The myth of Polytheism

The second great stumbling stock for western (and unfortunately many Indian) historians when they write Indian history is the myth of polytheism.

Throughout its long history, the concept of dharma, or the universal Law, gave such a freedom to Indians that all kind of branches and sects developed within Hinduism, which sometimes even went against each other. Indeed, Hinduism was never static, it never barred its followers from experimenting new techniques and spiritual paths : everything that helps you on the way is dharmic. It is this fundamental principle which allowed India to survive all over the ages with a prodigious continuity, whereas other civilizations saw their cultures and their religions systematically destroyed. Unfortunately, this enormous tolerance of Hinduism – or Induism, if you prefer – is not recognized in the world today, or even acknowledged by Indians themselves, for two reasons. The first one are the Muslim invasions and the second the European colonization. It is the immense shock between these two great monotheist religions and Hindu polytheism, which has completely perverted our perception of India.

Yet, Hinduism, whether you want to call it a religion or a spiritual system, is without doubt the most monotheist religion in the world, because it always recognized that the Supreme can only be diverse and that he incarnates Himself in many forms – hence the million of gods in the Hindu pantheon. Vedic Sages had understood that man has to be given a multiplicity of different approaches, if you want him to fathom the Unfathomable. And truly, for the Hindus, the Divine cannot be “this” or “that”, neti, neti; in its essence He cannot be several – or even one – and thus can never be perfectly seized by the human mind. Indeed, Hindus, who were once upon a time the best dialecticians in the world (and this is maybe why they are today the best software programmers of this planet), were able to come-up with this kind of equation: a) God is in the world; b) the world is in God; c) the world is God; d) God and the world are distinct; e) God is distinct from the world, but the world is not distinct from God; f) it is impossible to discern if the world is distinct from God or not… Never has the unique nature of Hindu polytheism been better defined.

Hindus have also always recognized the divinity of other religions, as their concept of the avatar helped them to accept the reality of other prophets, masters or gurus. It is, for instance, perfectly acceptable for an ordinary Hindu to have on his wall the image of Krishna, alongside the one of Buddha, one of the Christ, with a few photos of the Mecca or even John Fitzgerald Kennedy ! And Hindus have always worshipped at non-Hindu places, such as Velangani, the Christian place of pilgrimage of South India, or some Sufi shrine in Kashmir or Rajasthan. Not only that, but Hindus never tried to convert others to their own religion, not even by peaceful means, as the Buddhists did all over Asia; and their armies never set to conquer other nations to impose their own culture and religion. Yet for the Muslims and later European invaders, who were both persuaded that their God was the only true one, Hinduism with its myriad of Gods, represented the Infidel, the Kafir par excellence, not only did they set upon, by violence, coercion, or devious means, to convert Hindus to their own “true” religion, but they also propagated in the world the image of the “Pagan” Hindus, which has survived even up to today in many ways, subtle – and not so subtle.
(To be continued)

Advertisements

4 responses to “The myth of Polytheism

  1. J_Agathokles

    “Yet, Hinduism, whether you want to call it a religion or a spiritual system, is without doubt the most monotheist religion in the world, because it always recognized that the Supreme can only be diverse and that he incarnates Himself in many forms – hence the million of gods in the Hindu pantheon.”

    That is actually not monotheism at all. Monotheism means exactly that: One God, no different manifestations of any kind whatsoever (funny how Christians sin against this principle with their trinity and all that). What the text I quoted does imply is monism. Which is entirely different. Monism means that all things emanate from an Ultimate Reality/Unity/the One/the Good/God/however you wish to call it. And monism, unlike monotheism, does allow – actually almost necessitates given the diverse and wonderful world we see – for such various manifestations and emanations.

  2. Rightly said thoughts!
    In Indian culture, there are many Gods. The reasons which you explained are correct. But, there is another reason to it. When Indian culture was really getting established by Rishis or priests, there were many small tribal cultures which were less civilized. Most part of the India had great thoughts and knowledge, but some parts were left behind. To amalgamate them with greater Aryan culture, Aryans accepted their Gods in the Mother Culture. Rishis did not let these people forget their own culture, Rishis accepted it, and in addition joined it to the great Indian culture. This is the big heart of Indian culture which accepts everything and move on towards individual development. Due to this fact, number of Gods went on increasing.

    But, in reality Hinduism focuses on one God theory. Also, we do not deny if somebody want to worship some else God. And thus, all the cults live in peace here (Although there are minor exceptions!).

    The thing which really hurts me is, we were/are unable to keep and nurture this culture. We can’t always blame invaders for decadence of this land, we ourselves are equally responsible.
    In short, Indian culture is first class culture in hands of third class people.

    Ninad.

  3. J_Agathokles

    Yes, I have contact via Facebook with several Hindu’s in India, so I am somewhat aware of the situation Hinduism finds itself in today. It is a great sadness.

  4. @ninad.
    what a nice line:
    In short, Indian culture is first class culture in hands of third class people.

    and what a rubbish , polytheism, in hindu ?

    it is single and unique god’s manifestation in each and every form of this world. which you have liberty to call god.

    but it is difficult for common person to see the same god in all the manifestation. and they see them as different gods. sri gita jii, chapter 7, verse 19.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s