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How many Hindu Gods are there? Are there millions of Hindu Gods? By some estimates there are 33 million Hindu Gods!!. The overall count is totally not an issue for the people of India. India for the most part is a polytheistic society and is very comfortable with the notion that there can be more than one God. India also has large numbers of Muslims, Sikhs, Buddhists and Jains. In addition Indians also have a very good understanding of Christianity because of centuries of colonial rule. India knows what religious and philosophical diversity mean.
Who is a Hindu?
India has a culture and civilization that can go back thousands of years. According to some studies the first people who settled in the Indian subcontinent migrated from Africa over 65,000 years ago (the first humans arrived in North America only about 15,000 years ago). Since the first migration from Africa, there have been several other migrations. The most recent one consists of a group of people now known as “Indo-Europeans”. In the Indian context they are known as the Aryans. They are from Central Europe and arrived in India in the past few thousand years.
The Indo-Europeans brought their own culture, language and religious beliefs. These beliefs mixed with the thousands of other religious systems that were already there in India and they are now collectively known as Hinduism.
Are Lord Murugan and Lord Shiva related?
The word Hinduism is a fairly new word. Even a few hundred years ago, most Indians did not consider themselves as belonging to a large religion known as Hinduism. They were for the most part devotees of local Gods. The local Gods still exit and revered by the communities that they are a part of.
In the State of Tamil Nadu (South India), there is a very popular God known as Murugan. The most famous Murugan Temple is in a city call Palani. Ancient temples dedicated to Lord Murugan for the most part are on top of Hills. There are several “hill deities” (for a lack of a better term) in India.
There are unique customs and traditions surrounding the worship of Lord Murugan. But today Lord Murugan has been incorporated into the Hindu pantheon. Many consider him to be a son of Lord Shiva (this reference to Murugan being a son of Shiva happened in the past few hundred years and never existed prior to that).
Lord Venkateswara of Tirupati.
Another famous hill deity is Lord Venkateswara (Tirupati). Lord Venkateswara today is considered as a form of Lord Vishnu. This is a tricky assumption. The worship of Lord Venkateswara existed for hundreds of years prior to the advent of Vaishanavism (the worship of Lord Vishnu) in South India.
The Vaishnavites (believers in Lord Vishnu) and the Shaivaites (believers in Lord Shiva) fought wars for hundreds of years in South India. The Vaishnavites beat out the Shaivites and gained control of the Lord Venkateswara temple about a 1000 years ago. The Vaishnavites and Shaivites are fairly new entrants to South India. Prior to that South India was dominated by Buddhist, Jain and local belief systems.
Evolution of Hinduism.
The word Hindu is not an Indian word. The Sindhu river flows from the Himalayas and flows into the Arabian Sea. It is one of the longest rivers in Asia. The ancient Greeks and the Persians (First Century BCE), used the word Indus to group all people who lived beyond the Sindhu River. The Sindhu River is now also known as the Indus River. During the time of the ancient Greeks and Persians, Indus was not the name of a religion but the name of a geographical region (like America).
In the 15th and 16th century, the term Hindoo was used to denote all people in the Indian sub-continent who were not Muslims. Things started changing during the British colonial period. The British brought their bureaucracy to India. Everything has to be neatly arranged, grouped and should make sense!! Before they arrived in India, the British had a great understanding of Islam and obviously Christianity. But they were perplexed by the religions of India. To keep it simple they started categorizing everyone who was not a Muslim or a Christian as a Hindu.
Until the 18th century, most people in India did not have the faintest idea about the Veda’s, the Upanishads, Mahabharata or the Bhagawat Gita. These were scriptures that were important for those who were followers of Brahminical Hinduism, but not to the vast majority of the Indian population. Many of these scriptures were first translated into English by the British and presented to the Indian public as “sacred Hindu literature“. Joining the British were the elites in India. Together there was an organized movement to “reform Hinduism” and to regain it’s “lost glory”. The main goal of this “reform movement” was to modify Hinduism into a “rational religion” and a religion that is “monotheistic”. This is like trying to rationalize Picasso. The whole attraction is the irrationality!!
Even today, there are many Hindus who believe that although there are thousands of Gods, they are actually different names/forms of the same God (in effect monotheism). Coincidentally, many of them believe that this one God is Brahma (the God of the Brahmins). This theory totally contradicts what we know today about the history of India prior to the arrival of Brahminism.
Hindu Temples in Philadelphia.
There is only one Hindu temple that I know of in Philadelphia. This is somewhat surprising considering that there are a significant number of Indian Americans in Philadelphia. The temple in Mount Airy is owned by International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON). ISKCON follows the Vaishnava (Worship of Vishnu) monotheistic traditions. ISKCON is somewhat missionary in some of their practices. You will see them in places like Rittenhouse Square mostly chanting and selling their books and trying to solicit customers. Hinduism in general is not a missionary religion at all.
What are your thoughts on Hinduism?