Hinduism is a religion which is practiced by millions of people all over the world, particularly in India and other eastern nations. It is a religion which is unlike any other, a religion designed for the individual. Unlike most religions which demand that followers a designated set of rules and practices which require adherence, Hinduism is about individual beliefs. Most religions begin from a written interpretation of what the creators have stated that their God, or Gods in polytheistic religions, wants from the practitioners, also known as the dogma. Because of this fact, the other religions are comparatively slow to evolve and are less likely to accommodate individual believers. Religious scholar J.N. Nanda explains, "Hinduism is not limited by the view of a single founder, a single holy man or a single holy book" (Nanda 106). Since there is no one type of person in the world, so too there is no one type Hindu. Everyone is unique and therefore the rules of the religion have to be modified for the individual believer and it is their job to find the form of the religion which best suites them. However, that being said there are certain components of Hinduism which do remain constant no matter who the believer might be. One of the more controversial tenets of Hinduism is the concept of the Trimurti which is the Hindu Trinity and literally means "having three forms," is similar but also very different from the Christian perception of the Trinity. This tenet, although not embraced by all people who practice Hinduism has an important role in the sects which do believe in the Trimurti.
Hinduism is a religion which allows the believer to formulate their own beliefs and to accept whichever components work for them and to reject the ones that do not. At least, this was the attitude in Hinduism which began during the Puranic period (300-1200 AD). Secularism became even more prolific in the 19th century after the colonization of India by Great Britain. During that period, the Hindu population was influenced by the culture of a new, politically-dominating governance and consequently were more likely to accept alterations in their religion as well (D'Costa 53). This matter of having choices within the religion allows all individuals to find the religious pathway that is required in order to find Nirvana, which is a state of equality and understanding of the world which is only reached through meditation and dedication. Theologians argue the Hinduism is unlike any other religion on the Earth because instead of one system of beliefs, Hinduism continues to expand as a whole in order to encompass a larger group of individuals. According to Axel Michaels, "Hinduism is not a homogenous religion at all, but is rather a potpourri of religions, doctrines and attitudes towards life, rites and cults, moral and social norms" (Michaels 3). As this is the case, there is no one singular way to practice the religion because there are many forms which a person can choose from. Those who choose to practice Hinduism can embrace certain components of the traditions and yet ignore other customs as they see fit. By creating a religious system where the individual is allowed to choose which aspects to accept, Hinduism opens itself to people who might be atheists or agnostics, as well as those individuals who happen to believe in all the gods of the Hindi people. Whereas most religions demand that all components of the dogma be accepted without individual interpretation or even question, Hindus are allowed and even encouraged to take only the parts they need to better their own lives. In addition, the Hindus also embrace the icons of the other world religions. In many Hindu temples, iconography of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam can be found. The only thing that Hindu leaders are concerned with is that practitioners somehow find their way to a God or some power which is higher than their selves (Keene 78). This belief will inevitably lead the individual to make choices in their life which are for the good of themselves and mankind. Therefore, any path that leads to some sort of enlightened attitude is encouraged in the Hindu religion.
In the Puranic period, there was a growing desire to unify the disparaging Hindu people, such as those who held orthodox beliefs and those with more secular interest in the religion. Before that period, the two sides were in the throes of a religious war which was more theologically-based rather than violent, and those in positions of power wanted to reconcile the two sides of the issue. One of the best ways in which to do this effectively was to open the levels of discourse between the groups on all components of the religion, including the Trimurti, which is the Hindu version of the Holy Trinity. The Blackwell Companion to Hinduism defines the Trimurti as a concept "in which the cosmic functions of creation, maintenance, and destruction are personified by the forms of Brahma the creator, Vishnu the maintainer or preserver or "indwelling-life," and Shiva the destroyer or transformer" (Flood 139). Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva are the three gods who make up the Hindu trinity and are often referred to as either "the Hindu triad" or the "Great Trinity." The Trimurti represents "all aspects of the Supreme Being" (Trimurti). By this, it is meant that the three gods together work to perform the function of one omnipotent and all-powerful god, such as is characteristic of Judeo-Christian or Islamic religious beliefs. Gods of the Hindu Trimurti need one another in order to perform all the necessary duties of the one monotheistic god because each has a unique function but none has all the abilities needed to continue the world.
Historically, the concept of a Hindu trinity goes back to the Rig Veda which was where god was combined in three distinct forms and brought into light. Before their unification, the gods were separate entities called Agni for hearth, Vidyut for light, and Surya for the sun. In the text of the Padma Puranas, these three gods joined to become a single entity "in order to form this world, the supreme spirit produced from his right side Brahma and in order to maintain this world, the supreme spirit produced Vishnu from his left side and to destroy he gave rise to Shiva from his middle" (Yaday). From this point, for some Hindu believers, the three gods would be forever intertwined. The Trimurti appears primarily in epic poetry rather than the holy books of Hinduism (Ninan 184). Those who believed in the trinity also were said to believe in the Brahman which was a term which encompassed one deity who was composed of all three gods. Authro Lynne Gibson explains:
Many Hindus believe in One Supreme God, whom they call Brahman, but they worship that one God in various forms, according to the different functions they believe He performs. Hindus believe that God is omnipresent, always present everywhere and in all living things. They also believe that God may be represented in masculine and feminine ways. A unique feature of Hinduism is that God is worshipped in male and female forms. It teaches that both men and women are 'different wings of the same bird' (14).
This ability to alter gender is indicative of the fluid nature of the Hindu gods and the ways in which they can change their identity. The three gods are all powerful but only in the context of their interaction and unification with one another. Each god was intricately connected to the other two gods and therefore together the three gods made up the one true god, also called the supreme spirit.
The gods themselves can represent many different things depending upon the individual beliefs and can represent multiple ideas even in the same denomination of Hinduism. Together, the three gods are said to represent the balance of earth, water, and fire which are the three life forces which allows for human beings to continue existing in the world. Earth, where life begins is Brahma while water is Vishnu as they both sustain life, and finally Shiva is fire as he is violent and all-consuming but without his ability, the world could not continue; things must die so that other things can live, grow, and thrive. According to another theory, they are meant to represent the three planes of consciousness, Brahma the spiritual plane as he is the spiritual element, Vishnu the psychic element, and Shiva the physical body. Alternatively, there is a theory that the gods represent the three components of the mind: Brahma intuitiveness and creativity, Vishnu intelligence, and Shiva raw emotion. Further, the Trimurti can represent the stages of a person's life with celibacy and innocent childhood being Brahma, adulthood and the rearing of children is represented by the god Vishnu, and of course old age and death are represented by Shiva.
The Trimurti are depicted in works of art either as…
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