11.4. The symbolism
For instance, Vedanta says pure consciousness is the substratum on which māyā, its creative energy, manifests. Purāna presents consciousness as Shiva as lying on a couch and presents Maya/ energy as a goddess sitting over Shiva. The philosophical concepts consciousness (chit) and creative power (śakti) are allegorically shown as male and female deities.
11.5. The story of Elimination of Desire
A popular tale about the marriage of Shiva and Parvati has an episode about Shiva turning Kama (Indian version of Cupid) to ashes by his angry looks blazing fire. Shiva has a third eye on his forehead, symbolizing knowledge. In the story, gods stand vanquished by the demons and are looking for some strategy to regain their kingdom. They are told by the creator god that the son born to Shiva and Parvati would be able to destroy the demon king. But Shiva is in deep meditation and would not be disturbed for several ages. The gods have to disturb his meditation and ensure that he gets married. They find a lovely bride, Parvati, who also falls in love with Shiva, and starts serving him, though Shiva takes no notice of her. The gods plan to do so by sending Kama, otherwise called Manmatha (literally, one who churns the mind). When Kama disturbs Shiva by shooting his flower arrows and draws his attention to lovely Parvati, Shiva grows angry and looks around for the cause of such disturbance. He sees Kama, the culprit and opens his third eye, and the flames emanating from that eye burn Kama to ashes.
The symbolism is clear. The fire of knowledge kills Kama, which, in Sanskrit means desire and lustfulness. This is the message of Gita too. Action without desire, performed for universal good is the karma yoga. In the present tale, a combination of knowledge (Shiva) and action (śakti) without desire (Kama) is shown as producing a child who has the power of restoring the good forces, in other words, gods. This is what is advised to the newlyweds too. Love, not lust, should play the major role in order to have children with good character.
Most of the characters in the purāna-s have names which symbolize some human folly such as arrogance, avarice, cruelty, rapaciousness, lust and so on. When these demons are shown as being killed by the deities, we have to understand that the particular folly is cured and not that the God is fond of killing. Bhagavat Purāna is a book where almost all characters are allegorical representations of human characteristics.
11.6. The happy boy prahlada
We know the story of the boy Prahlada who was tormented by his father Hiranya-kasipu, the demon king. Hiranya-kasipu means the man on a golden mattress and Prahlada means one enjoying the bliss of Brahman. The earlier story goes that two attendants Jaya and Vijaya, who served Lord Vishnu, got a curse when they behaved arrogantly with sages. They were cursed to go to earth forever, leaving Vishnu’s abode. When they repented, Vishnu gave them the option that they would return to heaven if they take three births as demons and after their arrogance was destroyed by Vishnu they would come back to heaven. Accordingly they took birth and one of them is Hiranyakasipu, who represents greed, avarice and arrogance of wealth. He is unaware of his earlier heavenly status, and hence defies Lord Vishnu, (representing the cosmic dharma) and decrees that all gods and demons should worship him. His son Prahlada, a devotee of Vishnu, does not do so. The demon king grows angry and starts tormenting Prahlada. Finally he has to be vanquished by Vishnu who comes in the avatar of Nrisimha, the lion-man, to save his devotee Prahlada. Here too, the symbolism is clear. Greed and arrogance of power do not coexist with the bliss of Brahman. Hiranyakasipu merges in the Lord and attains liberation.
11.7. The buffalo Demon
Another popular story is that of the Mahishasura, the buffalo demon. He is the personification of cruelty, lust and ignorance. Goddess Durga is shown as killing him in the text Devi Bhagavatam. It is the abominable qualities which are being ‘killed’ and not a person and hence we should not construe that the goddess is fond of killing. It is a long allegorical tale where the subalterns of the demon king are vanquished by the attendants of the goddess and finally the goddess ‘kills’ him.
The slaying of the demon Vritra by Indra, the king of gods is a Vedic story. The word Vritra means that which envelopes or covers a thing. It symbolizes ignorance because ignorance envelopes our right understanding and makes us perceive things wrongly. The gods were once over powered by Vritra. A sage named Dadhichi sacrifices himself and offers his back bone (the vertebral column) as a weapon to be used against Vritra. Back bone symbolizes a nerve named sushumna passing through that and that symbolizes the kundalini energy. This is the yogic power which the yogi-s yearn for. Indra slays the demon with the weapon acquired from the sage.
Another symbolic story is that of the demon king Bali. As the name indicates, he is one with enormous strength, both physical and spiritual. However, he is arrogant about his powers. His sense of egotism and defines of gods (the good forces of the world) is his flaw. As he is a mighty demon he defeats the gods and drives them away from heaven. The gods approach Vishnu to restore the kingdom to gods. Vishnu appears in the form of a boy sage Vamana and approaches Bali who happened to be do- ing a yajña. It is customary for the kings to grant boons to sages at the time of yajña. Vamana makes a strange request and seeks space measuring three foot lengths. The king grants according- ly. Vamana then grows in size, occupies the whole universe and covers the whole earth (which was earlier lorded by Bali) with one foot, covers the whole heavenly worlds (which were also conquered by Bali) with another foot. He needs space to put his foot again and finds no space. Bali realizes that the visitor was Vishnu and suggests to Vamana to keep his foot on his head. Vishnu places his foot on the head of Bali. There are several long chapters in Bhagavatam, relating the above story. The symbolism is also explained there. Bali symbolizes egotism. Vedanta says that the individual self (jīva)is a mere reflection of the Brahman consciousness and it is by sheer ignorance that jīvaassumes his self to be the doer. This sense of ownership in action has to be eliminated and that is the moral of the story.
11.8. The Weapons of Gods
In almost all stories the gods and demons do have weapons like swords, bows, arrows, maces and such others. Even these symbolize certain human characteristics. For instance, the weapons of Vishnu are described in a few verses in the Bhagavatam (Book 12- chapter 11). The name Vishnu means ‘all pervading’ entity. The life force in the universe is said to be the mace of Vishnu and this is said to symbolize the intellect in the humans. The waters (one of the five elements) is said to be the conch and this is said to symbolize the ego principle in the living beings. The fire element becomes the circular disc weapon in the hand of Vishnu and this is said to symbolize the mind in living beings. While offering prayers to Vishnu, the devotees mention this symbolism and recite mantras saying – ‘we bow to the disc symbolizing the speed of mind, we bow to the conch symbolizing ego’ and so on.
When Vishnu took the avatāra of Rama, his weapons the conch and the disc took birth as Rama’s two younger brothers. The snake god on which Vishnu reclines took birth as Lakshmana.
In the thousand names of Lalita, the weapons are described in the very beginning. Sometimes, the symbolism is explained by the text itself, as it is done here. The names say – rāgasvarūpa pāśāḍhyā krodhākārāṅkuśojvalā – which means that desire is the snare which the goddess has in one hand and anger is the spur, the sharp iron prod (which controls the elephant) in another hand. It means that desire is permitted to a limited extent and anger (which is associated with knowledge) controls the desire.
The goddess has two more weapons – bow and arrows. The sugar cane bow represents mind (manorūpekṣu kodanḍā). Like the sugar cane, it is filled with savory juice presented by the five senses. The five flowery arrows represent the five senses(pañcatanmātra sāyakā) which go after all beautiful things we see. This is a hymn on Lalita, the Goddess (representing māyā) that we see in a purāna. Millions of people, perhaps recite this every day, little realizing the philosophical meaning, but feeling extremely rewarded by the prayer itself. Lalita is praised here as the deity who would fulfill desires and also as the Supreme Being.
Stories relating to all deities indicate that the so called weapons are not actually weapons but some of the characteristics associated with the cosmic being, whether it is called Vishnu, Shiva, Ganesha or any other name.
Such tales abound in our purāna-s.
Some purāna-s extol Vishnu as the Supreme Being, some extol Shiva as the Supreme Being and some others extol Shakti, Ganesha and others as Supreme Being. This should not be taken as a serious contradiction because these could have been composed by supporters of the respective sects. (Tradition has it that it was sage Vyasa alone who composed all the eighteen purāna-s, to bring together different belief systems. Some moderns say that the name Vyasa was more a title than reference to a single person.) These could have originated in different parts of the country where that particular tradition or sect was prevalent. However, we see that all these broadly follow the philosophical framework of Vedanta, while presenting various characters and stories in their narrative.
11.9. no concept of Devil in hinduism
In order to explain the evil in the world, religions normally portray God as representing good and devil representing evil, as polar opposites. God throws the devil and his team into hell.
We do not have the concept of devil in Hinduism. If we accept devil as distinguished from God, God would be a delimited entity howsoever powerful he may be. God will be in heaven and the devil will be reigning in hell and there will be constant tussle between God and devil.
We noted that there are three guna-s, sattva, rajas and tamas in māyā, the power of revelation that is in the Brahman. This power is otherwise called ‘prakriti’. What we call bad or evil is a product of these guna-s only and it gets resolved by the cosmic design of an avatāra which is the means to restore the balance among the guna-s and restore dharma in the universe.
Gita says that whenever there is ascendance of evil and suppression of the good, the cosmic being manifests in some form to restore order and protect the good (Gita 4-7 & 8). The commentators have explained that the cosmic being takes birth with the power of māyā and this birth is not like the birth of all other humans, though the activities of thisavatāra will closely resemble the activities of humans. Lord Rama and Lord Krishna are examples of this.
There is an interesting discussion in Bhagavatam (1st chapter, 7th canto) between sage Suka and king Parikshit. “How can God have enmity with the demons, when He is supposed to be equally kind to all?” questions the king. The sage replies that in reality, the Supreme Being is above all this. It is the māyā which is a manifestation in the Supreme Being, and what we see as evil is only an interplay of the three guna-s. The empirical god, whom we call the creator is but consciousness delimited by māyā. When there is upsurge of tamas, it is the cosmic design to control it by unleashing the sattva guna. Thus the empirical god appears as though he is the vanquisher and the vanquished (Bhagavatam 7-1-6).
That is why it is seen that the demons vanquished by the God merge in the same cosmic being. The same text in Bhagavatam gives examples of demons and other evil persons who were killed by different avatars of Vishnu and how they merged in the same avatar-person after they got killed. Hiranya-kasipu, the demon king merges in the avatar of Nrisimha (the man-lion), and Sisupala, the evil king merges in the avatar-person Krishna. It means that evil is something which gets subsumed in the cosmic being.
Good and evil cannot be different from the cosmic being, as they are manifestations in the same consciousness. The Supreme Consciousness is untouched by all this.
11.10. Distorted presentation of hindu culture
Parents generally are not aware of this subtle but pervasive phenomenon.
In 5.2 we saw sage Vyasa explaining the framework of itihāsa and purāna. They were designed to convey the complicated message of the Vedas to the lay devotee in terms of understandable tales.
Some of the Western writers, followed by the Indian communists, have deliberately ignored the ancient commentaries and also the framework in which these texts have to be understood. Some have given racist interpretations with an intention to divide the Indian society (for political or evangelical reasons) and some others have superimposed the western ideas of abnormal psychology which are alien to Indian psyche and culture. It is a grave hurt to the sentiments of millions of Hindus to say that Ganesha had a lustful eye on his mother Parvati or that Lakshman in Ramayana had lusted for Sita (as Paul Courtright says).
These writers have chosen to take purāna-s as the primary texts, though it is not the Vedic scheme of things. Purāna-s have to be studied in the light of philosophical perspective of the Upanishads but not from any anthropological or racist perspective as some of the modern writers, ignorant of the philosophical tradition, have done.