A study of Hinduism today is daunting. It is complex, requires great study and must be carefully worded (to avoid ruffling feathers, many of which are just waiting to be ruffled). This is my attempt at understanding a small part of this vast domain.
Any crash course on Hindu Gods will star Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. All of our many Gods are but relatively few. Bengal worships the Devi, Andhra Vishnu. Tamils pray Murugan and Marathas Ganpati. Kerala and Gujarat both venerate the Devi and Krishna alternately. The north calls for Ram and Hanuman. The first ladies of the holy trinity command their own following. A lot of minor Gods and Goddesses find their place in the Indian fabric. Groups of people hold allegiance to one particular God. And yet classical antiquity calls for 330 million Gods. And we rise to the occasion, praying to different entities for each of our needs. Hindu heaven has a neat organizational structure, where each deity is assigned to fulfill specific wants. In the seemingly sterile corporate fabric are hidden relationships. All Gods are related. Spouses, siblings, progeny and ancestors, all relentlessly conspiring in endless cycles of karma and dharma, running India itself, one might suppose. Hinduism has been around for a long time and has undergone several transitions. Scholars grapple with Vedic Hinduism, Bhakti traditions, Medieval Hinduism and even Post-modern Hinduism. Being a Hindu is confusing. Casteism brought its own ways and dikats to worship Gods, language and geography interfered and so today a nation of a billion worships billion Gods in billion ways.
What does an ex-Soviet state, straddling the Caucasus have to do with Hinduism? The birthplace of Hinduism if one might take the liberty to pin down something to that effect, is somewhere on the shores of the Caspian near Baku, Azerbaijan. Spontaneous flames on water and land due to subterranean oil gave birth to fire worship. A few thousand kilometers to the southeast the same race of people lived along a river, the Saraswati or the Haraxwati as the ancient Persians called it.
Ancient Vedic Hinduism had much in common with Zoroastrianism, and the two are purported to have a common ancestry. Several Gods freely flowed across faiths till time and distance pinned them down to a particular religion. And thus began Hinduism. Shrouded in exotic names, birthed in the cold north and rooted in the sub continent. The Asuras were conceived then as powerful entities prone to swift retributions. Agni commanded respect and fire worship is a central part of praying today and the Rig Veda is chanted with a devotion that preserves earlier nuances but whose meanings are lost. So did elemental water and the Sky. Mitra was Sun God and a mediator. Varuna controlled rta* and was de facto head of the fledgling pantheon. Dyaus Pitr (Sanskrit Dhyavaprithvi, Greek Zeus, Slavic Div and Norse Thor) was sky father. Wedded to Prithvi earth Goddess, parents to Indra and Agni. Varuna, Indra, Soma, Agni, Surya/Mitra. These were the Gods we began with. The Rig Veda mentions each one in detail, with dedicated hymns and books. Soma was a complex entity; wine, moon and herb. Sharanya was Surya’s wife, the Goddess of clouds and mother to Shani, Manu and Yama. Deities that were the rage then are passé today. Simple elements gave rise to complex hierarchies and a pantheon was in the making. Later times saw the rise of Rudra and Sati. The Devas were projected as protagonists, the Asuras vilified and the Gods as we know them today came into the forefront. Hinduism was on its way.
Time and the mingling of different peoples and cultures shaped several aspects of the religion, resulting in the way we pray today. All religions have a history. Hinduism does too. The future is what will be interesting.
Means the ‘order or course of things’. rta was why trees grew, seasons changed, water flowed and the sun rose. Anyone who controlled rta effectively held the universe in their hands.