Why do Hindus worship ghastly gods with skulls?

by Chaitanya CharanApril 25, 2015

From Geeta Mataji:

Can you answer this question of my Christian friend?


Transcription by- Keshav Gopal Das

Question- One of my Christian friend says that Hinduism is a false religion because Hindus worship horrible gods such as a goddess who puts skulls around her head and is blood thirsty. How do we respond to this?

Answer (short)-

  • People of different natures are attracted towards different forms of God. Vedic tradition broadly describes three different natures – sattvic (goodness), rajas (passion), and tamas (ignorance).
  • Vedic tradition encompasses people of all possible types of mentalities towards religion for their progressive elevation.
  • People of tamasic nature are attracted towards ghastly forms of worship like worship of goddess Kali. Such arrangements are to be seen as the all-compassionate nature of Supreme Lord to attract even those with not so elevated consciousness and include them in the house of religion.

Answer (long)-  What we know as Hinduism today is a distorted version of broad system of worship that is coming from the Vedic literature, which is quite inclusive. Inclusive means that the worship is multiform so that it can include people of various mentalities. It is understood that different people have different natures and according to their nature they will be attracted to different things. Some people are attracted to things which are sattvic (in goodness). Sattvic means things which are aesthetically and ethically appealing. Some are attracted to rajasic (in passion). Rajasic is associated with things which are passionate, involving lot of action and gratification. And some people are attracted to things which are tamasic (in ignorance). Tamasic is primarily darkness and involves characteristics like lethargy, violence, destruction etc.

An example of movies can explain this better. Some people like to watch films like documentaries, which are educational, some people like to watch movies which show lot of action, sex etc., and  some people like to watch horror movies where there are vampires, ghosts etc. Doesn’t such breadth in variety in the entertainment industry indicate towards the breadth of the mentality of people in the world? Vedic tradition understands that a similar breadth of mentality will be there when people turn towards God. If only one conception of God is given to people, then not all people will be attracted to that conception.

In Abrahamic religions, there is mention of only one God, which is described as completely pure, utterly free from all sins. Such attributes are indeed present in God, but not all people feel attracted towards such conception of God. For such people, if the pure God conception is the only conception available, then they will always remain in illusion and irreligion because they do not feel inspired to devote themselves towards such God. The pure conception of God will keep a vast number of people outside the house of religion because it is seen as having steep walls around it. Only those who can climb up the steep walls can enter such house, and the others will have to stay outside. Sometimes the idea goes even further saying that those who are outside will go to hell. This is again a misconception, which portrays a very cruel God, or a power hungry God.

In Vedic tradition, there are different forms of the same God to attract people of different mentalities. Some forms are direct manifestation of same God, but other forms are God’s representatives who accept surrogate worship on God’s behalf to progressively elevate people.

Goddess Kali has garland of skulls around her head, her tongue is coming out, she has weapons in her hand, etc. This seems like a very ghastly image. For people who are in tamoguna (or tamas), such people are attracted to such ghastly images only. In the same Vedic tradition there is image of Lord Vishnu, who holds a serene smile on His face and holds articles like lotus, disc, conch, and club. We also find image of Lord Krishna, who is playing flute and gives a very endearing and enchanting conception of God. However, not everyone gets attracted to such conception. Recognizing this, the Vedic tradition in order to include those who may not be attracted to the highest pure conception of God, there are surrogate gods given. By worship of such surrogate gods, different people will progressively get elevated.

Rather than demonizing the Vedic tradition for having ghastly forms of worship, it is encouraged that we go deeper to see the breadth and depth of compassion God has manifested in Vedic tradition by which He has not only allowed Himself to be worshipped, but have also arranged his surrogates (like various devatas) to be worshiped on His behalf and thus have given opportunity to people to become elevated.

To summarize, people with different inclinations/mentalities gets attracted towards different forms of worship. Availability of different forms of worship in Vedic literature is to be seen as the compassionate nature of the Lord that He also allows people with not so elevated mentality to enter the house of religion. Such people by worshipping (for example) ghastly forms of God, progressively elevates themselves on the path of religion.

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Chaitanya Charan

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