We considered how the common man has answered the question: ‘Who is God?’ (Or, what is God?) Let us now examine the nature and antecedents of these deities on the basis of the stories put together by people. From the list of deities that we considered above, we may eliminate the Ashwatha (tree), the snake, the monkey, ‘Ammas’ and ghosts. These are third-rate, even fourth-rate deities. We do not even think of them, except occasionally. Nor do we take the nature-deities seriously. These orphaned deities, consigned to oblivion, and never worshipped, are not important. To highlight their follies- for example, the story of the amorous Indra and Ahalya – is being mean. We may also ignore ‘Chaturmukha Brahma’, who is disgraced for his act of marrying his own daughter and who frequently causes chaos and turmoil by granting foolish boons. People have only treated Him with the indifference he deserves.
All major world religions (which admit the existence of God) have visualised God only in human form. (But, the religious texts do not accept this, claiming that God created man in His own image. Even to suggest that ‘Man created God in his own image’ is blasphemy – and inexcusable). After all, when we are trying to visualize God, we ought to bestow the finest form on Him, oughtn’t we? Of course, our form is the finest and we gave it to Him! And, in order to demonstrate His superiority over us, we sanctioned Him a couple of extra heads and limbs!
Man, having ascribed to God his form, also passed on his qualities: this is only natural. Therefore, the history of gods at times quite resembles our own history. Gods have about the same shortcomings as we do. Mythological stories all over the world bear testimony to this. ‘Loki’ of the ancient Norse people is a very cunning deity; he is always waiting for an opportunity to cause harm. He got the Sun God ‘Balder’ killed (even deities must die!) by ‘Holder’, a blind deity (deities could be blind, too!).The Greek god Apollo fell in love with Cassandra and bestowed on her clairvoyance; but when she refused His love, He cursed her. Zeus, the king of the gods, took on the shape of a bull and carried away Europa. There are instances galore of wrongs inflicted on women. Even our Indra could learn a lesson or two from Zeus. Aphrodite, the Goddess of Beauty, had an affair with Ares, the God of Wars there is adultery among gods and goddesses, too!
The religions mentioned above are not practised now; when they, over time, disappeared, their deities disappeared, too. Let us leave them aside and turn to our Vishnu and Shiva once again. The number of devotees, extensive writings about Him and His incarnations, His pre-eminence – on all these counts, Vishnu ranks first among all the Gods. This assertion is not based on any census: still, it is probably true. Vishnu has had ten incarnations: he has carried the earth out of the ocean. He killed Hiranyaksha and Hiranyakashipu, Ravana and other evil-doers. He is the ‘Kapatanataka Sutradhari’ – controlling the affairs of the world. Purandaradasa has furnished evidence (such evidence as mythology provides) of His compassion – He succored Gajendra, Dhruva, Bali, Draupadi and Ahalya. All the actions listed above were meant to promote the good of the world.
His is a life of pomp and splendour, Purandaradasa says. He is the husband of the Earth Goddess and the Goddess of Wealth. He lies on Adishesha, wafted on the waves of the Ocean of Milk. His consort is Lakshmi. (The word ‘Lakshmi’ also means serenity and wealth.) She adorns His chest. He is resplendent in yellow robes and gem-studded crown and other jewels. Garuda who flies high in the sky carries Him; as Narasimha, He saved Prahlada; as Sri Rama, He obeyed His father unquestioningly. He succoured those who surrendered to Him and punished the evil-doers: as Krishna, He is the Preacher of the Gita and He is the Yogeshwara. In addition, He tasted earthly joys to the fullest. As Krishna, He had eight wives- readers might be flabbergasted if the figure of sixteen thousand is recalled (this figure also has been mentioned). He loves music: He held spellbound with the music of His flute not only the Gopis, not only bird and beast, but the lifeless Yamuna. He is the Master Dancer – ‘rasaleela’ bears testimony to this. He is the Master Diplomat, too – He was chosen to steer the negotiations with the Kauravas. Let us have a look at one or two stories connected with this sublime figure. First, there is the story of Brinda. Her husband Jalandhara was an evil fellow. He had evil desires on Paravathi. He had to be killed, for the good of the world. But, Brinda’s chastity shielded him (goodness shielded evil). This difficulty could be surmounted only by robbing Brinda of her chastity. So, Vishnu went to her in the guise of Jalandhara and ravished her. Jalandhara could then be killed. When Brinda realized that she had been deceived, she cursed Vishnu and threw herself into the fire.
I was 15 or 16 years old when I first heard this story, and it disgusted me even then. This is what one can say in defense of Vishnu’s conduct:
- He did not ravish Brinda’s modesty out of lust; it is out of a sense of duty and for the good of the world.
- He had sympathy and respect for Brinda. Therefore, He bestowed on her immortality in the form of Tulasi, and also the boon of eternal worship. The worship goes on, even today.
- However laudable the ends may be, should not the means to achieve these ends be as good? The argument that the ends justify the means is perverse. Could Vishnu, who claims to be acting for the good of the world, set such a bad precedent?
- Irrespective of Vishnu’s intentions, was not Brinda made to suffer injustice?
- Could not the omniscient and omnipotent Vishnu think of a better and more morally right way?
- The premise in the story is that it was not possible to ‘eliminate Jalandhara, except by outraging the modesty of Brinda. Was her modesty really violated? She had, throughout, believed she was making love with her husband. Her love, therefore, was meant for her husband. In fact, it is Vishnu who emerges in a poor light from this story, not Brinda.
- What did Brinda gain from the boon of eternal worship? A noble person like her probably never desired to be worshipped by others!
There are innumerable stories concerning Krishna, an incarnation of Vishnu. Snatching the clothes of the Gopis, ‘rasa kreede’ and the love affair with Radha are some of these. Once, when young girls approached Him, Krishna is believed to have sent them away after properly counselling them. But when they came back to Him after a while Krishna, it is said, satisfied their craving. The argument that the only way to deal with the desire for sex is to satisfy it is not new to me. But, I also know of a verse in the Mahabharata which contradicts this argument:
Na jatu kamaha kamanam upabhogena shyamyati
Havisha krishnavarthmeva bhuya evebhivardhate
(Lust cannot be quenched by enjoyment. It will only flare up, more fiercely, just as flames leap up with the addition of oil.)
Radha, we are told, was a married woman. But, that did not come in the way of her affair with Krishna.
The stories concerning Shiva are fewer. Or, it may be that I am not aware of all of them. The ones I know are sufficient for our purposes here. We have just seen that Vishnu lives an ostentatious life. But, the life of Shiva looks more or less beggarly, let alone being luxurious. There is the ‘kasturi tilaka’ on Vishnu’s forehead; but, on Shiva’s forehead and on the rest of His body, there is only ash. While there is ‘kausthubha’ on Vishnu’s chest, there is ‘rudrakshi maale’ around Shiva’s neck. Vishnu wears a crown on His head while there is only matted hair on Shiva’s head. Vishunu can boast of ‘Vaijayanthi’ while Shiva has the awful ‘Rundamaale’ (garland of skulls). Shiva wears a piece of hide around His waist, not yellow robes. He does not float on the ‘Ksheerasaagara’ (Ocean of Milk), but lives in the cremation ground!
When it is said that ‘Lakshmi dwells in Vishnu’s heart’, one gets the feeling that they are two different persons and their love has brought them close together. Taking Lakshmi to symbolize compassion, one would believe that Vishnu’s heart is full of compassion. But Shiva is ‘Ardhanareeshwara’ (half man and half woman) and, as Kalidasa describes, he possesses a ‘kantha sammishradeha’. Shiva and Parvathi are not two separate persons – that is, the male and female principles are not different from each other. One completes the other. This is a more sublime and meaningful concept than the concept of the proximity of Vishnu and Lakshmi. Shiva cannot exist without Paravathi – He is only a half person. Similarly, Paravathi has no independent existence either, for, without Shiva, she too is only a half person. They are like the word and its meaning – inseparable. Again, in Kalidasa’s words, they are ‘Vaagaarthaavivasamprikthau’ – they are one like word and meaning.
Vishnu symbolizes a rich and complete life. His boyhood and youth have all that go into the making of a rich life – the joy that our little children bring us, the enchantment of sexuality in youth, the attraction of the arts, music and dance and amorous discourse. But, during Krishna’s middle age, the rigours of life, and the resolve to fight injustice, ignorance, cruelty and selfishness predominate, and art recedes. In the Mahabharata, we do not see Him playing His flute! Life comprehends friendship, love and supreme sacrifices for the sake of ideals; and the same life comprehends selfishness, greed, arrogance of power, cruelty and misery. Man is caught and sinking in the vortex of· these opposing forces and, in the Mahabharata, Krishna leads to the safe shore. The Bhagavadgita is the fruit of his experience. Krishna, an incarnation of Vishnu, symbolizes all this. His is the way of action, of involvement in life. That is, the way of conquering life and experiencing it fully.
Shiva’s is the way of renunciation, of withdrawal. In the life of Krishna, it is Krishna’s ‘balaleele’ (his sport as a boy), the melody of his flute and ‘raasa kreede’ that first come to one’s mind. At the mention of Shiva’s name, it is ‘Kaamadahana’, the burning of Kama, that comes to our mind first. Uma, Himavantha’s daughter, (she was Daksha’s daughter in her previous life) was rendering service to Shiva to win him over. Shiva, who was lost in ‘tapas’, did not yield to her loveliness. But, because of Manmatha’s arrows, Shiva’s mind was disturbed for a while. He opened his eyes, to see why this had happened and saw Manmatha. Enraged, He burnt Manmatha to ashes with the fire of His third eye in his forehead. Parvathi, realizing that her physical charms had failed, began ‘tapas’. So, when she rejected physical beauty and attained inner beauty, Shiva loved her and married her. Vishnu’s is the glory of riches, Shiva’s the glory of restraint.
Let us recall another story about Shiva, who is the conqueror of sexual attraction and the master of restraint. Gods and demons churned the ocean, didn’t they? Vishnu, with a view to denying the elixir to the demons, appeared in disguise as Mohini. The elixir was distributed to the Gods. But Shiva, overcome by the beauty of Mohini, pursued her and violated her honour. Thus was born our Ayyappa alias Shastha, who has settled down in Shabarimalai of Kerala. He has millions of devotees.
In our old MysoreState, perhaps there were not even a handful of Ayyappa devotees. Now, there are thousands of them. But it does not seem to have occurred to anyone of them that the story of Ayyappa’s birth is absolutely ridiculous. Would Shiva, who burnt Manmatha to ashes, and who did not yield even to the angelic beauty of Parvathi, pursue Mohini, like a road-side Romeo? Could he not know that ‘Mohini’ was really not a woman but Vishnu in disguise? And when chased by Shiva, Vishnu could have immediately shown His true form! Even educated people of this century do not ask such questions; with their all-night ‘bhajans’, they make a nuisance of themselves to the neighbours: and, in their black attire (I do not know why it is black), go on piligrimage to Shabarimalai. .
 Since all human beings are believed to have been created by Brahma, if Brahma marries at all, marrying His own daughter is His inescapable destiny! No matter whom he marries, she is his daughter!
 It is pointless to discuss (in this context), the textual basis for these stories. Interpreters (‘Harikathe’ Dasas) and many others would have generously added their own contributions to the original. Quite often, there is no textual basis at all. Presently, what is of importance to us is this: the wide variety of beliefs among people about God.
 Variant Reading: He could not catch Mohini