, so its cruelty on one hand, and the softness of the Mother on the other hand that are seen together for us to appreciate how opposite values complement each other. When compassion reigns over cruelty—when compassion is in control of the beast tendency—what reigns is motherhood. You can conquer cruelty not with another cruelty but with motherhood, with patience, with love. That’s the symbolism of Mother Divine riding on the tiger or lion. Lion is the most powerful. Whenever society seems powerful and cruel, remember there is a compassionate element that is much more powerful and which rides on top of it. This is what the goddess being carried by a lion or tiger signifies. So, if you go to the depth of it, you find each of the symbolisms startling and greatly beneficial.