God in Hindu Religion
Hindu religion is considered as the ‘oldest living religion’ in the world. The exact age of origin of the Hindu religion is still on debate. It is not a religion in the Western sense, founded by a single teacher or prophet. Hinduism neither has a single doctrine nor a single religious text. Hindu religion covers a wide variety of beliefs, traditions, and texts under its vast umbrella. Rather than a religion, Hinduism is better defined as a religious tradition. And hence the concept of god is so difficult to understand from outside the Hindu religious sphere.
Before going deep into the concept of god in the Hindu religion, it would be better to understand the approximate gestation period of the religion and social psychology of humans of at that time. Early humans were scared of natural forces like a forest fire, heavy rain, thunder and lightning, and strong winds. Their helplessness brought them to the point where they worshipped the natural forces and begged for their mercy. Eventually, they personified natural forces as their gods. They worshipped the gods by showing their respect and fear, and offering whatever they had or gathered.
Hinduism dates back to the bronze aged Indus- Valley Civilization.
The Rig Veda composed at this time is the first religious text of Hinduism. Rig Veda is a collection of prayers attributed to Agni (fire), Vayu (wind), Indra (lightning), Surya (sun), and the like.
I laud Agni, the chosen Priest, God, minister of sacrifice,
The hotar, most lavish of wealth.
Worthy is Agni to be praised by living as by ancient seers,
He shall bring, hitherward the Gods.
(Rig Veda, Book1, Hymn 1- Agni Translation: Ralph T.H. Griffith)
It is obvious from the Vedic hymn that the first Vedic concept of god was the personification of natural forces. This is because the Indus- Valley people and the Aryans were mainly farmers and herdsmen. The livelihood based on agriculture and cattle largely depends on the mercy and cruelty of natural forces. Later apart from natural forces more and more gods were added on to the initial collection.
The Vedas are followed by other texts like the Brahmanakas, Aranyakas, and Upanishads. When the civilization reached to Upanishad’s time, the concept of god changed drastically. The Polytheistic god concept of Rig Veda changed to monotheistic (pantheistic?)Supreme Spirit, the Brahman of Upanishad. The different gods described in Vedas became the different aspects of the one and only universal soul.
When the religion reached to the era of Puranas and Epics, a paradigm shift in the concept of god had happened. The major and powerful gods of Vedas were demoted and outrun by new gods, except Prajapati, Rudra, and Indra. The Brahma of later Purana can be considered the modified form of Prajapati of Vedas. Rudra metamorphosed to more refined and more powerful Shiva and Indra lost his supreme authority but still could maintain the designation as king of the gods. Many minor gods could not make their exodus from the old pages of Veda to the new pages of Puranas and Epics. A huge number of new gods and semi-gods or lower grade gods were added on to the list. Westerners are still stunned to know the 330 million gods found in various Hindu traditions.
The concept of the trinity can be noticed in Puranas, Epic and later religious texts. Brahma became the god of creation, Vishnu the god of preservation and Shiva the god of destruction. Hundreds of more gods were created to perform different duties. Goddess Saraswathy represents the knowledge, goddess Lakshmi represents wealth and god Ganesha is worshipped for removing the obstacles in the path of life.
The Bhagat Gita solace prince Arjuna (and us) with the one and only Supreme Spirit concept of god.
Bhagat Gita is the spiritual teachings of god Krishna on the eve of the great war of Kurukshetra. Krishna reiterates the Upanishad concept of god by explaining that different gods are in fact the different aspects of the one and only Supreme Spirit. But Krishna claims himself to be the Supreme Spirit and shows his Vishwarup (the cosmic body) to Arjuna.
Apart from the gods, there exist Avatars (incarnations).
As Krishna says in Bhagavat Gita, whenever truth declines on earth, god will incarnate in human form to help the righteous men and punish the sinners. Krishna says:
Whenever righteousness declines
And unrighteousness increases,
I incarnate myself as a human;
To deliver the holy,
To destroy the sin of the sinner,
To establish righteousness.
I come into being from age to age.
The present-day concept of god depends on the school of Hindu philosophy. Hinduism has six major schools of philosophy.
Nyaya Vaisheshika Samkhya Yoga Puyva mimamsa Uttara mimamsa (Vedanta)
Vedanta is the most well-known school of philosophy and has further subdivisions based on the concept of Brahman.
Advaita (non- duelism) which considers Brahman and Atman are identical and indistinct. Dvaita (duelism) which consider Brahman as personified Supreme Being separate from Atman (soul) and matter.
Some Hindus consider Vishnu as the Supreme Spirit and they belong to the Vaishnavism sect and those who consider the Supreme Spirit as Shiva belong to Shaivism sect. Saktists are Hindus who believe the Mother Goddess as Supreme Spirit.