Why do Hindus have so many gods? And why do some of them have the faces of animals? What is their significance?

Most Hindus believe in one, all-pervasive Divine Reality, that is formless (Brahman) or manifests and is worshiped in different forms (Ishvara or God/Goddess).  This belief in the existence of one Divine Reality with diverse manifestations can best be described as monism.  Hindu monism is the foundation for understandings of God that range from non-dualistic – that existence and the Divine are not separate, but one and the same, to dualistic – that existence and the Divine, while sharing divine qualities, are separate. Hinduism also encompasses theologies of pantheism, that all of existence is Divine, to panentheistism, that all of existence is within the Divine, to a theology of the Divine being external to all of existence.

The Sanskrit hymn, Rig Veda I.164.46:

Ekam sat vipraha bahudha vadanti

Truth is one, the wise call it by many names.

And just as Hindus believe that Truth is one, called by many names, so too is God called by many names.

Because Hinduism teaches that all of nature is Divine, Hindus believe that God manifests in the various forms that are found in nature, including animals, rivers, mountains, and earth.  For example, Ganesha, the Remover of Obstacles, is depicted with an elephant head, which symbolizes wisdom, as elephants are recognized to be among the wisest of animals. Hanuman, worshiped as the perfect devotee and depicted as a monkey, symbolizes the individual’s ability to quiet the ever-racing human mind through loving devotion to God and selfless service.

 

Thank you, Padma Kuppa, for answering this weeks question! To learn more about Padma, please click here.

From the Hindu American Foundation website