Saturday, September 10, 2011

The God next door

Vishnu: Hinduism’s
Editor: Joan Cummins
Rs 3,500; Pp 296

A little-known fact about Hindu religious practices is that no priest can possibly start any ritual worship of any deity without invoking Vishnu or his hallowed memory. Even when the priest, irrespective of the school to which he belongs, worships the other two members of the Hindu Trinity of Gods — Brahma, the Creator, and Shiva, the Destroyer — he has to start the process by paying obeisance to Vishnu. There seems to be no getting away from Vishnu, the Preserver, or the one who maintains order and balance in the cosmos by means that are both violent and peaceful. Such is the primordial importance conferred on Vishnu by those who wrote the Hindu religious scriptures.

The importance of Vishnu in the Hindu way of life arises for another reason. Of the three members of the Trinity, Vishnu appears to be the most real, infinitely more human, more balanced, present in many more forms and incarnations than the other two, and certainly better understood by most practitioners of the Hindu religion over the ages.

Brahma is the most remote of them all. You can count the number of temples at which you can worship Brahma. Shiva is more popular, but his bohemian way of life and mercurial behaviour inspire awe and fear, and do not make him easily acceptable. Therefore, Shiva remains a distant God. In sharp contrast, Vishnu is the God next door, manifesting all the qualities including the virtues and the minor foibles that a Hindu householder has no qualms in identifying with. He is like the Shakespearean tragic hero — who does not hold an ordinary position in life, but whose hubris helps ordinary folk empathise with him. For Shiva, there is reverence and fear. For Vishnu, there is reverence, but hardly any fear. In addition, there is affection and empathy.

Full report here Business Standard 

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