Divine manifestations define and defend the ultimate

P C Jain and Dr Daljeet – 

There is Rama, the son of Ayodhya King Dasharatha in His human birth, and there is Rama’s divinity, His divine aura that overwhelms the Tulasi’s entire Ramacharit-manas, one manifest – with attributes, and the other, unmanifest – without attributes.

Thus, Rama is both, ‘Saguna’ – born with attributes, and ‘Nirguna’ – one beyond attributes or form.

Ravana saw in him a form, as any normal human being would, and decided to try his strength against him, Vibhishana, his brother, saw him beyond attributes – his divine aura: the flame, and dedicated him to his service.

Twin Gunas

This is the crux of Indian vision of Godhood.

The Rig Veda and the other Vedas invoked Him as unmanifest but at the same time the Rig Veda also realised Him in numerous manifest forms – both male and female: Surya, Agni, Varuna, Indra, Vishnu, Vak, Ushas, Sita – the furrow-line, Ratri, Mantra-Shakti power of hymn, Mahi – the Earth…, that is, in whichever form His divinity revealed enshrined Godhood.

Hence, when there emerged in their completeness ‘Saguna’ and ‘Nirguna’ lines of thought, the Vedas were in the roots of both.

The Incarnation Cult

Thus, in Indian thought, Godhood, with attributes or without attributes, was a realisation of the faithful mind – essentially a vision, an image, which vested even the unmanifest with attributes; as regarded the manifest Godhood was endowed not only with an anthropomorphic form but was also completely humanised and had a human being like lifestyle and day-routine.

Pushti-Marga like subsects of worship through ‘Sewa’ – service, were the result of the zeal that saw in service the accomplishment of worship.

This gave to Indian theology a highly colourful culture and versatile imagery with the result that Godhood exploded beyond anthropomorphic image – male and female, or even man and animal, giving seers engaged in composing Puranas and other religious scriptures ample scope for discovering not only unique forms of His image but also those of His ensembles, adornment, jewellery, ambience, as also an appropriate human frame.

Animal form

Perhaps this multi-form perception of Godhood was in the root of incarnation theory that perceived Godhood taking a form not of man alone but also that of an animal the first three of the ten incarnations of Vishnu – one of Trinity Gods, being animals.

Such perception of Godhood inspired alike respect for all species of living beings and discouraged animal killing.

This all-inclusive vision emphasised that any form could be the God’s form and that Godhood is not confined to a particular form or even to a form at all.

This formal perception of God gave to Indian theology a highly colourful religious culture with the result that there emerged for His image millions of shrines and even the image, being essentially conceptual, was extremely diversified.

Evolution of Image

Not the product of camera but as evolved in the faithful mind, far from being realistic but conceptual, so much so that even the images of divinities born with a definite chronology, represented only a concept or an idealized version of such divinity.

The founder of Jainism Tirthankara Mahavira and the founder of Buddhism Buddha were historical figures – the real persons born with flesh and blood; however, the images of neither represent the real persons.

Almost identically conceived images of all twenty-four Tirthankaras were ‘Dhyana-Murtis’, that is, images conceived for helping the meditating mind to centre on a form, the Tirthankara Icon, that accordingly shaped their lives.

Buddha’s images were conceived more on aesthetic principles.

The ‘Inner’ Buddha

The images of Buddha sought to represent the essential Buddha that certainly was not in flesh and bones.

Divyavadana, Uttaratantra of Maitreya and other Buddhist texts mandated to represent Buddha beyond physical likeness also the Buddha’s spiritual inner.

The Lankavatara Sutra goes further ahead requiring the artist to paint Buddha beyond aesthetic surfaces ‘the picture that is not in colours.’

Obviously, to the Indian mind the divine image is not a realistic or even aesthetic representation of likeness. It is as it has evolved in the tradition – ritual or spiritual, and often manifests the faithful mind’s version of the divine and each manifestation of this vision has now largely rigidified as an independent divinity.

Diverse Images

Revering each of such divinity the faithful mind has built its own hierarchy of God’s manifest forms and has fixed for each a specific imagery to include the image’s anthropomorphism, type of ensemble, jewellery and other components.

Highly diversified, the divine image has hundreds of manifestations that a single essay like this cannot encompass;

Hence this series of essays proposes to allude to just five of Vaishnava images, Lord Vishnu Himself, His consort Lakshmi, His mount Garuda, His most trusted and efficient servant Hanuman and Brahma, the Creator and the second of the Great Trinity.

(To be Continued)

The above is the first in a series of articles published by exoticindia.com and reproduced with the permission of its Founder Kapil Goel.


Photo Caption:

  1. Lord Ganesha, the Elephant-headed God of Mercy
  2. Lord Shiva and Parvathi- Manifestation of Gender Equality
  3. Lord Vishnu, as Lord Rama, perceived in the Human and Divine forms

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